Any major political party that loses two successive elections by a large margin needs to reinvent itself to win back the electoral favour. Whatever the reasons for the recent defeats, the Nationalist Party faces an uphill road to win back the support not just of floating voters but also of its hard core supporters.

Many view the decision taken by former party leader Simon Busuttil to resign as being the correct one. The leader of a political party needs to shoulder responsibility for failing to convince the majority of the electorate that his vision for the future of the country was better than that of the opposing party.

But the transition to the election of a new leader may have been too short for the PN parliamentary group, the party governance bodies and the members to conduct a proper soul-searching exercise before identifying a new leader.

The election of Adrian Delia as party leader did not take off smoothly. It was always evident that a sizeable part of the parliamentary group and the administration of the party believed that he was not the right person to lead them in the coming years.

The publication of stories relating to his work as a lawyer may have raised doubts among some PN supporters on whether Dr Delia had the right credentials to challenge the Labour Party on what many consider as the proliferation of corrupt practices that have crept in the country’s political administration. The result is that many traditional PN supporters feel that the present leader of their party no longer merits their support.

Political leaders win broad loyalty from their followers through their ability to convince the electorate that they can change people’s lives for the better. In a democracy, a leader’s charisma is still important. But even more important is teamwork that inspires confidence in the electorate that ultimately decides who should lead the country.

The PN’s present leader has so far failed to project himself as a strong unifying leader that can lead the party out of the woods and back to winning the support of the electorate. This week six Nationalist MPs ignored the party Whip after they were not allowed a free vote on a motion relating to the government’s legal notice granting leave to those seeking IVF treatment. They abstained on the motion seconded by their leader.

Many argue that MPs are right to insist on having a free vote on issues of an ethical or moral nature. They fear that the PN is missing too many opportunities of showing that it is an inclusive party that tolerates different opinions on ethical issues.

The difficult financial position of the PN also needs to be tackled. Large political parties must have full-time employees to organise their communication strategy with the electorate. Paying party officials and running a television and radio station on the generous contributions of party supporters may not be sustainable in the long term. As a result of many PN supporters’ disillusionment with recent developments in the PN leadership saga, the party’s finances may be affected even more negatively.

The Labour government is unlikely to rush through legislation on the public financing of political parties in these present circumstances. A root and branch pruning of the PN’s expenditure budget may now be inevitable.

Any political analyst will tell you that a disunited party has little chance of convincing the electorate that it is the ideal party to lead the country. At present, the PN is unlikely to be seen by the majority of the electorate as a compact party united behind its leader. The risk of a PN failure at the next European Parliament election in less than two years is indeed high.

Despite economic success, the Labour government’s failures in good governance are glaring. Unless the PN projects itself as a united party with fresh ideas, it may fail to convince the electorate that it is better qualified to govern.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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