The Malta Independent 11 December 2019, Wednesday

Opinion - Wanted: a functioning democracy

Friday, 14 June 2019, 08:29 Last update: about 7 months ago

Valentina Cassar

Much has been said on the dire state of affairs within the Nationalist Party.  If any consensus has emerged, it is that the status quo is not viable.  The public displays of animosity have been unbecoming to say the least, and as most of us would explain to our toddlers or teenagers, not conducive to a resolution that is in the best interest of all.

The PN reached what are often regarded as its glory years during the 1980s when it became synonymous with the fight for democracy, the rule of law, and raising the country’s standard of living. It fought for education and the right to live in a country where we take individual freedoms for granted.

It championed an ideology and a cause that captured the imagination of many, and transformed Malta’s political and socio-economic landscape when elected into government.

However, the Malta Labour Party faced its own challenges once in opposition, allowing the PN to take for granted its electoral successes and fail to focus sufficiently on ensuring a solid party structure and a base that was tended to.

It began to be seen as arrogant by the electorate, a factor tapped into by the Labour Party as it rebuilt after 2008. 

In the wake of its shattering defeats, the PN has not yet succeeded in identifying the route to recapturing the electorate’s imagination.  This despite two changes in leadership and the best of intentions in restructuring the internal workings of the party.

The problems are many.

Too many former activists and supporters have been sidelined over the years. In doing so, the party has lost much of the experience and insights into the realities of governance that are central to policy development and constructive engagement as an opposition.

Moreover, the party appears to have misplaced its ideological identity.  Admittedly, Christian Democracy does not have the appeal it did in the past, but the party must rediscover and identify its guiding values and principles.  Over the past decades, it became assumed that ideological voting was long gone, and that issue-based, catch-all campaigns would become the norm.   Yet voters do want to be able to turn to parties that provide principled direction, and not just pragmatic policies.

The PN thrived during the 1980s because it was led collectively. It valued its grass root support, and focused on educating the public as well as instilling the importance of ongoing education within its internal structures.  Yet over the years, education became taken for granted, and the PN failed to mentor and raise the next generation of potential candidates beyond its loyal core base of supporters. 

It allowed itself to deteriorate into a party that is detached from the day-to-day realities of the Maltese electorate. 

In doing so, it has failed to focus on its core mandate - that is - serving as the opposition.

Political parties and democratic entities thrive within an environment where diversity of opinion is encouraged, rather than expecting the handpicked few to toe the party line.  Democratic processes should be respected, but so too should procedure and the rules that govern.

The weakness of the PN as a viable opposition has created a vacuum that may become dangerous within our predominantly two-party system, and even more so in the context of the staggering majority that the government enjoys in both votes and seats in Parliament.

The Nationalist owes it to its legacy, its supporters, and the country at large to rediscover its identity and the values it seeks to represent.  It needs to be able to function responsibly and engage with the Labour Party, oppose the government effectively and provide direction to truly Party work in the best interest of the country.  That is, ensuring that Malta is a functioning democracy.


Dr Valentina Cassar is the Head of the Department of International Relations, Faculty of Arts, University of Malta


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