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Time to reflect and to rebuild

The people have spoken. And it could not be more clear than this. Congratulations to the Labour Party and to Joseph Muscat personally who steered his party to an unprecedented electoral victory in post-independence history.

I’m proud to have been there for my party in the hour of need and I would not have forgiven myself if I had not done my part when the party needed

This is democracy at work and the Nationalist Party is the first to bow its head to the people’s will even when the result is so painful and devastating.

My first thoughts go to party activists, hundreds of them, all volunteers, who worked tirelessly and generously throughout the campaign. It was a privilege to work with them as well as with the party’s candidates. Through this column I want to transmit my heartfelt gratitude to all party activists and candidates and I would like them to feel proud of their contribution to the party and to the country. Likewise, I think of the tens of thousands of PN voters who last Saturday placed their trust in our party.

Despite the disappointment I would like to reassure them that their trust will be honoured and reflected through a strong and loyal Opposition in Parliament.

As to the rest, it is now time for reflection and the party needs the time and space to do this serenely. Finger pointing and rash decisions will not make for good long-term results. Calm and prudence, on the other hand, provide the serenity to make thoughtful and rational decisions that can enable us to make the necessary overhaul in the party structures that can eventually return it to its former glory, as the party of the people.

The scale of the defeat clearly shows that the people’s verdict had been long made and there was no chance of reversing it during the campaign. For over a year, opinion polls had consistently given a strong 12-point lead to Labour and despite the longest electoral campaign we barely managed to shave it. Our hope that the army of undecided voters would ultimately give the PN another chance, proved to be wishful thinking.

In the coming weeks, the party will no doubt study and discuss the reasons for the defeat and lay solid foundations for reconstruction. Some reasons of what went wrong readily come to mind: internal divisions, the handling of water and electricity bills and the honoraria issue but also the stream of complaints about MEPA and the perceived disconnect between the Government and voters. But surely there is more than meets the eye and there are other reasons which need to be determined and understood.

On the other hand, whatever the shortcomings, the PN should be proud of having handed back to the electorate a country with a sound economy and a high standard of living.

The PN’s legacy is a better country and a better society. And even if this has came at a high political price, it is a legacy to be proud of.

As to myself, I am humbled by the scale of the trust that has been placed in me in the two electoral districts that I contested, the ninth and the eleventh district and I pledge to honour this trust.

Accordingly, as I promised to the electorate, this week I will resign my seat in the European Parliament in order to take up my seat in the House of Representatives here in Malta. It is difficult for me to leave my Brussels seat for more reasons than one. But I will stand by my pledge to serve here in Malta.

When I decided to contest the deputy leadership of the party just a few days before the Government collapsed, I knew that I was coming in at a very difficult time when the easiest thing for me to do was to stay out of it.

I knew that I was going to face an election campaign in which Labour had an almost unassailable lead. And I also knew that the post would be statutorily up for re-election immediately after the election.

So I am prepared to face the consequences.

But I do it with a clear conscience. I am proud to have been there for my party in the hour of need and I would not have forgiven myself if I had not done my part when the party needed help most.

I am prepared to continue serving. Over the next few days I will be deciding on whether I should do this by standing for the party leadership.

In the meantime, however, it is right and proper to honour the name of the person who holds it to date: Lawrence Gonzi.

Dr Gonzi, as ever a gentleman, has taken complete and personal responsibility for the result. He is a man of integrity who has served the country well and who has delivered excellent results.

I have no doubt in my mind that history will judge him well. Thank you, Lawrence.

Simon Busuttil is Nationalist Party deputy leader.

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