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When the positive turns negative: The PN’s mission to please Labour

The Nationalist Party’s new leadership is silent on Malta’s corruption and rule of law crisis, but outspoken on what it calls ‘bread and butter’ issues despite the country’s fast economic growth under Labour.

The Nationalist Party has been attempting to rebrand itself as a ‘positive’ opposition that speaks out on ‘bread and butter’ issues, having fought and lost the 2017 general elections on an anti-corruption platform.

An attempt by Adrian Delia’s leadership to address Labour’s criticism of PN as the ‘negative’ party, the rebranding has seen PN distance itself from the anti-corruption fight and rule of law crisis.

Polls repeatedly show that PN’s rebranding as the ‘bread and butter’ party is failing to make inroads with voters, as the country continues to experience fast economic growth under Labour. The latest survey in June shows that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s trust rating now stands at 52.6% – up four points since last month’s survey.

PN’s new secretary general Clyde Puli recently gave an interview to The Malta Independent in which he said that Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and stories about corruption, including 17 Black, “did not have a big enough impact on people”, when asked why PN is not seeing gains in support during what has been a scandal-riddled period for Labour.

The PN’s strategy is more systematic than the occasional interview, an analysis by The Shift News of key PN figures’ Twitter data up to June 2018 reveals:

  • Adrian Delia has never mentioned the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and has only mentioned Konrad Mizzi once, since he started tweeting in July 2017, a period that covers countless scandals involving Schembri and Mizzi.
  • Clyde Puli has mentioned Schembri three times and Economy Minister Chris Cardona twice, since he started tweeting in December 2014.
  • Despite Foreign Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela being at the centre of a news storm a few weeks ago, and despite calls for him to resign, another of Delia’s closest MPs Kristy Debono has never mentioned Abela. Delia and Puli mentioned Abela just once.
  • Delia’s predecessor Simon Busuttil has, in contrast, made 96 mentions of Schembri, 75 of Mizzi, 13 of Cardona, and 11 of Abela, since he started tweeting in September 2015.

The same pattern can be seen with Twitter references to ‘corruption.’ While Busuttil made 102 references to ‘corruption’ in his last 3,200 tweets, Delia made just three references to corruption in his total of 294 tweets.

Debono and Puli, whose Twitter records go back much further than Delia’s and so yield 3,200 tweets each that cover some of Busuttil’s leadership, made 19 and 34 references to ‘corruption’ respectively.

Kristy Debono’s last tweet at the time of writing is a re-tweet of PN MP David Agius, another Delia confidant, raising the alarm on the price of bread, indicating that PN’s new leadership has taken the ‘bread and butter’ strategy literally – to both PN and Malta’s detriment.

Meanwhile Malta’s rule of law continues to deteriorate and corruption continues to spread, risking not just the country’s economy but also its democratic institutions.

The rebranding is serving to discredit PN while strengthening Labour, and worsen weaknesses in the country’s democratic set-up, which relies on a strong opposition to keep the governing party in check.

Despite the warning signs, PN is persisting in its Labour-designed strategy to stay silent on corruption and the rule of law and speak out on an area in which it has no advantage, the economy.

 

Delia’s current line of attack is to say that Malta’s economy is “growing through population not productivity”, despite economic growth far outstripping population growth.

There are serious and immediate concerns about Malta’s economic growth – its over-reliance on passport sales and igaming, and their propensity to facilitate large illicit financial inflows, corruption, and money laundering – but Delia’s advisors skirt around the real economic issues.

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