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My PD doesn't need a leader with an ego - Anthony Buttigieg

New PD leader wants to build 'a people's party'

With Labour mired in scandals and the PN seemingly split down the middle, many have lost faith in the parties. Waiting in the wings, a third voice hopes to fill the void. Ivan Martin speaks with Anthony Buttigieg, the newly appointed leader of the Democratic Party, about building “a people’s party”.

The PD is a “middle-of-the-road party”. Photo: Matthew MirabelliThe PD is a “middle-of-the-road party”. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli
 

People, Dr Buttigieg says, are fed up of being called Nationalists or Labourites. They don’t care for the major parties and don’t want to see them rule the country but to govern – at least that’s how the people he wants to represent feel. 

There is a growing feeling of disenchantment with the major political parties, which is manifesting in public demonstrations and civil society speaking out, and Dr Buttigieg believes the PD can capitalise on this.

“I want the PD to be a band of concerned citizens who want to break this two-party-mould for the good of the country,” he tells The Sunday Times of Malta a week after ascending to the leadership position uncontested.

Formed a little over a year ago, the PD, ‘the orange ticket’, is a fledging party so far synonymous with its founder, live wire MP Marlene Farrugia.

Although Dr Farrugia represents the party in Parliament, along with her partner, Godfrey Farrugia, she renounced the leadership back in August. 

An internal election was held last month, and after Dr Buttigieg’s opponent dropped out, he was appointed the new “leader by consensus”.

For the 55-year-old general practitioner, who has no previous political experience, this “works”.

“The party I want to lead doesn’t need to have a leader in the way we are used to seeing leaders – someone with an ego… I don’t want to say I am PD, but I am typical of the PD and those it seeks to represent,” he said, admitting that he would have preferred to have won an election for the PD leadership.

For many this will sound like a familiar sales pitch: ‘representing those who have turned their back on the big two’.

Alternattiva Demokratika have long been trying to lure those voters who feel uneasy with both major parties. So how is PD any different?

“Well, for starters, we are in Parliament, something AD is not. We have two MPs who are doing the work of an entire Opposition on their own,” Dr Buttigieg said.

This means that the party has a whole legislature to show the electorate the benefits of having them in the House to keep big parties in check.

AD, he added, had also been pigeonholed as a one-issue-party.

Taking off his glasses and folding them on the desk in front of him, Dr Buttigieg says it is understandable, however, that many might have no idea where the PD stands on the political spectrum.

It was a party, he said, that was thrust into a general election campaign only weeks after it was set up.

“You can’t really hash out a political identity when you’ve been thrown into the deep end without even knowing how to swim,” the separated father of one said.

He sees the PD as a “middle-of-the-road party” and has wasted no time trying to cement that.

We have reached out to the PN a number of times but we are not getting a reply

The day after he was confirmed leader, Dr Buttigieg met with a delegation from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party, more popularly known as ALDE, the EU political group made up of centrist parties. 

The PD is in the process of joining the group, and Dr Buttigieg hopes to have the paperwork done in time for Christmas.

This, he says, was important because he hopes to field candidates in the next round of municipal elections in 2019. He also wants to throw the party’s hat in the ring for the MEP elections. 

Most importantly, he wants to build a party that is ready to campaign in the next general election on its own steam and not as part of a pre-agreed coalition.

The PD will “obviously” not be gunning for an electoral majority, but a minority large enough to get back into Parliament and form a post-electoral coalition with a new government. 

Asked about the current state of the PN-PD coalition after the PD’s two MPs were elected on a blue ticket, Dr Buttigieg said that he was unsure if a coalition still existed.

“We have reached out to the PN a number of times but we are not getting a reply,” he said, adding that the PD MPs were not attending PN parliamentary group meetings either. 

Although he may be a newcomer to the political scene, having never been involved in a political party before, Dr Buttigieg said he knew to expect fierce rivalry from his political opponents.

The next general election campaign would be fought tooth and nail, and he was expecting Labour to dismiss the PD as a Nationalist spin-off, while he knew the PN would probably claim he was poaching blue votes.

But Dr Buttigieg hopes this can work to his advantage.

As international scrutiny on the rule of law in Malta intensifies, Dr Buttigieg believes that it will become harder for the public to dismiss this as partisan rhetoric and perhaps society will start to recognise it as a “real and serious problem”.

“I think society is changing, and so is politics. We have seen the importance of small parties abroad, and although Malta sometimes lags behind, I think that change is coming here too.

“I think the people want a party that works for their interests and not for the interests of the few – a people’s party,” he said.

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