23 February 2005

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PN cracks deepen
By Kurt Sansone

It has been two weeks since the Nationalist Party decided to withdraw its candidates from the Zejtun and Marsa local elections exposing a growing rift within the party between the inner clan at Pieta and party grassroots.
The visible cracks that have developed risk destabilising the PN at a time when even Government is under heavy pressure to perform well. The criticism from various quarters points its finger towards a restricted group of individuals within the party, who are deciding strategy without informing other members of the executive and MPs.
Apart from leader Lawrence Gonzi and Secretary General Joe Saliba, it is unclear who else forms part of the PN strategy group calling the shots.
The first volley against the decision to withdraw candidates from two localities in a bid to have the election there cancelled came from Parliamentary Secretary Frans Agius. The young PS, elected on the third district that comprises Zejtun, expressed his opinion against the decision to withdraw candidates at the last minute and lamented lackof consultation with MPs elected from the districts affected by the controversial decision.
“I am more inclined to be against than in favour of the decision,” Agius told sister newspaper MaltaToday a week after the PN’s devious game was exposed.
Seven days later, former Marsa mayor and PN executive member Frank Zammit, publicly criticised the decision taken by what he described as a “restricted group of people” in the Nationalist Party.
Zammit’s article in The Times was the most critical opinion piece in years to ever be written by a PN insider. Reflecting the anguish of PN supporters in the south, Zammit charged that the PN was not only alienating itself from the middle class but also from its very own core voters.
The criticism did not end there. Last Monday, columnist and PN sympathiser Marisa Micallef Leyson criticised the party for transforming into a “closed metallic bubble” out of touch with the people that elected it to power. She had the audacity to say that she does not feel part of the PN anymore and cautioned against complacency and arrogance.
Micallef Leyson lambasted the PN for thinking it could fool the people by withdrawing its candidates at the very last minute from the Zejtun and Marsa local elections.
Her stern criticism was emulated by a third critical opinion published yesterday in The Times. Michael Mercieca, a PN candidate on the third district and local councillor in Marsaskala, went as far as describing the decision to withdraw from the two local elections as a cowardly act.
“As a Nationalist candidate in the third district, which includes Zejtun, I find it very difficult to explain to constituents any plausible reason for the action taken by the few reigning powers within the so called strategy group,” Mercieca wrote.
The criticism comes at a time when the Nationalist Party is at its lowest ebb. Independent polls in December showed the PN enjoyed less support than it did in the June Euro-parliament election when it garnered 39 per cent of the vote.
Never, in recent years has insider criticism of the PN been externalised in such a vocal manner, exposing deep cracks that risk getting deeper unless the wind of change sweeps through the party structures at Pieta

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