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Loyal born-again Nationalists

If there were any doubt that the Nationalist Party is digging deep and hard to rally all the troops and resources for the approaching poll, just have a look at the news headlines.

This election will be decided in the last straight
- Andrew Azzopardi

Many close to the PN are starting to feel buoyant that this election might not be a walkover after all even though the surveys are not at all heartening for the PN. Then again, the PN, some insiders told me, has always shown itself to be at its best when bushwhacked.

Apart from the fact that no one likes to lose an election, this election becomes weightier on so many levels for the PN.

Firstly, this is the first time in some three decades that the PN has a proper opposition, in terms of an organised party that is well set for an election battle.

Secondly, this is an election versus the Labour Party but also Franco Debono and, to a lesser extent, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Jesmond Mugliett, the out-of-favour and ostracised objectors.

In other words, the PN has been hit by its own.

Thirdly, this is an opportunity for many neoteric publics in the (Nationalist) party to show that with the loss of people like Guido de Marco, Austin Gatt, Louis Galea, Louis Deguara, Ninu Zammit, Dolores Cristina, Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, Eddie Fenech Adami and so many other generals, the party is still there for the taking and they can fill ‘their’ boots with honour.

Fourthly, the no-confidence votes in deposed Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici and present Minister Joe Cassar have incensed the Prime Minister big time. Judging by the tone of his voice on the Granaries when addressing the Independence Day meeting gathering, it looks like he’s had enough.

It is a renowned fact that, love him or loathe him, the Prime Minister is extremely loyal to his team and, knowing him, this would have spurred him to give even more of himself to make sure that righteousness be done.

As I’ve said on other occasions, a longish campaign does not seem to work to the advantage of the Labour Party. The PL, if not watchful, will be wasted because it faces an opponent that is raring to go.

An issue that will factor in during the forthcoming (official) electoral campaign is that, even though the PL leads the polls, the PN has the advantage of being in government. Whether it is the power of incumbency or whatever else you want to call it, it’s there for the taking. Needless to say, a number of people who have been given responsibility, power and importance will feel endangered and, so, will be keen to make sure they persist in their roles.

Even though this looks like it’s going to be a straight and clear PL victory, a great deal is still in the making, I am sure.

What I believe the PN will bank on is the inexperience of Joseph Muscat together with a strong campaign based on the guarantee that what ‘I’ have today, will remain, in other words an updated version of the par idejn sodi (safe pair of hands) campaign.

If the PN manages to pull a rabbit from its hat somehow reassuring people that there is light at the end of the electricity and water bill tunnel, then I wouldn’t be surprised if, against all odds, the PN triumphs.

In addition, the PN has managed to draw out from the cupboard the “freeze” that was so representative of the Malta Labour Party in the 1980s. The PL will surely be kicking itself for allowing this skeleton to emerge.

On the other hand, Labour will be calling the shots, possibly on three points.

Firstly, reassuring continuity and permanence; secondly, drifting away from the core socialist traditions based on “community first and foremost” to “your individual choices and aspirations matter” and, finally, promising that the water and electricity tariffs will be cut.

Even though this last ruse worked wonders for the PN in the1998 election, I don’t think this promise will have that much impact this time round in actually swinging voters to go for the PL.

I’m beginning to think that with what is happening in neighbouring Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, among others, people are sluggishly starting to realise that it’s better that the rates are a bit higher than one would expect then risk losing out on other fronts.

In my view, the effect of all the in-house clamour that has been going on these last months within the PN has left an ineffaceable impact but has also (re-)turned a number of devotees who have drifted away from the party and are now ready to be born-again Nationalists.

Despite all this, I believe this election will be decided in the last straight. It will be the party with the best package in terms of “what there is for me to gain?” together with the endurance of its leaders that will make the finish line first.

The author is senior lecturer at the Department of Youth and Community Studies of the University of Malta.

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