The Malta Independent 29 September 2022, Thursday
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'Robert Arrigo put his finger on one of the harsher realities of political life' – PN deputy leader

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 14 August 2022, 08:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Robert Arrigo put his finger on one of the harsher realities of political life, newly elected PN deputy leader Alex Perici Calascione told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

Internal disputes in the PN over recent years are well-known. At the end of last month, Robert Arrigo, who is Perici Calascione's predecessor, said during his final speech as deputy leader that he was hurt by the way the PN had treated him recently. 

Asked whether he believes Arrigo was right to express his anger over what happened, Perici Calascione said: "Robert Arrigo put his finger on one of the harsher realities of political life. It happens too often in all political parties. It should not happen because you expect full support from your own family, but Robert put his finger on what many have experienced over the years under different administrations. However, Robert also put a scope for the way he spoke, because towards the end of his speech he said: 'I'm saying this so that we learn and make sure that any past mistakes are not repeated'. That is, to me, the most important part of what Robert is saying."

“If you speak to anyone who has been in politics or is still in politics on all sides of the fence, within all party structures, irrespective of whether a party is big or small, has been through these experiences. This is the darker side of politics, things which should never happen," Perici Calascione said. "At the end of Robert's message, he concluded it on a high note saying he was saying this so that we can ensure that we do not repeat the same mistakes.”

Perici Calascione said that internal squabbles will always happen and they are nothing new to the PN, however the publicity element might be. "People who have been following the party from way before I did will always remember the classic sort of quasi-competitions or instances between one, two or three MPs, or officials. It shouldn't be the case, but it is part of the reality. It is then how one tackles it that defines how one moves forward."

 

Agenda moving forward

Perici Calascione was elected deputy leader in an election held last month, in which he was the sole contender. Asked what the first items on his agenda are, he said that his priority is to first “take stock of the reality”.

“We need to look around us, at what's good, what's bad, what needs to be changed, what needs to be strengthened. We have to start from there.”

“Then we need to look at the party structures – at our sectional committees, at the different branches of the party and the workings in general. A lot of my attention will be focused on the internal, organisational structure of the party." Asked if he has any major changes planned in this respect, he would not speak of major changes at this stage. “I have ideas, but the first thing I feel I should do is listen, meet people directly, and meet our sections. Then based on what they say, you marry off your own ideas with the realities that there are and the ideas you hear from the people around you," he said.

“I am determined, as is the leader of the party, to make any changes that need to be done.”

In its history the PN had been associated with a particular ideal, or particular aim. For example, it was about joining the EU in the early 2000s. But in recent times it appears that the PN has no tangible cause to tie itself to, leading to perhaps what some would describe as an identity crisis. He was asked whether he agrees with such a statement and how he would describe the PN today.

While not being in any way anchored in the past, it is a source of reasonable pride to say that the Nationalist Party has been associated with major achievements and major moments in Malta's history. We owe a lot of what we take so much for granted today to the people who came before us and who worked within the Nationalist Party. It is the country that has made these achievements."

“Maybe there is no single, large, identifiable achievement, but that really is not only a matter for the party to think about, but also the country."

"The centre of the PN's policy has always been, and should always continue to be, the overall development of the individual," Perici Calascione said.

He said that the party has always centred its policies on the well-being of the individual, “which then, multiplied with everyone, gives you the well-being of the country. We need to continue doing that. We need to strengthen the process whereby we better understand how much the Maltese society has changed. It has changed a lot over a short span of a few years”.

“That's something we have as a goal. We should be able to be more in tune with what's going on around us, with the way people reason out today," he said.

He added that there have been many changes that may have caught both parties by surprise. "But as far as the Nationalist Party forging serious medium and long-term policies for this country, I think it starts with us coming back in tune with realising exactly how far and to what extent Maltese society has changed, and then implementing policies based on values and principles which reflect that reality.”

 

Voter turnout

The last general election saw low voter turnout, indicating a sense of disillusionment.

“This is what I take to be the main message coming from the electorate in the last general election. We always expect high turnouts – 92% or 94% – and we are surprised when the turnout is lower than that. The major political parties even phone people on Election Day urging them to go out and vote for instance. Within that context, with the major political parties really chasing their people to vote, to have more than 60,000 people who didn't vote sends a huge message to both major parties.”

He said that it also sends an added message that the Nationalist Party must look into. “With all the power of incumbency of the Labour government – dishing out jobs and money, left, right and centre, 60,000 people said 'no, we are not impressed by this. I will not vote for another Labour government'. At the same time, they did not vote for the Nationalist Party, which one would have thought would have been the natural thing to do. That is something which we must look into. Part of it is studying the patterns of how the Maltese society has changed. It also leads the PN to look slightly inwards. Without focusing excessively on itself, it must look into why it was not deemed attractive to people who decided not to vote for Labour again.”

It was pointed out that the arguments of exclusion weren't just being made by Arrigo and some election candidates had said, for example, that during the campaign some were pushed above others and that there was favouritism at play. 

Asked if he witnessed this, he said that "every political party and every campaign has its particular strategy and I would concede that as part of that strategy you can say: 'listen, I have one, two or three candidates who have, for whatever reason under the sun, the potential to attract more people to vote'. It is part of the game that those are maybe given a bit more prominence. What should not happen, and that is something we need to look into if it did, is that others are actually kept back".

"In any organisation, anywhere, if you have two or three people who are good at what they do and have a lot of potential, it is only natural to expect that in certain instances within certain acceptable parameters, that they are pushed forward. But it should never mean keeping others behind. It's always a learning curve; you always continue learning and that is something which is an ongoing process."

He said he will look into any situation that needs attention "but we cannot let it define us. We can either get mired down to these circumstances, by whatever occurred or didn't occur and say we are defined by mistakes, or alternatively, which is what I choose to do, I will be defined by the process of learning, solving and moving forward. That is where I would want to dedicate my energy."

Asked if this is something that he and Grech will be tackling in the immediate future, he said that it is something that the whole party should tackle.

I want this discussion held in all structures at all levels, as the only way we can move on is to learn, have the courage to take any decisions that are needed, and move on."

"We are a political party, we have a political role. We have an obligation to work within our political sphere. I have to take note and give all the attention that needs to be given to all these instances. But at the same time, I can't look a pensioner in the eye and say 'listen, I know that you're passing through hell with €570 a month, trying to reach the end of the month' and go on to say 'but the Nationalist Party can't look into your case right now and can't speak about it because we have other internal matters'. How would we be able to face people who have these problems? We have an obligation towards people, we have an obligation to rise above ourselves, above our own situation and do the work that people expect us to do to the standards that people expect us to have."

"We need to take stock of reality. The last thing I will do is shut out somebody who speaks in a certain way because I like or don't like whatever is being said. It is a reality we must face. At the same time we can never, in any way, shirk our responsibility towards the people, whether they have voted for us or not, who by right expect us to act as a political party."


MEP elections

The MEP elections are in 2024. Asked what the party can really do now that it hadn’t tried two years ago, given that a number of changes had already been made such as new faces being pushed forward, Perici Calascione said: “We are emerging from a period of a bit of an upheaval. That is reality, there's no secret there. We've had successive changes in administration; it's not just a matter of changing a leader. It's also changes of administration. That is a reality which we must continue to face. It does leave bitterness in certain areas, it does leave disappointment in certain others, and it has given its good results. So there are always two sides to a reality.”

“Beyond the people and beyond the administration, it's also a matter of how the message is thought up and how the message is conveyed. There's a lot to learn. There has been a lot of good. As you mentioned there are new faces and those new faces augur well for the future. On the same day as my election as deputy leader of the party, there were two vacant posts in the executive. The party executive is the highest organ of the party which debates and discusses politics, discusses the political stand the party takes on any particular issue. We had five young people who contested for these two posts – five extremely competent young people with different experiences, different backgrounds. That is a positive sign.”

"There again, we are talking about renewal and renewal is a continuous process. The party needs to be open. Even when looking at the Parliamentary Group today, we have people of different ages, different experiences, different characters and different realities. I subscribe to this view – the wider the different realities are expressed within, for instance, a parliamentary group like any other section within the party, the healthier the discussion is."

As for the party’s aim for the MEP elections, he believes it is the party’s duty to work towards a third seat.

“We have seen what two of our MEPs can manage to do. In the European Parliament we have one MEP who is the President of the European Parliament – Roberta Metsola, and we have David Casa, who has been at the centre of promoting top cutting edge policies at European Parliament level. We've shown what we can do for this country with two MEPs, let alone what we can do with three. So it's not a matter of any particular hidden strategy, it is an obligation we have to try and work towards that third seat.”

 

Bernard Grech

Asked whether Bernard Grech has been effective as a leader, he said: "To me the real tenure of Bernard Grech as a leader starts now, after the election. Because in both the case of Bernard Grech, and in the case of Robert Abela, they both sort of came in relatively late in the administration's day and, to a certain extent, they inherited a situation which they found, in good or bad. I believe that in both cases it's really now that we can start judging and assessing the work which either one of them does as leader of their respective party."

“Invariably, when you go in halfway or three quarters way through an administration, you are reasonably restrained or affected by the situation you find. So that is something which one couldn't hide or run from. Bernard's Grech's real period starts now.”

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