The Malta Independent 16 December 2017, Saturday

How Busuttil was misled

Stephen Calleja Wednesday, 21 June 2017, 09:10 Last update: about 7 months ago

My hunch is that Simon Busuttil was misled into believing that the Nationalist Party could win the election.

If this is so, there could be two reasons for it.

The deception could have been engineered to keep him going to the best of his abilities and not have him collapse psychologically when Labour remained ahead in all surveys, in the hope that the tide would eventually turn and that voters who said they were undecided would end up voting PN.

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Or else it was intended for him to blindly keep raising his followers’ expectations that a victory was possible; only then for the PN to succumb to another heavy defeat similar in numbers to the previous one, leaving Busuttil with no option except to resign. Busuttil would have stayed on if the PN lost with a deficit of 15,000, maybe a little bit more. But a loss equal in terms to the previous one in spite of the Labour government’s many faults gave Busuttil no other way out.

The first reason is understandable, the second is diabolical.

I still cannot understand how Simon Busuttil could first be regarded by Nationalists as the hero who, together with Eddie Fenech Adami, took Malta into the European Union, and then never be able to be seen as a good leader for the party, and for the country too. The two issues required different skills, and it is clear that while Nationalists saw him as having what was needed for the EU membership run-up, and afterwards gave him so much support in European Parliament elections, they never fully accepted him as the man who could turn things around after the 2013 debacle.

I’ve heard too many Nationalists say that, with Busuttil at the helm, the party was never going to make it.

They were right. Busuttil will go down in history as the first Nationalist leader not to have ever been elected Prime Minister since the first legislative elections in 1921.

In the greater scheme of things, and with the benefit of so much hindsight, it could be argued that Simon Busuttil jumped the gun. He should never have accepted to replace Tonio Borg as PN deputy leader on the eve of the 2013 election, at a time when it was clear that the party was heading towards defeat – and what a massive one it turned out to be.

He would have been in a much stronger position if he had refused Lawrence Gonzi’s overtures, and then be elected leader in the aftermath without having had a connection with the 2013 defeat. But, as things happened, he was already under a cloud when he became PN leader, and he was never capable of shaking it off.

Added to this, he made several mistakes which came back to haunt him.

He ignored the input and sacrifices made by some top party members, right until the last moment, when proposals made by shadow ministers and spokesmen were left out of the election manifesto while including others without their consent.

He defended people who did not deserve it and distanced himself from others who had shown him loyalty, but who were discarded at the first opportunity.

He was too hard-headed and surrounded himself by a restricted group of people, listening only to them. These same people, some of whom were incompetent for the tasks assigned, may not have had his best interests in mind.

Which takes us back to the question: was the deception something “understandable”, or was it something “diabolical”?

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