Lawrence Gonzi the PN mediator


Adrian Delia, Leader of the Opposition, has many a time been reported as stating that “no one is greater than the Party”. It seems a basic article of his political faith. Unfortunately for him, nowadays reality is quite different. Gone are the days when the leader issues orders and everyone follows blindly because the party has spoken.

The greatness of a political party is not measured in such terms but more in terms of to what extent it is capable of respecting its own. If it is not capable of doing this, how on earth can it ever respect diverging and contrasting opinions out there?

Six years down the line, the PN, apparently, has not yet drawn any lessons from the Franco Debono debacle, whose energy and enthusiasm – instead of being used positively –  ended up causing extreme havoc. There were specific instances when the PN could have avoided most of the damage caused, if the then PN party leader, Lawrence Gonzi, had not embarked on a series of tactical errors: he tried to corner Franco Debono into submission but instead triggered an over-reaction which he was not capable of handling.

Two specific motions were pending on Parliament’s agenda in 2012. One of these motions, submitted on behalf of the Opposition by its MPs Josè Herrera and Michael Falzon, was critical of government policy in the areas of justice and home affairs and ended by requesting a vote of no confidence in then Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici. Another motion, presented by Franco Debono himself, while being equally critical of the same policy areas, was limited to requesting a detailed discussion of deficiencies in these policy areas.

Common sense would have led anyone in a position to choose which of the motions was to be discussed to opt for the Franco Debono motion, as it was clearly the one that could cause the least collateral damage. It was also possible that the Franco Debono motion could develop into a serious discussion and consequently the situation could calm down.

Lawrence Gonzi then proceeded to place on the Parliamentary agenda the no confidence motion presented by the Opposition, consequently calling Franco Debono’s perceived bluff. Faced with Gonzi’s challenge Franco Debono bit the bullet and, on the 30 May 2012, voted in favour of the no confidence motion moved by the Opposition.

It was a tactical error by Lawrence Gonzi and led to very serious consequences for the PN in government. We remember that parliamentary sittings between May and December 2012 were a continuous battle that led to the government being defeated when it presented its budgetary estimates.

Apparently, the PN has not learned anything from these blunders: maybe this is why Lawrence Gonzi is offering his “mediation skills” to guide Adrian Delia away from the dangers that he has created for the PN with his invitation to Simon Busuttil to auto-suspend himself from the PN Parlamentary Group!

Lawrence Gonzi had one Franco Debono, who was subsequently joined by Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Jesmond Mugliette and there were various other members of the then PN parliamentary group who were very critical of Lawrence Gonzi’s leadership. However, as far as I am aware, they never presented a coordinated front to stand up to the leadership’s arrogance. This, most probably, was the direct consequence of the fact that there was a lack of a uniform vision among those dissenting.

Well, times are changing. The common front of the PN parliamentary dissidents supporting Simon Busuttil may bring the PN to its senses in order that it may start respecting its own.

There is, without any doubt, much to say – both in favour and against Adrian Delia’s invitation to Simon Busuttil. These matters are, however, not normally announced in a PN press conference (after being prompted by Joseph Muscat) and then, faced with opposition, being rubber-stamped by a party structure. The decisions faced by the PN require a serious internal debate from which no-one should be excluded. The mediator may, as a result of his experience, guide the PN to avoid the pitfalls ahead. Otherwise, interesting times lie beyond the horizon.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 29 July 2018

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