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Third phase of Busuttil’s career

Simon Busuttil’s candidature for the Nationalist Party’s deputy leadership marks the third phase in the career of one of Malta’s foremost champions of our EU vocation. His first was the non-partisan voice explaining the implications of Malta’s EU membership to a country still to learn what membership really meant.

Avoiding the 2009 MEP result for the PN rests on much more than on any one highly popular candidate
- Austin Bencini

He quickly had to come to grips with Labour’s all-out opposition to EU membership under Alfred Sant’s leadership.

This meant that even he who merely explained what membership meant was branded an opponent and was subjected to daily assaults from the leftist media.

Busuttil’s proverbial calm and rational approach meant that even the most hysterical provocation to taint him in a partisan light failed miserably and rebounded spectacularly against Labour. It catapulted Busuttil into the national limelight as a figure respected by the non-partisan electorate.

His second phase was, of course, the natural consequence of the first. He contested the European Parliament elections on behalf of the biggest pro-EU party. His success was an outstanding and overwhelming personal triumph. He got elected in the 2004 and 2009 MEP elections, even though paradoxically the Nationalist Party lost both.

At the 2009 MEP elections, Busuttil obtained 68,782 first preference votes of the PN’s 100,486 votes. The popular David Casa obtained 6,539 first preferences and was elected with the quota after inheriting most of Busuttil’s first preferences. To boot, Busuttil was the only one elected at the first count.

In 2004 and 2009, the electorate therefore did give the pro-EU party a clear message not to be taken for granted.

The PN as a whole only obtained 40.5 per cent of the national first preference count as against Labour’s 54.8 per cent.

Busuttil’s personal triumph was not enough to win the elections, which were both held in the wake of the PN’s national electoral victories of 2003 and 2008.

This in turn leads directly to Busuttil’s third phase.

By submitting his candidature for the PN’s deputy leadership, he entered into national party politics, which promises to become his most gruelling yet.

His real challenge is not to be branded immediately as the next leader of the Nationalist Party.

Such an expectation may prove fatal to the eventual success of the third phase of his illustrious career and would, more fundamentally, distort seriously the urgent call for deputy leadership following the unexpected resignation of the Maltese EU Commissioner. The Prime Minister has clearly no intention of moving aside and currently enjoys the full confidence of the Nationalist Party organs, as proven by the very recent ‘no-contest’ confirmation of his leadership.

There has been the clear intention on the part of the Prime Minister to involve Busuttil in local politics, as was evidenced by the meetings held between the two when the post of party general secretary was in the offing and when the Prime Minister nominated him as his delegate to receive representations from the civil and commercial sectors of our society.

This unorthodox title, of an ambiguous constitutional reading, demonstrates once more that the Prime Minister is clearly in control and is building a formidable team of brand new ministerial and MEP talent to contest the general elections.

More than half of the Cabinet is composed of ministers appointed during the course of this legislature with new faces of the calibre of Mario de Marco, Chris Said, Joseph Cassar and Jason Azzopardi.

This would be so since of the remaining ministers, Austin Gatt and Dolores Cristina have already declared they are not contesting the elections, and Tonio Borg is currently nominated to replace John Dalli at the EU Commission.

This leaves only three of the Cabinet ‘senators’, Tonio Fenech, Giovanna Debono and George Pullicino, contesting.

Busuttil and Casa therefore are part of Gonzi’s plans of change and it is the ‘team’ that now stands before the electorate, of course headed by its leader.

It was the combined talent of such heavyweights as Eddie Fenech Adami, Guido de Marco, Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, Ċensu Tabone, Louis Galea, among many other Nationalist and national notables, that made the PN such an awesome electoral machine.

Unlike the EU elections where Malta and Gozo form one single district, the PN has to contest 13 districts of which no single candidate may contest more than a maximum of two. Avoiding the 2009 MEP result for the PN therefore rests on much more than on any one highly popular candidate – and Busuttil would be the first to say so.

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