Forty years ago the Nationalist Party was at its lowest ebb since its leader Nerik Mizzi had been exiled in the 1940s. It had just suffered its second defeat in a row at the hands of a resurgent Dom Mintoff. The contest to replace Ġorġ Borg Olivier as PN leader included two established, popular and successful figures, and a third candidate who had not been elected on his own steam to Parliament and occupied secondary roles within the PN.
Yet it was this unassuming and reserved ‘village lawyer’ who, with his inclusive social democratic vision of Malta within Europe, swept the leadership contest in 1977. Eddie Fenech Adami revitalised the PN and transformed what and who it stood for: ‘Xogħol, Ġustizzja, Libertà’ and ‘Is-Sewwa Jirbaħ Żgur.’
The rest is history: the good, the bad and, in the final years before 2013, the starting-to-verge-on-ugly. Today the Nationalist Party is down and out, at least for this match. In this stifling summer haze it is mulling over who of four contestants can be the best bet for the party’s rebirth. But this is not just the party’s business.
Who inherits Simon Busuttil’s tattered mantle as PN Leader matters not just for the Nationalist Party delegates and its tesserati but for all the country, including observers like me who are neither. So you would expect that the party would field its best and brightest for the consideration of the electors.
The first thing that strikes you is that there are no women, and there certainly were eligible ladies for this job. Was it deemed as too thankless? Were the women more politically astute or less inclined for political peril or even hara-kiri than their male colleagues?
The next thing that strikes you is the four candidates themselves. It is tempting to be underwhelmed by the choice on offer: Frank, the anti-migrant homophobe. Adrian, the political virgin. Chris, the savvy political operator. Alex, the (relative) newcomer. But there could be more than first meets the eye.
I agree with Alex Perici Calascione that it would have been preferable to first discuss for what and for whom the party should stand, and therefore what kind of leadership it requires. But the choice facing the PN delegates does in fact present them with four different orientations of the Nationalist Party that, like its Labour counterpart, has always been a coalition of disparate political beliefs.
Whether we like it or not (and I don’t), there is a core of traditionalist supporters who identify with Frank Portelli, and who hanker for the ‘good old days’, although quite how Dr Portelli represents them is unclear to me.
Who inherits Simon Busuttil’s tattered mantle as PN Leader matters not just for the PN delegates and its tesserati but for all the country
There is a second group that wishes to throw out the ‘baby’ of party history with the ‘bath-water’ of electoral defeat. Adrian Delia is seen by them as a fresh start without political baggage, the PN reset button, Malta’s Berlusconi or Trump. I was in two minds about the man. He sounds reasonable and has good ideas, but that is what most of us had said about Joseph Muscat in the run-up to 2013. I still don’t know what Dr Delia’s red lines are, or what really impelled him to join the race in the first place.
That was before I heard the ‘Avukat ta’ Klassi’ Orietta Berti ripped-off ditty, which sounds like it came from the same fount of self-aggrandising belligerently partisan inspiration as the anthem for Birkirkara FC. Does he honestly think he can run the PN like a football club? Then there are those who wish to transform the PN without ripping out its soul and transplanting a Tagħna Lkoll-lite version. They are looking for a leader who has the power to coalesce the different groups within the PN and the nation around a common set of beliefs that evolve from the PN’s own principles. One who has that rare mix of depth of conviction, quiet strength, honesty, gravitas and guile. And the deep sense of service to face the thankless task that would await him.
Who could possibly be the next Eddie Fenech Adami for the 21st century?
Recently 70 high-profile Maltese artists wrote a public letter to the government to denounce the Valletta 2018 Foundation, the State premier cultural operator. They accused government of effectively silencing key cultural stakeholders and nurturing a sense of political quietism that is “absolutely detrimental to the cultural scene”.
Government’s response? Totally ignoring these concerns and blithely announcing a package of goodies for upcoming artistic hopefuls. These initiatives are good in themselves. But in the context of the government’s deafening silence at this chorus of criticism, its stranglehold on arts funding acquires a more sinister meaning.
For this government, ‘creativity’ is just about doing pretty things, and culture is just another utilitarian avenue for jobs, including jobs for the boys (and girls). Get in the way of the government’s cultural nomenklatura and brace yourself for the termination of your contract and the cancellation of your commission. It stinks.