The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

Bernard Grech should have contested 12th district, not 11th – PN insiders

Stephen Calleja Sunday, 22 November 2020, 09:00 Last update: about 12 days ago

Nationalist Party Leader Bernard Grech should have contested the 12th, not 11th, electoral district, as the PN is risking losing it to Labour, party insiders told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

A few days ago, the PN executive committee approved the candidacy of Grech for the fifth and 11th districts. Grech will be leading the PN in an election for the first time, having beaten incumbent Adrian Delia in a leadership election held in October.

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But whereas the choice of the fifth district is seen as an attempt from the party to attract voters from the south, the selection of the 11th district has been received with scepticism.

The PN is weak on the fifth district, part of the Labour-dominated south of Malta, and the presence of the leader on the ballot sheet is aimed to serve as a boost. In 2017, the PN elected Toni Bezzina and Hermann Schiavone, the latter making it to Parliament without obtaining a quota.

Given the 4-1 defeats in the second, third and fourth electoral districts, the 3-2 loss in the fifth was a half-miracle for the PN, with the last PL candidate Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi losing out to Schiavone by fewer than 400 votes in the last count. Zrinzo Azzopardi was subsequently elected in a casual election.

Both the 11th and 12th districts are traditionally Nationalist-leaning, but in the 2017 election the PN did much better on the 11th than the 12th. It did secure a 3-2 win in both, but whereas the advantage in number one preferences in the 11th was 2,925, the difference in first count votes on the 12th was a mere 801.

“There is a bigger possibility that the PN loses the 12th district, as opposed to the 11th,” a PN insider said. “So it would have been better for Grech to contest on the 12th. The presence of a leader always carries more weight than that of other candidates.”

The 11th and 12th district were the two contested by former PN leader Simon Busuttil, who will not be on the ballot sheet this time round. Having Grech choose the 11th instead of the 12th is giving a bigger possibility to Labour to win the latter, another PN insider said.

The PN obtained 13,207 votes (55%) on the 11th in 2017 as against Labour’s 10,282 (43%), while it picked up 11,921 (50.9%) votes on the 12th against the PL’s 11,120 (47.5%).

Added to this, since the 2017 election, the PN has lost the St Paul’s Bay local council to Labour, and for the second time in a row also lost the Mellieha council to the PL. Mellieha and St Paul’s Bay formed the biggest chunk of the 12th district in 2017.

The way it works in the PN, The Malta Independent on Sunday is informed, is that candidates who seek election from two districts can only freely choose one of them, while the second is agreed to with the Candidates’ Commission according to the exigencies of the party.

Once the two districts are decided, the candidature is first seen by the Administrative Committee before it is passed on to the Executive Committee for final approval.

The Nationalist Party has never fielded its leader on the fifth district.

George Borg Olivier contested on the first and ninth when the country was divided into 10 districts, and later in the first and 11th when the districts became 13.

Eddie Fenech Adami, as leader, always contested on the eighth district, and then either the 11th or the 12th.

Lawrence Gonzi in his first election as PN leader in 2008 contested on the second and ninth district, but ditched the ninth in favour of the seventh in 2013.

Simon Busuttil, in his only election as PN leader, contested on the 11th and 12th districts.

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