NEWS | Wednesday, 12 March 2008
It boils down to one man
Lawrence Gonzi read it right. The man who four years ago inherited the good and the bad of the previous administration – the same administration that paved his way to the leadership – has single-handedly turned the tide in his favour.
Whichever way you see it, this election result boils down to Lawrence Gonzi, in the form of GonziPN: the high-risk strategy that paid off in the end in an amazing victory against all odds. Gonzi’s party emerges bruised, but Gonzi himself is the undisputed victor, the general who lost all the battles but still won the war.
The formula was illogical, yet Gonzi persisted in his belief he could make it. As the party lost one local election after the other, and the MEPs election in 2004, Gonzi realised the remnants of the Fenech Adami regime were just too much in the way for him to steer his ship, but he could do nothing short of a clear mandate to sweep out the old guard.
He was the party’s only asset, and he realised it early in the day, as one minister after the other fell by the wayside along the election campaign.
Even the way his message sunk in, with the electorate taking his word to choose the new faces within the ruling party, is in itself remarkable.
Yet the writing was on the wall, and Labour has refused to read the message so obstinately, that it almost made everyone else doubt it.
In one MaltaToday survey after the other, Gonzi triumphed over Sant in terms of credibility, even when the PN was trailing behind Labour. The clearer this message became, the more hard-headed Labour grew to be, duping itself into believing that the idea Sant was unelectable was just a Nationalist spin.
It was anything but Nationalist spin, in fact. If Gonzi was the PN’s only asset at l-Istamperija and in Castille, Sant was the Nationalists’ best asset at the Labour centre.
Just last December, when Sant’s future was in the balance because of his health problems, the people who were worrying most were those in the PN headquarters. They could not afford a leadership replacement on the opposing camp while Gonzi himself was the ruling leader without one electoral victory.
Now things have changed altogether. Within the party, Gonzi has carte blanche to do whatever he likes – he owes his victory to nobody but himself.
But the party is a much weaker one now, and so is his Cabinet bound to be. Gonzi’s superhuman power after winning this election is gagged by the choices of people around him to form his new team. His greatest liability in the last days of the campaign, the one that could have actually cost him the election, comes by the name of Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando.
The latter’s barefaced lies dragged the party into an irrevocable rut, having to face the rage of all those who looked up at him for his former environmental credentials. While on a constituency level the party hard-liners ended up choosing him as their first preference on two districts, Gonzi knows that Pullicino Orlando has meant the loss of some 6,000 to 8,000 votes in the last week of the campaign.
Right now Pullicino Orlando represents all the elements of the PN that are gloating smugly for the wrong reasons at their party’s third consecutive victory. He is the face of deceit, incompetence and massive liabilities Gonzi has managed to overcome, winning in the process a veritable personal vote of confidence to keep governing.
As the glum Nationalist faces at the Naxxar counting hall slowly turned to faces of jubilation on Sunday, the one and only man who had the right to rejoice sat quietly at home. The Pullicino Orlando elements were there wallowing without a hint of humility or gratefulness at the incredible turnaround achieved by their leader. From Clyde Puli, with his customary smirk telling me mockingly to keep criticising Lawrence Gonzi, to Lou Bondì hugging the PN activists with his only gratitude being that he has preserved his contracts and contacts in the establishment.
Just as Gonzi read it right, all the people around him keep consistently getting it all wrong, even as they see their party scraping a narrow victory. With his free hand, now he can really embark on the Gonzi revolution, although the foot soldiers around him do not seem as prepared for the ensuing jolts to the status quo. And his track record does not speak much about fundamental changes to his party and to his administration.
This is Gonzi’s golden opportunity to really start a new way of doing politics. Will he live up to it? The electorate, that slim majority that believed him, decided it is not too late yet.