There is a new word in the Maltese political lexicon: “gonzipn”. Officially, it is pronounced “Gonzi – PN”. But seen on all those “New Persil Automatic” T-shirts, worn by teenagers strategically placed behind their beloved leader, it reads for all the world like “Gonzippen”… i.e., “smitten by Gonzi’s zippy little charm.”
Have you been “Gonzippen” yet? No matter: the important thing is that the Nationalist Party clearly has. Either out of genuine adulation for Gonzi, or more likely out of sheer desperation at the prospect of Alfred Sant as Prime Minister, it has pooled its every resource to engineer a surrogate leader on the scale of its former iconic mentor, Eddie Fenech Adami. So out come the T-shirts, the billboards, the personal websites… and of course, an endless stream of obsequious drivel aimed at glorifying Gonzi to high heavens.
But has the PN leader himself weighed the possible pitfalls? Most likely he has, and understands the overall implications. This is, in fact, a make-or-break campaign strategy for Lawrence Gonzi. But then again, after a string of consecutive local council defeats, and polls which have consistently pointed towards a PN defeat, it’s not as though he had an abundance of choice.
An Eddie in the making
It started with Peter Darmanin demanding unconditional loyalty to Lawrence Gonzi in the PN conference of 2006. Now, it seems that public obeisance before the leader is a sine qua non of progression through the party hierarchy. Unsurprisingly, the latest rounds of public meetings have been characterised by football-style chants of “Gonzi, Gonzi” by the faithful.
It is a curious throwback to Mintoffian days, coming from a leader who promised us something completely different; but the advantages, if successful, are simply too enormous to ignore. For if this strategy does indeed propel the Nationalists to their fifth electoral victory since 1987, it will all be down to Lawrence Gonzi himself, and no one else. This will carve for the leader a position of unrivalled power second to none since Eddie Fenech Adami’s triumph in 1987; this in turn would allow Gonzi to assert his authority in a way he was unable to upon appointment to the leadership in 2004.
Vote Gonzi, get the PN
But despite copycat billboards, our system does not lend itself to Sarkozy-style presidential campaigns. This is probaby why the larger parties have consistently worked to undermine the original scope of our multi-representational model, much to chagrin of both Alternattiva Demokratika and more recently Azzjonali Nazzjonali.
Clearly, strategists of both parties hanker after the US/French model... PN president Victor Scerri made this point last night on TVM’s Reporter: a vote for PN is a vote for the Prime Minister in person.
But it doesn’t work that way in practice. Although the PN campaign urges the country to “vote for Gonzi”, in reality most voters will not have that option to begin with. Instead, they will have to vote for other PN candidates in other districts, with the result that, even if successful, the incoming potential Cabinet ministers will still be the result of the selfsame patronage network which gave us Jesmond Mugliett and Giovanna Debono – to name two ministers currently absent from the PN campaign, and who have both acted questionably in defence of their own canvassers of late.
Going, going, Gonzi
So even if the next election does produce a “Super Gonzi” with extra special powers, he will still face the same old problems of an administration which owes too much to too many people.
Besides: if the returns of such a strategy are high, the risks are quite simply astronomical. Just as success would be absolute, so too would failure. Thanks to the party’s own strategy, a vote against the PN on March 8 will also be a direct vote of no-confidence in Lawrence Gonzi himself.
Could Gonzi survive such a national rejection? In all other countries, the answer would almost certainly be “no”. But Maltese political party leaders have displayed an astonishing capacity to survive even the most humiliating defeats; as can be attested by Labour leader Alfred Sant himself, who managed to cling onto the party leadership for 16 whole years, despite losing two consecutive elections… the second of which left his entire political platform in ruins.
But this only underscores the point behind the PN’s entire campaign strategy in the first place. This election is not about political platforms, differing ideologies, or conflicting visions for the future. This is just about which of two political personalities the electorate happens to like more, and even then, from a purely subjective perspective.
Viewed from this angle, the only lasting change we can realistically expect after March 8 will not be in the way the country is administered; it will simply be a change in leadership for whichever party emerges the loser.
In true US presidential style, even Kate Gonzi has entered the political fray, throwing her weight behind her husband with her personalised blog on her husband’s website.
Kate Gonzi is no stranger to politics – she has constantly stood by her man ever since Lawrence Gonzi was elected leader of the PN. Unlike previous PM’s wives, Kate Gonzi played her part by constantly accompanying her husband, becoming in the process a familiar and popular face among the Maltese. She has even assisted voters and citizens who required some form of ‘direct’ contact with the prime minister. Her first blog deals with the question of undecided voters. Pictured surrounded by women, Kate Gonzi asks: “Why should I care?”
“The vote is a tool in my hands, for me to choose whom I believe offers the best guarantee of wellbeing for me and my children. There are those who say, ‘what do I care, I don’t vote.’ So I say, do these people want somebody else to vote for them?… Yes, my parent’s vote secured Malta’s Independence. Yes, when I was young my vote won democracy and peace. Yes, three years ago my vote ensured EU membership. Yes, now with my vote on 8 March I will guarantee the strengthening of the economy, social solidarity and a healthy environment.”