With a general election set to take place within the next year, the only question is how big the gap between the PL and the PN will be this time.
Despite all the problems brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the government remains way more trusted than the PN.
While there are many reasons why this is the case, here are three recent examples of how the PN shot itself in the foot.
1. Eliminating itself from the cannabis discussion
Back in March, the government presented a White Paper on cannabis reform, including allowing four cannabis plants to be grown per household and carrying up to 7 grams in public without facing a penalty.
The PN knew this reform was coming eventually; it was included within the PL’s manifesto after all. However, it has yet to come up with a single proposal, despite stating last month that it will present its vision “within days”.
Meanwhile, the PL has endorsed the full legalisation of cannabis, along with social clubs, meaning it’s likely to include this stance in its next manifesto. It will excite several people, who won’t wait for the PN to issue their proposals.
2. Its strange stance on the db City Centre project
After the Planning Authority approved the db Group’s controversial City Centre project in Pembroke last week, the PN called for the resignation of the five PA members who had abstained from voting, accusing them of “abdicating their responsibilities in the moment of truth.”
However, it later emerged that the reason they recused themselves was because of a court judgement which had invalidated the PA’s previous approval of the same project on the grounds of a conflict of interest by board member Matthew Pace.
Yet the judgement also said that PA members shouldn’t express their personal opinions on a project before voting as this would hinder the impartiality of the board.
With that logic, the board members which had voted in the original db decision decided to recuse themselves.
The PN didn’t call for the resignation of the PA members who voted in favour of the project; they didn’t even state whether they are in favour or against the project at all.
Instead, the party called out people who, for all intents and purposes, were just following legal advice.
In fact, their stance was criticised by Moviment Graffitti Andre Callus, one of the most vocal critics of the db project.
3. Bernard Grech’s dig at Joseph Muscat’s termination package
Over the weekend, The Shift News revealed that Joseph Muscat had received a €120,000 severance package following his resignation as Prime Minister in 2019, a one-time payment worth two years of his salary.
PN leader Bernard Grech was quick to denounce this as “a secret present by Robert Abela to Joseph Muscat which would be unacceptable in a normal country”.
However, Muscat then said all former Prime Ministers, Opposition leaders and ministers qualify for this compensation scheme and his package was in line with that given to previous PN political leaders and figures.
The Shift later revealed that Muscat had changed the termination benefit system twice as Prime Minister, resulting in more money for himself now, but it’s still not a “secret present” from Abela and either way it wasn’t the original point of Grech’s criticism.
There’s a lot Grech should be holding Abela to account for over the Muscat years, specifically the several dubious deals (VGH, Electrogas, St Vincent de Paul extension) that are still very much in place.
However, focusing on a termination package that Muscat is legally entitled to is not one of them.
It’s an uphill struggle for the PN as it attempts to narrow the gap with PL ahead of the next election, and Bernard Grech will be receiving all kinds of contrasting advice.
At a time of change and uncertainty (and we’re certainly in that period right now), people will be looking for parties that can provide them with a clear and enticing political direction.
Right now, the PN seems more focused on trying to find constant compromises, stepping on as few toes as possible barring the easy political targets, and that’s unlikely to excite many people to switch their votes.
Elections are about capturing people’s minds and hearts, and PN has a lot of work to do over here.