A week of turmoil and tension
When the Nationalist Party gathers its delegates today in its usual biannual general council, it will do so after a week of intense internal angst.
Two independent and unconnected opinion surveys came out last Sunday and both agreed on the main findings of the polls – that Joseph Muscat is still far ahead of Simon Busuttil and that the PN is still behind the PL in the polls.
There was also, in both polls, a huge swathe of ‘Don’t Knows’ or ‘Won’t Says’ at this early stage, whereas we all know that elections in Malta usually come down to a close race normally with a little edge either way (the exception being 2013). So at some point in the coming months, today’s ‘Don’t Knows’ and ‘Won’t Says’ will come down on either side and so determine the outcome.
Ever since the results of the polls were announced, Labour supporters have been crowing all over the social media while the Nationalist ones, from what I could see, have been venting their anger by harping on about scandals, corruption and the like.
For weeks and months now, the Labour media has been calling the PN leader a leader in negativity who sees nothing good in what the government is doing. Well, the pre-2013 Opposition was not any less negative, from what I remember. But there must be a reason behind the polls’ results on the popularity of the two leaders. The more the party strategists position Dr Busuttil as the sole leader, the more his popularity seems to decline.
The Nationalist Party, which was always a party of a group, and which criticised Dom Mintoff so much for his sole leadership, somehow became a party of a sole leader around the time when Lawrence Gonzi took over from Eddie Fenech Adami. When Eddie took over from George Borg Olivier, it was more a collective leadership that later dwindled, as one after another the members of that early collective leadership became Presidents.
To be fair, Dr Busuttil has been promoting a sort of collective leadership but either his group has not yet made its mark or else they collectively do not add up to much.
I think people are giving too much importance to the unique 37,000 majority obtained by Dr Muscat in 2013. By then, the PN had run its legislative course, had run out of ideas, was rocked by internecine feuds and needed, really needed, a time on the Opposition benches.
It was clear that Labour was going to win, so what happened was a bandwagon effect.
But, fundamentally, Malta remains a two-party state and the two parties alternate in government. The long, hegemonic, 25 years PN spent in government from 1987 to 2013, bar two years, have cogent reasons behind them; normally, alternation rules.
There was a time, in Mintoff’s early years, when the parties divided themselves according to social class – with the PN being for the ‘edukati’, Sliema types, English-speaking, and Labour representing the South and the proletariat. There is no such ideological split between the parties today. Both are centrist parties that disagree on the character of the leader.
So the principle of alternation means that the PN is never far from being in government. If not this time, then maybe the next.
At today’s event, the party leader will pull out all the stops and the crowd will applaud wildly. The rest of the country will look on and consider. The government spin machine will swing into action to downplay anything that the Leader of the Opposition will have said, but otherwise, life goes on as it has always done. Not so in the big, wide, world.
The hell that is called Aleppo sinks more and more into barbarism. The new President of the United States has begun to implement what he promised the electorate and those who thought these were just flights of rhetoric now realise that they are real commitments.
But here, in this minuscule state that in a month’s time becomes the President of the EU, the two main, and almost only, parties battle it out without any restraint or sense of proportion. It is as if this is the only battle worth having.