Here’s why PN failed to make a dent in PL’s dominance

The Labor Party has won its third consecutive general election. It’s a result everyone saw coming with early predictions and a Lovin Malta survey predicting the gap between the two main parties remained relatively similar to the devastating landslide victory in 2017.

But the question on everyone’s lips is how they managed to do it with major corruption scandals, gray lists and even the political crisis that unfolded after the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia having no little or no effect on the outcome.

Of course, we won’t know the exact margin until the official results are out, but it looks like the PN has once again failed to make a meaningful dent in Labour’s political dominance.

An unprepared and inconsistent PN

Bernard Grech has only been leader of the PN for a year and a half, a miserable amount of time considering the unassailable lead the PL had at the time. In 2019, with Adrian Delia at the helm, the PL beat the PN in the European elections by 43,000 votes, with polls even suggesting that PL lead had nearly doubled by the time Grech took over.

The revolving door’s constant approach to leaders and core team members has created an inconsistent party that has left it very late to begin tackling and building the semblance of a credible vision.

In truth, the five years since the last election have been a complete waste of time for the PN, which has spent three years arguing rather than addressing ongoing internal issues.

He split his own supporters in half and was more concerned with retaining supporters than launching impressive attempts to attract new faces.

This has created an inconsistent policy, with the PN regularly flip-flopping on crucial issues – be it cannabis, the Gozo tunnel and even COVID-19.

Grech, for his part, was a complete political novice when he became leader of the PN, having had little or no experience in politics beyond leading an unsuccessful anti-divorce campaign. And while he did an impressive job of bringing in fresh new faces, it was too little too late, with members of the old guard still dominating the talk.

Even the trackless streetcar, a core PN election promise, went off the rails soon after it was announced, with candidates failing to even master the basics of crucial policy.

The latest result could start the merry-go-round again with Grech now facing a leadership race under party statutes.

The Labor Party takes a look at economic prowess

The Labor Party has overseen immense economic growth and the government has performed well during the pandemic by doling out millions through incentives and programs to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the local economy. It is something that people can feel on a daily basis.

While the cost of living has certainly increased, people also have higher disposable income and, in some cases, better employment opportunities.

It’s something Abela and his team understand well, and have regularly said his government is “a safe pair of hands” in managing the uncertainty ahead, particularly as the Ukraine-Russia war continues.

He presented the PN as “unfit” to govern and his criticism of the costs of the PN manifesto certainly left its mark.

The gray list also failed to make any significant inroads with Grech’s attempts to blame the problem squarely on Abela fell on deaf ears, with seemingly high numbers blaming the problems on the administration of Muscat.

And while corruption allegations and gray listings are certainly major issues, the PN has eroded any sense of being the voice on good governance issues in its more than 20 years in power. People, it seems, would rather go with the devil they know, especially if the other choices have little to offer.

Expecting people who voted one way to magically transition to the other side after decades of turmoil is a difficult task. Faced with a choice between the PL and the PN, which are not too different politically, it takes a lot more to convince people to change course.

The PN did its part to push the idea that it would create 10 new industries, but its ESG requirements were so poorly explained and translated to the electorate that they barely left a kick.

Grech also made the mistake of focusing on the economy during the debate. Although there are definite criticisms, there should have been stronger arguments and a more concrete vision, as his politics were torn apart by Abela.

The power of tenure

Bernard Grech has previously pointed to incumbent power, specifically handing out checks to voters a week or so before the election, as the reason for the loss.

And while people may think checks wouldn’t influence votes, consider the message they send: the government is doing so well economically that it can distribute checks to the entire nation (even though that money is technically ours to begin with).

Cabinet ministers have also been busy over the past few weeks and months presenting major plans for the districts in which they run – whether financial incentives or major green projects.

Candidates have also been busy handing out freebies to their constituents, but that’s really common on both sides of the dividing line.

Of course, reducing it to the sole power of the incumbent presents a worrying situation for the PN, which continues to fail to realize that its failure to convince voters runs much deeper and has a lot to do with the current crop of candidates. and its political orientation.

Corruption takes a back seat

The PN was reluctant to make corruption a key issue, as it was still licking its wounds since 2017. However, that was only a footnote in this election, as Grech and his allies sought to create a positive campaign, free from any major deadlock.

Not once in any of the political debates was Abela expected to explain major scandals. Instead, the party chose to focus on the prime minister’s links to suspected criminals, rather than addressing the elephant in the room.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated just months after the 2017 elections and the assassination’s links to some of the most prominent government officials have been completely ignored. And while Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona resigned, Carmelo Abela, Edward Zammit Lewis and Rosianne Cutajar all emerged unscathed.

During this time, Abela was able to repeatedly remind voters that his government had instituted reforms – presenting the changes as historic government initiatives when in reality they were imposed on the country by international bodies.

Even allegations of corruption during Abela’s tenure were largely ignored. Her reinstatement of Justyne Caruana following her resignation over her ex-husband’s ties to the murder should have been a major topic, especially after she was forced to resign following a questionable direct order delivered to her new boyfriend.

Abela waited months before taking action, allowing Caruana to step down gracefully, while she still remained an MP. In other cases, he simply did not act and this should have been made clear to the electorate.

These actions have had a direct influence on Malta’s gray list and while many might think that everyone knows the major corruption allegations, the truth is that there have been so many that it is hard to keep track.

Abela steps up during the campaign

While Abela certainly enjoyed a major majority when he took office, many doubted his ability to campaign. And while he was far from inspiring, he moved away from being drawn into major controversies.

Obviously, he was helped by his repeated refusal to engage with the independent press in interviews or debates. Yet he focused on simply translating the party manifesto into clear deliverables rather than the vague commitments that characterized the PN.

He took every debate on the chin and never engaged in silly tit-for-tats with the PN leader. Abela deliberately avoided smearing this race, trusting his party’s message.

Abela also quickly settled controversial issues during his tenure, such as the marina in Marsaskala. Of course, there is no guarantee that the project will not be revived once the next legislature.

Overall, Abela presented a safe pair of hands throughout the campaign – capitalizing on the PN’s resistance to engaging in a divisive election.

Abela also presented proposals that effectively canceled the PN. And if the PN made believe that presenting the manifesto very early was a good idea, any significant proposal was co-opted or improved by the Labor Party.

The PN loses credibility on liberal issues

The PN continues to haemorrhage support among liberal and progressive voters in Malta. His inconsistent messaging on cannabis reform and his continued blanket ban on even discussing abortion would have hurt the party this time around.

Once again, despite the changes, the party continues to prove to the nation that it is not the party willing to discuss some of the country’s most important social issues. He lost the battle on divorce, LGBTIQ+ rights and now drug reform.

He is also losing the battle over sexual health, with Abela at least admitting that abortion deserves at least serious discussion in the country.

With a whole army of 16-year-old voters heading to the polls this time around, the PN likely lost big in convincing them that the PN was their party going forward. Whether the party can even consider turning things around in 2027 remains a major question.

For now, Abela will celebrate, confident that he can finally begin to walk away from the Muscat administration.

On the other hand, a dejected Grech and the PN will have to undergo a substantial exercise in soul-searching after yet another humiliating loss. Something he has so far failed to do effectively on previous occasions.

Why do you think the PN lost?

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Julian is the editor of Lovin Malta with a particular interest in politics, environment, social issues and human interest stories.

Joseph K. Bennett