The Malta Independent 28 September 2020, Monday

Bernard Grech says he does not belong to any faction, wants to unite the PN

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 9 August 2020, 08:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

PN Leadership contender Bernard Grech told Kevin Schembri Orland during an interview that he does not belong to any faction within the Nationalist Party, while stating that his goal is to achieve unity. During the interview, he also spoke about corruption as well as other issues.

PN Leadership contender Bernard Grech told The Malta Independent on Sunday that he does not belong to either faction within the Nationalist Party, and that his aim is to unite the party.

On Monday, the application period for the PN leadership election comes to a close. The current party leader Adrian Delia has submitted his application to contest, as has lawyer Bernard Grech.

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PN MEP Roberta Metsola, PN MP Therese Comodini Cachia and PN Executive Committee member Mark Anthony Sammut were also touted to be potential contenders, however earlier in the week they announced that they will not be contesting. 

Bernard Grech has been criticised as being a person who is tied to the anti-Delia faction, however in an interview with this newsroom he made clear that he does not form part of either faction.

Grech said that unity requires a person capable of achieving that goal. “When I spoke with people and discussed the situation, we arrived at the consensus that I might be the person best suited who can approach both sides and bring them to dialogue. Those were the kind of discussions I held, and not only with people who were potential contenders, but also other people whose advice I felt I should seek.”

During the interview, he also spoke about continuing the fight against corruption and for justice, but added that addressing poverty must be a goal that must be tackled simultaneously.

He was asked whether he intends to be an interim leader, or whether he would want to stay on past the next general election should the gap with the Labour Party shrink. He said that one would need to analyse the situation according to the circumstances on that day and then take a decision.

 

You've said that in today’s reality one cannot start speaking about justice, the rule of law or the fight against corruption if many people are on the verge of poverty, or are going hungry. Do you mean that you intend to take the PN a step back from the fight against corruption?

No, definitely not. What I am saying is that the issues of corruption and justice are related to poverty, as at the end of the day where there is greed, injustice and corruption then the wealth will remain just among the few. 

I am saying that it is important to reduce corruption and for there to be justice so that there will be less poverty, but I am also saying that one needs to address the situation of those in poverty as well, and not address the corruption issue first and then afterwards deal with the poverty issue. You need to address the issues simultaneously.

People in poverty, because they are passing through difficult times, would first need to have their personal issues addressed before justice and corruption. They are two aspects that are interdependent on each other.

In no way am I saying the party should take a step back from the corruption issue.

You also spoke, in relation to NGOs and civil society, about the idea of creating a movement, or an alliance at national level to promote the values of good governance and justice. Could you elaborate on this, and would this alliance be similar to what the PN had prior to the 2017 election? Would it also include other political parties?

I am not necessarily speaking about an official alliance. I believe that one can have an unofficial alliance. When we think about, fight for, or want the same ideals, then we can work in the same direction without hindering one another. 

I come from a background where I used to speak about politics without being a politician. So before the concept of civil society erupted a few years ago I was, as early as 11 years ago, speaking about politics as an ordinary person. I used to feel and believe, and I still do, that everyone who feels they have a valid opinion has a right to say it.

Politics does not belong to politicians. Politicians must participate in politics as at the end of the day Parliament is made up of political parties, but politics is not exclusively for politicians. 

Civil society has a role that it must continue to play. I believe that people have a role to play, even outside of politics. As an example, I would like to see a person who is not a politician and does not want to be one, but who would want to discuss a political issue one day when that person has the opportunity to do so, not being labelled as belonging to one party or another for speaking up, but rather because that person is a citizen who has a right and a duty to fight to make the country better.

With your background in the political sphere in Malta, many consider you to be a conservative due to your image tied to the anti-divorce movement when there was the referendum. How do you expect to gain the votes of liberals at party and national level?

When someone tells me that they perceive me to be a conservative, I don't see it as an insult. We know that liberalism is not controlled by Joseph Muscat's or Robert Abela's government. It is good to have liberal ideas and thoughts but one must also have wisdom and the need to really work for the good of the country and not for the good of the few.

Many people say that I was active during the divorce campaign. I entered into it during the last two weeks of it. I did participate. I did so as I had an opinion and I believe that anyone who has an opinion has the right to express it. 

During that time, I was a private individual with an opinion about the divorce bill. I was primarily against the law as it was written. I did not agree with a number of things and I am on record speaking on a number of programmes that I was not in agreement with a number of articles within the bill itself. I was never absolutely against someone starting a new life, remarrying, but yes because it was perceived that I was a part of that campaign then yes, I was perceived as being anti-divorce. But that was my opinion that day.

Has my opinion changed? It changed on two levels. It changed on a personal level where I, a year to a year and a half after the referendum, began as a lawyer filing divorce cases. So I worked with the law as a lawyer and I felt that I had an obligation to help those who had a legal right to use that right. I didn't keep stomping my feet and saying no. But obviously I needed some time to understand it. Everyone has their own walk in life, and to change one’s understanding from one day to the next I think that person would not be honest with themselves.

I also changed my opinion on another level. At the time I was a private individual and today I am a politician and as such I have an obligation, as a politician, to look at many other aspects and not only the details and difficulties with the legal articles themselves.

You declared your intention to contest the election, but internal party sources told this newsroom that you and three other people who were touted to be potential contenders spoke to try and push forward a single unifying candidate forward. Those in favour of Adrian Delia would now see you as representing the anti-Delia faction, how can you unite the party?

I am not representing the anti-Delia faction. I am representing the hope that this party and this country can unite to work for the good of the country. How can we do this? Firstly, I needed to speak with many different people, including workers, professionals, Councillors, tesserati, and MPs - both those who don't want things to change and those who do.

I had an obligation to do this, as if I did not speak with these people and listen to them, then there would be a serious and dangerous element of arrogance. So I needed to listen to see what the present situation is and to know what is needed. I found that before we can have unity we cannot have a functioning party, a strong opposition and an alternative government.

Democracy only works when you have more than one party - in this case having the Government and the Opposition in terms of Parliament - in which we need a strong opposition. So we wanted unity. Firstly, you need a person who can do that. When I spoke with people and discussed, we arrived at the consensus that I might be the person best suited to approach both sides and bring them towards the centre for dialogue. So those were the kind of discussions I held, not only with those who were possible contenders but also with other people I felt I should seek the advice of and listened to what they had to say.

Many agree that the PN will not win the next general election. If you were to win the internal leadership election, do you foresee yourself as an interim leader or would you, if the gap between the two parties closes, want to remain on?

When you take a step, you have to take a full step. If I attain the trust of the tesserati and they elect me leader, then I will work to unite the party, to strengthen it, for it to be a strong opposition and an alternative government. 

I believe that it is not impossible for the PN to again appeal to the electorate and also convince the electorate that with the strength of the nationalists and others of different political standings and ideologies, the PN can reach the point where it will be an alternative government which people can consider for the next general election. But we must appreciate that this is not a project that will take one week or two, but is a project that needs time. If an election comes one month after my appointment as leader, if I win, then it will surely not be the same situation as if the election were to come two years down the line.

If the election is in two years’ time and you do close the gap, would you want to continue on or would you bow out?

When we come to that day, one would need to consider the circumstances then. Today I am taking this decision to give the tesserati the opportunity to choose me as leader, as I understand that in today's circumstances I can work and can offer something new that is good for the party and country. 

On that day, we would need to analyse the situation, according to the circumstances, and then take the decisions then.

One of the arguments political analysts make is that Delia was not brought up in the party structures. You are the same in that respect. How are you different from Delia in this aspect and how would you work differently when compared to Delia in terms of the party structures?

I don't think I need to compare myself to Adrian Delia. I want and ask to be analysed on my own merits. I did not appear in politics last week, I did so around 11 years ago. I spoke about politics and many people know what my opinions are on a number of issues. 

It is true that I did not come up through the party structures, but I think that every now and again you can have people who can be ideally suited despite them not coming from the party structures. 

So this party needs people who were in the structures at all levels, it needs people who were only in the party for a few years, and it also needs new people. I believe that, because at the moment in the crossroads that the PN is in today, the fact that I was not in the party structures and did not participate and I am not perceived, nor do I in fact belong to one faction or another, I think that this is what is needed and what can be the antidote for the present situation. So possibly more people in the party would be able to reach the point to walk in the same direction for the good of the party and the country. 

Realistically speaking, what do you think your chances of winning are?

I believe in conviction, in persuasion, in dialogue. I will dialogue with everyone and I trust that the people who need to vote in the party election understand what the party needs. I trust that they will choose what the party needs, someone who unites.

 

 

 

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