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
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.