It’s been 50 days since Bernard Grech took charge of the PN and although he’s hardly set the world alight, he has managed to stabilise a party that at one point looked at serious risk of fracturing into two.
He has also taken some concrete actions, giving people an indication of where he intends to position the party ahead of the next election.
These are eight major actions the new PN leader has taken so far:
1. Calling for a public inquiry into ElectroGas
Grech’s first parliamentary move was to call for a public inquiry into the ElectroGas power station project, which police believe could have been the motive behind the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Grech has said a public inquiry will ensure full transparency over one of the most controversial deals in recent history, but his call is unlikely to be heeded, with Prime Minister Robert Abela warning it could send a message that the institutions aren’t working.
2. Taking a stance against two of his MPs
He’s only been a few weeks in charge but Grech has already come out against the behaviour of two of his MPs. Jason Azzopardi suspended himself from the party and got rebuked by the PN’s Ethics Commission following revelations that the Tumas Group had paid for his stay at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv.
Grech also disassociated himself and the party from a comment passed by MP Edwin Vassallo, who denounced a proposal by European Commissioner Helena Dalli to fine member states which disrespect LGBT+ rights as “Marxism”.
A day later, the PN leader visited Mġarr farmers without Vassallo in what was viewed internally as a symbolic rebuke to the MP, who is the party’s spokesperson on agriculture.
3. Setting up a COVID-19 task force
Grech’s response to the pandemic so far has been to set up an inter-parliamentary team to draft a national COVID-19 strategy after consulting with stakeholders.
This team hasn’t proposed much so far, but the PN leader has pinned the blame for Malta’s second wave on Robert Abela, accusing the Prime Minister of lulling the nation into a false sense of security at the start of summer.
“This is an incompetent government that failed and buckled under the first waves,” he argued. “Our country needs direction and hope that can only be provided by the Nationalist Party.”
4. Approving new faces ahead of the general election
A regeneration process that started under former PN leader Adrian Delia has continued under Grech, with the party rolling out some new faces to contest at the upcoming general election.
Some of the most prominent of these new faces are criminal lawyer Joe Giglio, activist Mark Anthony Sammut, teacher and political commenter Justin Schembri, and Angela Coleiro, who has become the first-ever trans woman candidate in Maltese history.
5. Solving the PN’s treasurer woes
The PN’s persistent inability to find a treasurer to manage its finances had become something of a running gag and the party ended up turning to its deputy leader Robert Arrigo to take on this responsibility.
However, Grech appears to have solved this problem, appointing accountant and former Żurrieq councillor Mario Ellul to this sensitive role.
6. Appointing a 25-year-old to a new party role
Unlike the Labour Party, the PN has struggled badly to attract youth activists and politicians in recent years. However, Grech took a step towards addressing this challenge by appointing 25-year-old Michael Piccinino to the new role of executive organisational secretary.
A former president of the national youth council, Piccinino will be responsible for organising the party on a national, regional and local level, and managing the party’s resources and assets.
7. Risking the loss of a parliamentary seat
Following the death of Gozitan MP Frederick Azzopardi, Grech’s PN played with fire by urging candidate Ryan Cefai Mercieca not to contest the upcoming casual election due to him having lost a libel case over allegations that he had misappropriated EU funds and set up a sham NGO.
However, Cefai Mercieca decided to contest the casual election and the PN launched procedures to kick him out of the party. Had he won, the PN would have been down another seat in Parliament but, thankfully for the party, Joe Ellis ended up triumphing.
8. Meeting Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family
Three years since Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, Grech became the first leader of a major Maltese political party to meet up with the murdered journalist’s family when he accompanied them to the Bidnija site where she got killed.
A small moment but a symbolic one, considering how the poor relationship between the Caruana Galiziais and Adrian Delia had caused serious rifts within the PN.
Proposals have been quite scant from Grech’s part and surveys show the PN still has a long way to go to close the gap with the Labour Party ahead of the next election, particularly when it comes to attracting PL voters. However, the PN leader has certainly managed to stabilise the party, which is no longer fraught with public infighting. If nothing else, PN supporters can view this as a promising start…