The Nationalist Party’s latest election strategist has begun to sell his pitch this weekend. The frills around the pitch are not new.
They speak the language particular to the Maltese political world: from the supposed street-cred of having voted for other parties to the recent history of “punishing” a party for its arrogant track record and lack of progressiveness, all the way to an appeal to the voters who could really count in the next election (the famous floaters). It segues sweetly to “make the PN great again”.
Not overtly so of course. The plea of this latter-day Mark Anthony is more of a case based on the need to strengthen an opposition to prevent the worst (the dreaded 2/3 majority), rather than an inspired call for the creation of a credible government in the waiting. This comes as no surprise though. Christian Peregin has been appointed as a PN strategist. An electoral strategist to boot.
While the party’s administration was changing a few faces on board, Peregin was, without putting too fine a point on it, becoming the latest hired hand to try his luck at changing the PN’s electoral fortunes. Now I am not about to join the band of usual suspects who are taking a go at Peregin based on his salary and what they perceive as conflicting messages he sent out in his time as Lovin’ Malta CEO. Those disquisitions, based mostly on a mixture of grudges and hypocrisy, are part of the kind of debate that our local circles can churn up with amazing regularity.
I am more interested in distinguishing between the role and purpose of an electoral strategist as against that of the political members of a party. At the heart of this distinction lies my long-repeated argument that political parties should be primarily concerned with values. By this, I mean that the basic reason why political parties exist is to represent a defined set of principles and values in the organs of the state. Parties do not exist simply to win or lose elections (or to mitigate said loss as much as possible).
The very definition of an electoral strategist is related to electoral success – one linked to the cynical world of polls, statistics, and modern-day manipulation of the democratic process to obtain a “result”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Modern democracies, as fallible as they are, have constantly required a refined, cynical attitude from the participants to maximise their results. Peregin has taken up the challenge to be such a strategist, so far so good.
Peregin’s point of departure for his electoral strategy is a defence of reasons why voting for the PN can once again be a good thing. In his words: “It’s time to stop punishing the PN”. Among the premises of this defence lie the good old PN mantra that third parties offer no solution at the current time (do not waste your vote) and that a vote for the PN can stop the PL’s inexorable march to obtaining a 2/3 majority in parliament (vote the lesser evil with all its warts). Well, I’ll be damned. If this does not represent an ideological peregrination over a decade that brings us back to the same spot that we were in in 2008 and 2013 then I do not know what is.
“If the PN does not meet your aspirations, you should do your best to convince it to do so,” the electoral strategist tells us. Reality is much harder to take in than the hope that is supposedly now in the air though. Peregin’s attempts at resuscitation remain misdirected so long as they are focused on reviving the PN’s electoral hopes based on the lesser evil/wasted vote considerations.
This problem is further confounded by the knowledge that the PN is part of the reason that we are where we are today. Peregin is aware of (part of) that problem, having been an initiator of the lawsuit against the political party propaganda stations. I have always thought of that issue as a minor battle in a much wider war – the war being the need for radical constitutional reform that denudes the PLPN of its stranglehold on our republic.
My “PN must die” theory is based on the simple notion that the only way for the PN to regain credibility as a valid opposition to the dark force that Labour has become is for it to become a rallying ground for reformists. To do so would require a strong metamorphosis that denies all that the PN has stood for until now and a commitment to a new set of constitutional values that pave the way to the kind of wholesale reform that practically requires a tabula rasa of our political party set up.
That kind of PN does not seem to be the PN Peregin is vouching for and selling. What Peregin and the party need to understand is that the current crisis is not solved by voting for a lesser evil that threatens to keep the current sick system alive for longer but rather by the creation of a greater good to which to aspire.
The time for punishing the PN will be over once the PN decides to lead the country to the change it desperately needs.