Surveys show he is more popular than Adrian Delia, and Bernard Grech has now said he will consider contesting the leadership of the Nationalist Party if an election is held.
As new to politics as Delia was when he first started campaigning for leader, Grech is viewed by many PN supporters as the best, if not the only chance for the party to emerge from its troubles.
But who is this potential new leader and why is he so popular?
Born in Paola in 1971, Grech grew up in Birżebbuġa and graduated as a lawyer, specialising in civil law. His life was struck with tragedy and the ugliest side of politics when he was only six years old, after his cousin Karin Grech was killed by a letter bomb addressed to her father.
The murder remains unsolved till this day and, in a debate last year, Bernard Grech said this was due to several mistakes carried out in the initial investigations.
“I don’t want to take political mileage out of this but it’s not right that you keep saying the Nationalists killed her, because there’s no proof they did,” he said, in response to a remark by lawyer and PL candidate Andy Ellul.
Grech has been married for 23 years and has two grown-up children, aged 21 and 19. After they were born, he spent some time as a semi-househusband, quite a rare breed in Maltese society.
“Since my wife is a teacher, she had limited time to drop the kids off at nursery and pick them up, so I’d go late to work and work reduced hours, sometimes from 9am till noon,” he told Lovin Malta. “It’s something I’m proud of.”
Professionally, Grech didn’t build a large law firm as Delia did but instead works out of two offices, one right next to his Mosta home and another right next to his parents’ house.
Explaining his decision, he said he never harboured any huge career ambitions and wanted to remain close to his family while reducing expenses.
His legal career hasn’t focused on litigation but on mediation, particularly related to family and property law. With the Nationalist Party torn apart into warring groups, Grech unsurprisingly believes that mediation will be an important skillset for its next leader.
Politically speaking, Grech is as new a face as they come; he has never been involved in any branches of a political party and has never contested an election.
He had a stint in the public eye in 2011 when he campaigned against the legalisation of divorce as part of the Żwieġ Bla Divorzju movement.
Explaining his rationale back then, he said he wanted children of separated couples to keep on hoping that their parents will someday unite, something which he argued was possible with separation but not with divorce.
However, the majority of Maltese people disagreed and voted in favour of divorce.
In 2015, Grech joined the Mostin u Ħbieb Kontra x-Shooting Range movement to, as the name suggests, oppose a proposed shooting range in Busbesija. This campaign proved to be successful and the shooting range proposal was eventually scrapped.
And all throughout his life, Grech has involved himself with voluntary work, working with youths and people with disabilities since he was 17 years old.
However, it was only in 2018 that the lawyer’s name started to gain serious prominence, with PN supporters touting him as a potential successor to Delia.
Indeed, a MaltaToday report from November 2018 said Delia’s aides were growing suspicious of Grech’s ambitions after the lawyer ignored an offer to run in the 2019 European Parliament election.
Although Grech himself never campaigned overtly or, as far as we know, covertly, several PN supporters appeared to be charmed by his calm but to-the-point style of speaking on party media.
His profile was enhanced further when Malta’s most popular TV show, Xarabank, started inviting him on as a panelist for political discussions. Grech would often line up with Joe Giglio (who has also been named as a potential PN leader) as PN-leaning lawyers to debate political issues with PL-leaning lawyers Robert Musumeci and Andy Ellul.
Last June, he delivered a speech at a vigil for assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, in which he compared people who believe Malta is a “normal country” to Flat Earthers and urged Labour supporters to join in the fight for Malta’s “normality”.
Grech first emerged as the favourite for PN leader in a MaltaToday survey carried out in December 2019, with PN supporters rating him more popular than Delia.
He then came second to MEP Roberta Metsola in a Lovin Malta poll carried out last February, and first again in a Times of Malta survey carried out last month.
In his most recent Xarabank debate last month, Grech said becoming PN leader isn’t in his plans but appeared more open to this possibility than Giglio did.
“Eventually, if the PN asks me too, I will also contest an election,” he said, when asked by host Peppi Azzopardi whether he is interested in the leadership. “With regards my plans for the future, it definitely isn’t my plan [to become PN leader] just as it wasn’t my plan to contest an election up until a few months ago.”
The crisis which has since gripped the PN has indeed made him change his mind, and he confirmed he intends to contest for the leadership if the General Council votes to call an election next week.
In terms of policies he would like to promote, Grech highlighted social justice and access to housing, not exactly dissimilar to Delia’s campaign battlecries.
However, it’s clearly his personality that is attracting people, not his policies.
“I have no grand plans in place and I honestly don’t know why I’m doing so well in the surveys,” he told Lovin Malta. “I think people can see something, and from what they tell me personally, they see me as genuine, straightforward and someone who can easily explain things to them.”
“People from all walks of life have said they want to see me as leader but I wondered whether they were saying that just to please me; I’m down to earth after all. However, then I saw the surveys and realised it’s true.”
“This is a very difficult time for the party but I believe that when the party needs a person or people, the ideal ones always emerge… and then it’s up to the people to choose.”
Grech has said he will consider any position that the county and the party needs him for, be it the leader or the janitor.
And if he does decide to contest, the question remains: is he the right candidate and will PN supporters choose him over the current leader?
Will Bernard Grech make a good PN leader? Let us know what you think in the comment section