Wednesday 22 May 2024

PN leadership race: if they knew then, what they know now

This article first appeared on Malta Today before results were known

This will be a great morning for one person and not such a great morning for the losing candidate as the dust settles on the bitterly-contested Nationalist Party leadership race between Adrian Delia and Chris Said.

Whoever has been chosen is going to have to face a party which has exposed itself to be split down the middle, and will have to face the gargantuan task of what to do next.

In retrospect, I would not be surprised if the PN is looking back at the series of decisions taken by the party administration on this whole leadership race and wondering: what on earth were we thinking?

Slow down, you move too fast

As they say, hindsight is 20/20, but the most obvious question a lot of people have been asking is, why on earth was there such a huge rush to appoint a new leader? Although I can understand that resignations were in order after the massive defeat, replacing Simon Busuttil now, rather than later, would not really have that much of a difference. Once the ball got rolling, and the party machine went into full throttle to organize the election, it was like a snowball effect, and no one seemed to be thinking things through. I think they were galvanized by the need to be doing something, anything, much in the same way that someone who is distraught with worry and anxiety resorts to a cleaning frenzy, turning the house upside down because it makes them feel like they are in control. Or else, they move house completely, dump their spouse, and generally look frantically around looking for scapegoats to blame for their internal turmoil. They desperately want to change their life in the mistaken belief that by doing so, they will chase their troubles away, failing to realise that first you have to slow down and actually analyse and comprehend where the real problem lies.

From then, things could only get worse

Having taken the decision to hold an election asap, the urge to do everything in a rush continued. Just look at the timeline of events: the election result came out on 4 June and Busuttil resigned on 5 June. By 11 June, the Party Executive already had a draft of the rules and tentative dates for the election. Initially, the date proposed for the final round of voting was 23 September, but there was a sudden ’change of heart’, and it was decided that the final vote should be taken on 16 September so that the new leader could address the Independence activities. The Party Executive approved the rules on 19 June and the General Council did the same shortly afterwards.

In their haste, one of the most crucial aspects of the whole contest seemed to have been overlooked. Namely, could anyone just come along and toss their hat into the ring or was their going to be some kind of thorough vetting and selection process first? Judging by everything we have learned over the last three months, I would hazard a guess that the answer to that question is a perplexed “huh”?

So, either those in the heart of the party assumed that those contesting would be safe, predictable and would not rock any boats, or else they figured that any brash newcomer would not stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected. If the latter is the case then they were more out of touch with the undercurrents within their own party than I had previously thought.

Another miscalculation was to have the contest split into two rounds of votes: first the General Council which would choose the final two candidates and then the ultimate choice would be made by the card-carrying members. Not, I hasten to add, because this was a bad idea in itself (because on the face of it, it sounded to me like a very democratic process) but because it is clear that once again, someone was not thinking things through. It would have worked great if all the candidates had been people which the inner circle of the party truly had no problems with, but it is a completely different story if the ones who are voted through don’t have the PN stamp of approval. (Oh, and after all we have been privy to this summer, I think that the myth that an inner circle does not really exist can be truly laid to rest now, don’t you?).

In a way it reminds of the adage which courtroom lawyers always use to avoid their witnesses springing any surprises on them when they place them on the witness stand: never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer to.

And finally, shouldn’t someone have checked the demographics?

As if to further highlight just how ill-prepared the PN was for this leadership race, it turns out that the average age of the card-carrying members is 60, which means that whoever cast their vote on Saturday to chose the PN leader is not exactly representative of all PN supporters. For a party which claims it wants to start afresh and regain its voting base, this does not bode well. Somewhere along the line, this party which used to have an impressive administrative structure, grooming young people through such programmes as AZAD, has lost the ability to attract the young. While I cannot imagine today’s youth embracing the idea of belonging to a political party in the traditional sense, there is definitely a need to reach out to all age groups, if a party is going to remain relevant.

Whoever was chosen to lead the PN will have a lot on his plate, but mostly he will have to do what should have been done before the leadership contest even took place. He will have to analyse and really understand where the party went wrong before he can set about fixing how to make things right.