The resignation of the towering figure of Eddie Fenech Adami as leader of the Nationalist Party was bound to leave its mark on the Party he led for over 25 years.
An art practised to perfection, was his capacity to keep a naturally non-homogeneous party together and united. He managed to do this in spite of the different and at times conflicting groups that formed a part of the Party. He was the unifying force.
His political stature boosted by his biggest achievement, the restoration of democracy left no one in doubt that not only was he fully in command of his Party but he managed to rally people from very different economic and social groups around him.
The party under his stewardship remained one unified monolith block. It was always a matter of amazement to many an analyst how persons with such varied backgrounds aspirations and political vision could all simply rally around one common cause.
The culmination of this achievement was the referendum result and its confirmation at the subsequent general election. Many rallied behind his clarion European call.
Following the European election results this party unity no longer appears so complete. No differently to the breaking up of Yugoslavia following the death of Tito, the resignation of Fenech Adami has led to the first visible cracks within the Party edifice.
Persons who in countless elections gave their support to the Party had for the first time switched their political allegiance and voted for another party. The unexpected had taken place: a third party with little support had managed to win the votes of a substantial number of Nationalist Party supporters.
The persons ironically belong to the more comfortable middle and upper middle class. Disillusioned by a countless number of measures taken which they perceived to have negatively affected their interests and disillusioned with a strengthening two party tribal system they voted in large numbers against their traditional Party. Possibly simply as a protest vote or as a political statement against the two party system, the net result is that the unity of the PN has taken a shattering knock. In simple political terms, voters’ political allegiance can no longer be taken for granted.
The hallmark of the traditional Nationalist voter who voted Alternattiva Demokratika is the tendency to be a pale blue liberal who feels that his own party is no longer connected with him. This in no way amounts to his agreeing with the political programme of the third party. Indeed the novelty of the election result is that people were prepared to vote Alternattiva Demokratika without even agreeing with their electoral programme or indeed even having much in common with its vision of society. Still they made this political leap and in doing so cracked the unity of the party that had managed so ably to keep persons of diverse views together.
The PN party strategists are well advised to take note of these developments. It is politically unwise to label these persons as belonging to the fringes of society or persons with an axe to grind. It is most especially the height of folly to accuse these persons of being responsible for electing a third Labour candidate. This is a foolish strategy to embark on as it could strengthen the new AD voters’ resolve to repeat their voting choice. As a minimum it certainly distances them even further from the PN to the party’s electoral disadvantage.
The Nationalist Party should listen to these people and start bridging once again if it wants to move ahead. Its ‘business as usual’ response to the electoral set back leaves much to be desired. It certainly gives the impression that the Party has still not learned its lesson from the defeat. One view worth pondering upon is the wisdom of excluding Maltese issues from the campaign.
Not surprisingly many a voter may have felt totally unaffected by the PN campaign as it did not discuss any of the concerns of the electorate including the present preoccupation over the ever growing unemployment situation. This may also have created a distancing from the Party.
The PN may be fortunate that this wake up call has come so early in the life of this legislature. There is sufficient time to address the problems, but the first reactions to the result do not augur well. There is a dire need for a soul-searching exercise. The PN can for its own good rope in persons who are not presently a part of the internal Party machinery and try to discover exactly why this political earthquake has taken place. Identify the reasons why people felt so comfortable to cross the political Rubicon.
The political stakes for the Nationalist party are high. It risks loosing its liberal wing, that sector of its support that for years gave Eddie Fenech Adami its full support so visibly during his first rallying call in Dingli Street Sliema after the perverse 1981 election result.
The problem for the party lies there in the heart of Sliema its traditional stronghold and in areas like Lija, Balzan and Attard. These are the traditional pale blue areas without whom the Nationalist Party can never win a majority vote again. These are an essential block in the edifice. They represent the true pale blue vote: comfortable and critical. Their loyalty to the Party is now being put to the test. The inner circle which runs the Party would be very unwise not to smell the coffee, the writing is on the wall. Their most traditional voters risk either congregating under a new liberal banner or flocking to Alternattiva. The consequences for the PN spells electoral disaster. The bridging exercise must commence. There is no longer the unswerving emotional tie with Eddie Fenech Adami who was given total support for restoring democracy to the people.