De­ci­sion time

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

Af­ter weeks of cam­paign­ing, lob­by­ing, in­fight­ing and, truth be told, a wor­thy ex­changes of ideas on the fu­ture of the party, the Op­po­si­tion and the coun­try it­self, some 15,000 Na­tion­al­ist Party mem­bers will make their way to vot­ing boxes to­day to choose their new leader.

For some, that choice will be an easy one, but there are cer­tainly thou­sands of others who are still to make up their minds. That is be­cause the two can­di­dates left stand­ing, af­ter the party’s coun­cil­lors se­lected them from the orig­i­nal four, of­fer two con­trast­ing views on the party’s fu­ture.

One is a po­lit­i­cal new­comer who is ad­vo­cat­ing a com­plete root and branch over­haul of the party in the wake of two suc­ces­sive scathing de­feats at the gen­eral elec­tion polls. The other, a long-serv­ing politi­cian and a long-time party mem­ber, is also propos­ing changes to the ways in which the party op­er­ates but has cho­sen the ap­proach of build­ing upon the foun­da­tions that are al­ready in place.

One, as far as vot­ers are con­cerned, is stand­ing against the so-called ‘es­tab­lish­ment’ that tried to stop him from con­test­ing while the other can, for all in­tents and pur­poses, be con­sid­ered a part of the es­tab­lish­ment.

The de­ci­sion, which will for the first time lie in the hands of the party’s mem­bers, pits the two

Ed­i­tor’s pick

con­trast­ing philoso­phies against each other. And it is cer­tainly not an easy choice for party mem­bers who are not par­tic­u­larly aligned with one can­di­date or another, and who have been sorely let down by the party’s two suc­ces­sive record land­slide de­feats at the polls.

And as a back­drop to this de­ter­min­ing choice party mem­bers are be­ing tasked with to­day, the two can­di­dates’ tribes have been go­ing at each other in the most un­be­com­ing fash­ion all over the so­cial me­dia. This will, at the end of the day, have done the party no favours what­so­ever and which will, in fact, serve to cre­ate for a bit­ter di­vide party once the bat­tle is over.

Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment have been cam­paign­ing vo­cif­er­ously in favour of one can­di­date or another and, de­spite the fine words from the can­di­dates them­selves about post-elec­toral rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine a sce­nario in which the party’s en­tire par­lia­men­tary group will be able to stand be­hind the new party leader.

There has been talk of the party frac­tur­ing in the wake of this lead­er­ship elec­tion and whether that frac­ture could take a phys­i­cal form or a per­haps more in­sid­i­ous, less vis­i­ble form is still to be seen.

Ei­ther way, this would be a great pity for not only the party but also for the coun­try it­self. The Op­po­si­tion has a vi­tal con­sti­tu­tional role to play and it must be able to ful­fil that role to the best of its abil­ity. It needs to keep the gov­ern­ment in check, it needs to work with the gov­ern­ment in a ra­tio­nal way on the poli­cies with which it agrees and it must be ready at all times to present a strong, united front against the poli­cies that it dis­agrees with.

Malta’s form of par­lia­men­tary democ­racy means that all Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment need to toe the party line in accordance with the party whip when it comes to par­lia­men­tary votes, save for those very rare oc­ca­sions in which MPs are given a free vote. One such in­stance was the vote on the in­tro­duc­tion of di­vorce.

As­sum­ing that the party leader will also be the Op­po­si­tion leader, which, although ques­tions have been raised to this ef­fect, will in all like­li­hood be the case, that sys­tem could de­scend into ut­ter chaos should dis­grun­tled MPs choose to openly rebel against the party whip.

Such a sit­u­a­tion would be a tragedy for the coun­try’s democ­racy.

Once the dust set­tles and the air clears, the party’s di­vided fac­tions need to bury the hatchet, not in each others’ skulls as they have been seek­ing to do over re­cent weeks, but in the true sense of the word – for the greater good of the party, the Op­po­si­tion and, in turn, of the coun­try as a whole.

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