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PN in drive to attract ‘liberal’ candidates

AŻAD, MZPN tasked with proposing changes

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is walking a tightrope between liberals and conservatives. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is walking a tightrope between liberals and conservatives. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The Nationalist Party has embarked on a drive to attract liberal candidates for the next general election, amid broad “realisation” that the party needs to open up, according to party sources.

A number of so-called ‘liberal’ party officials have been tasked with identifying and approaching “open-minded, moderate” individuals who could stand for the PN in the next general election – scheduled to take place in 2013.

The move is intended to bridge the gap between conservatives and liberals in the PN, a chasm which became pronounced after the electorate voted in favour of the introduction of divorce in a referendum on May 28.

Interventions already made during this weekend’s general council have underlined the need for change in the PN, with party insiders saying this is essential if the PN is to remain relevant and avoid defeat at the polls.

“We’re meeting people and asking them to be openly critical of the party. We have no choice but to change policies and lure new faces who can bring about change,” a senior official told The Sunday Times.

“The party is looking for young candidates, open to change, capable of reading the signs of the times.”

Since the PN executive ad-opted an anti-divorce stand, officials admitted it was an uphill struggle to convince liberal-minded people to join the party.

“It’s not easy, but not impossible to convince them to come on board,” said another source.

Another official said the PN needed to live up to its name of welcoming people of all beliefs under its “coalition umbrella”.

Despite perceptions to the contrary, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is believed to have given the go-ahead for the party to update its policies and principles, especially after many Nationalists defied their party’s anti-divorce stand in the referendum.

In a statement, Dr Gonzi was quoted as telling a workshop for party delegates yesterday that in the coming months the PN will conduct an internal exercise to revise its policies on education, employment, health and the environment.

“We need to give families solutions, and that is what I intend to continue to do,” Dr Gonzi said.

The PN’s political think-thank AŻAD and the youth movement MŻPN have been tasked with drawing up a document suggesting sweeping changes to several issues, possibly including divorce.

“We will certainly see some kind of restructuring within the party by the end of the year, but the more drastic changes will take longer, probably after the next election,” one official said. The Prime Minister is walking a tightrope between most of the conservative Cabinet members and the more liberal-leaning backbench. Sources said even during yesterday’s meeting, many PN core officials insisted the party should take care of its traditional grassroots.

Since the outcome of the divorce referendum, there has been a clear drive by the party administration to promote those perceived as more liberal to act as the faces of the PN in the media.

Meanwhile, while its former leader Eddie Fenech Adami urges the party to maintain its anti-divorce stance and make divorce an election issue, the Nationalist Party youth movement said Parliament should vote in favour.

Writing in The Times, PN information secretary Frank Psaila highlighted the need for a social liberal agenda and said the divorce referendum benefited the PN in many ways, provided it takes some sensible decisions.

Important issues like IVF legislation and cohabitation laws should be addressed at once, Mr Psaila said, followed by the introduction of more civil liberties.

“Unless the party caters for many a social liberal it will have a difficult task come 2013,” Mr Psaila warned.

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