The divide of GonziPN
Undoubtedly, it appeared to be excellent political marketing. GonziPN. Never before in Maltese politics were a leader and his party presented as one. The slogan Yes, Together Everything Is Possible was an effective complement. Derived from Barak Obama’s Yes, We Can campaign, the slogan emphasised togetherness. The marketing strategy, combined with a one-to-one approach, worked well and the Nationalist Party was returned to government.
Only one important detail had been conveniently forgotten: good marketing starts with a good product. Lawrence Gonzi’s five-year premiership had confirmed that the top echelons of the PN were finding it hard to accept him as their leader.
A number of the old party boys saw Dr Gonzi as a Johnny-come-lately, who was hand-picked and anointed leader by Eddie Fenech Adami himself. Dr Gonzi and the PN had not been one. The contest for party leadership has left deep scars, which have not healed to this very day.
In July 2004, John Dalli was forced to resign from Minister of Foreign Affairs on allegations of improper purchase of air tickets by the ministry.
The Prime Minister was quick to accept the resignation and Mr Dalli spent the next three years as a backbencher. Close to the 2008 election, Mr Dalli was conveniently “rehabilitated” and appointed financial adviser to the Prime Minister. Mr Dalli was convincingly elected from two districts and was reappointed minister. The rapprochement did not work and Mr Dalli was eventually kicked upstairs as European Commissioner in Brussels. Mr Dalli insists he is still waiting for someone to assume responsibility for his political “assassination”.
Ever since its victory in 2008, the cracks in GonziPN have been widening at an accelerating pace. Louis Galea, the other contender for the party’s leadership, failed to make it to the House of Representatives.
He was first appointed Speaker and then nominated to the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg. In the meantime, some other senior ministers decided to keep doing things in their own way. At times, many wonder who is the “real” Prime Minister.
Various previous ministers (Ninu Zammit, Louis Deguara, Ċensu Galea, Jesmond Mugliett and Francis Zammit Dimech) were not offered a ministerial post in the new Cabinet. Edwin Vassallo and Frans Agius lost their posts as parliamentary secretaries.
These were the people who had helped GonziPN to be elected. Had they all underperformed? And, in any case, was there no better way of informing them that they were being dumped than through an SMS? And then there surfaced a third fraction consisting of a number of MPs who had performed well in the election and who had hopes of forming part of the new Cabinet. Wannabes such as Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Robert Arrigo, Jean- Pierre Farrugia and Franco Debono. Eventually, GonziPN sought to buy their silence by creating the posts of parliamentary assistants or offering them some chairmanship or other.
The cracks in GonziPN get worse with every gaffe and subsequent public outcry and resentment. The honorarium increase which Cabinet granted to itself behind the back of its own MPs, the opposition and the public. After denying the extent of the increase, GonziPN’s first reaction was to try and justify it. Then Cabinet members were made to return part of the increase while seeking to deflate the amount of the rise actually given. Subsequently, the blame for the mess fell on an “administrative mistake”. The damage had been done; even though GonziPN managed to defeat the opposition’s motion on the matter.
During the recent PN general council meeting, the Prime Minister felt that he should apologise, adding he was assuming personal responsibility for the whole matter. What he means by this few of us know. What many of us do know, however, is that Christian morality and ethics demand misappropriated funds should be returned to their rightful owner. The people will keep waiting.
Another minor issue which has got the public talking is whether Arriva will go through Bisazza Street, in Sliema or not. Many of us do not really care but the matter is a clear confirmation of the lack of communication within GonziPN. Even on something so petty, there is no coordination.
This is extremely worrying for modern public policymaking increasingly involving cross-cutting issues that require leadership and teamwork.
The divorce issue cracked GonziPN wide open. The return of President Emeritus Fenech Adami into the political arena to challenge his successor confirms how bad things are within the party. Is it purely a matter of conviction and “authenticity” (as someone put it) or is it part of a bigger ploy? Is this not meant to be the party of dialogue, which made everything possible? Together, of course.
It is very rich of Dr Gonzi to promise that history may still repeat itself if GonziPN rediscovered its unity. A unity that, under his leadership, never existed. The PN may still win the next election. The ways of marketing may be infinite but politics should be much more than just winning elections.
If GonziPN wins the next election, will the in-fighting start all over again? Is this in the best interest of our country? Yes, Together Everything Is Possible has proved to be just another empty electoral slogan.