The Malta Independent 25 June 2017, Sunday

Emerging leaders

Charló Bonnici Sunday, 18 June 2017, 08:43 Last update: about 8 days ago
Charlo Bonnici
Charlo Bonnici

A fortnight has now passed since the General Election, however the results are still being analysed and discussed – particularly on social media. One aspect of this particular election that intrigued me, now as a passive observer of the local political scene, is the emergence of potential leaders on both sides of the political spectrum who will, I think, either now or in the near future fill existing roles or ones that may soon be created. Of particular interest to me is the skills set that I believe each of these individuals has and whether this will be enough to catapult them into a leadership position in their party.

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As things stand at the time of writing, vacancies have arisen within the Nationalist Party for the position of leader and deputy leaders, apart from a host of other positions within the party’s structure. On the other hand, within the Labour Party the position previously occupied by Louis Grech is now up for grabs. Moreover, Dr Joseph Muscat’s confirmation that he will not lead his party in the next General Election has raised the antennas, so to speak, of those interested in taking over his role as leader of the party.

In the aftermath of a massive electoral defeat, the Nationalist Party will certainly have to undergo a period of self-reflection before choosing a new leadership team. However, in the meantime, eyes are already on those who have the required qualities to jump into the shoes of the present team. Names have been mentioned and their qualities – or lack of them – analysed, very often in a cursory manner. At this crucial juncture, it would be beneficial for all those who will eventually choose the candidates for these leadership positions to list the qualities each of these positions requires.

Definitely, the position of party leader requires an excellent communicator, an energetic person, a strategist, a media-savvy leader, someone who understands team dynamics and a people’s person. Most of these qualities also apply to those vying for the deputy leadership positions, but there are specific qualities that the candidates for each of these positions require. The deputy leader responsible for party affairs should be a party man, someone very close to the grassroots, someone who is ready to dedicate hours on end to listening to people both within the party structures as well as outside. On the other hand, the deputy leader for parliamentary affairs should additionally be fully conversant with parliamentary affairs, ideally with substantial parliamentary experience. This person would, after all, be Shadow Leader of the House whilst in Opposition.

Those who are mentioning names for each of these positions have probably sensed the particular qualities that are needed. This is why, for example, the names of lawyers Bernard Grech and John Giglio have been mooted by some. Many will have seen how they managed to explain key party proposals in very simple terms in the run-up to the election. They are good communicators. On the other hand, Claudio Grech’s name has been mentioned by several because of the way he reaches out to different sectors, including his political adversaries. His calm style and strategic mind hits the right notes. Roberta Metsola is also seen by many as a possible contender. She communicates well, her ability to multi-task is viewed as admirable and she has garnered crucial experience in EU circles as an MEP.

For the deputy leadership (party affairs) position I would not rule out people like MEP David Casa (who meanwhile expressed interest in the vacant Secretary-General position), Claudette Pace, Clyde Puli, Robert Cutajar and Jean Pierre Debono, all of whom have qualities which, I feel, should not be overlooked.

On the other hand, I truly believe that the position of deputy leader for parliamentary affairs should be filled by someone who is able to take the lead in Parliament, a very important arena for a party in opposition. In this role, I see MPs such as David Agius – who is now is in his fourth term in Parliament, with over five years’ experience as a top notch party whip. On the other hand, the clear legal minds and knowledge of Parliament’s mechanisms of Jason Azzopardi and Chris Said should also make them front-runners for this position. 

The Labour Party will also have to fill the vacancy of deputy leader for parliamentary affairs which was occupied by Louis Grech in the last four years. Once again, I see someone with either a legal mind or considerable parliamentary experience fill this position. In my opinion, someone like Owen Bonnici should be ahead of the pack. His legal background, knowledge of parliamentary procedures, sound communication skills and ability to handle a multitude of issues, made him stand out in the last legislature. Chris Fearne has also been mentioned as a possible contender. Both Bonnici and Fearne are perceived as having performed well as ministers, which should be a plus. Newly elected MP Robert Abela, who has been appointed legal adviser to Prime Minister Muscat, could be a dark horse in this or future races.

During this legislature we will also start seeing the positioning of the front-runners for the leading position within the Labour Party. I bet MEP Miriam Dalli’s name will start being mentioned more assiduously in the years to come. Like Joseph Muscat, she has knowledge of how the media works, communicates well, seems to be in touch with the electorate and has generally remained away from controversies that could have affected her adversely. Edward Zammit Lewis (assuming that he successfully contests the upcoming casual elections) and the same in respect of Owen Bonnici, could be seen as possible successors. And I would not rule out Ian Borg, who seems to be Labour’s rising star, especially if he does well in his new mega ministry.

I have tried to use my experience in politics and in talent-spotting and management to attempt to match the qualities needed for these positions within both parties with the talent that each party has. I could be completely off the mark due to other factors of which I may not be aware. Dark horses I have not even thought of could appear suddenly and unexpectedly on the horizon. I just hope that those who join the race, on both sides, put the interests of the country before their own and manage to make their mark in a positive way.

 

Charlo Bonnici is a former member of parliament 

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