Free vote on matters of moral conscience – organisational revamp planned to make PN competitive again

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Maltawinds interviews Dr Chris Said on his PN leadership bid

Why have you decided to contest this leadership election in this difficult and sensitive moment for the party?

“When I contested for Secretary General of the party four years ago, we were also going through a very difficult time but I am a person who does not shirk away from challenges. In my two year term together with my team, I managed to turn around the situation regarding organization and finances and was happy with the progress that was achieved. After the last General Election, the leader Simon Busuttil resigned and I decided to throw my hat into the ring after some soul searching. On one side I had the view that I could retain my seat in Parliament quietly and enjoy my family but on the other side, I felt that I could do a lot more for my party if I contested the leadership since I am a person who likes to accept big challenges. My goal is to unite and strengthen the party and also to get rid of the internal tensions which seem to have cropped up at the moment”.

You just mentioned internal tensions in the party. What are the main challenges facing the party at the moment?

“I am identifying three major challenges for the party to be back where it belongs. The first challenge is that the party has a vision. In the past, the Nationalist Party had a vision that was ahead of what society used to believe in and this made it the natural party of government. In recent years, the party has lagged behind and moved backward with the result that the party was always reacting to what society was doing and this had a negative effect on the party’s electoral chances. I am also calling for a group of thinkers to set up the party’s vision. Secondly, I am proposing a massive programme of bridge building and contact with local groups and clubs as well as all sectors of civil society. There are hundreds of social groups which we have lost contact with over the years and I am proposing that identified persons will be responsible for such bridge building. The third point is that the Nationalist Party is a party where you can achieve what you aspire to. In past years we acquired a bad reputation in that we did not serve people in their requests – that is something which I want to change if I become leader – always if this is not illegal of course”.

In the past years, the Nationalist Party acquired a reputation that contact was lost with NGO’s, small groups of people and society in general. Why did this happen?

“This happened due to a lack of strategy on contact with groups and small organizations. Perhaps we concentrated too much on unions and large members of civil society such as employer’s associations and the business community in general. A typical example would be small sports organizations such as the Darts Association. I suppose you know of this association but we as a Nationalist Party never made contact with them. This story happened many times over with hundreds of small associations and I am adamant that under my watch this will not happen again”.

Lets tackle the current situation in the political scene at the moment. The Labour government has a crushing majority at the moment and is passing laws whilst riding roughshod over the opposition. Major challenges at the moment include the environment, rampant construction and the traffic and parking problemHow are you going to counter this situation as leader?

“The Labour Party has adopted a tactic in past years where dialogue is practically non-existent. Labour just publishes the white paper and orders that discussions begin immediately with a view of passing the law in a few days. When I was in Parliament, I never worked this way even when passing major laws such as the Freedom of Information Act and the Embryo Protection Act where I spent months discussing with all stakeholders on these bills. I understand that the government has an obligation to legislate but I will not accept that this goes ahead without any consultation. You mentioned the environment, traffic and parking amongst major social challenges and if laws are being passed in these very important sectors, consultation is definitely a must”.

What about your campaign for leader? How are you running it?

“This is a long campaign of around two and a half months and I am running quite a simple campaign based on contact with members of the General Council and the party members. As already explained beforehand, my proposals are simple and based on three pilasters. However there is another aspect of the party’s organization since we should aspire to be ready for government. We will be working on the quality of life for people in general especially with regards to safety and security, since these are aspects that are often overlooked”.

How is the situation in the party at the moment with regards to finance and organisation?

“A lot of work has been done and good progress has been made in this regard although there is still much to be done. I would like to congratulate the team that worked on the financial restructuring of the party as they have done a good job and are continuing to do a good job. On an organisational front, a lot has also been done but my goal is for the party to be ready for the upcoming Local Council and European Parliament elections in two years’ time. We also need to reaffirm the party’s identity and make sure that everything is in place. We also need to be ready for Labour’s onslaught as regards its legislative programme where they will undoubtedly attempt to split us in every way possible, but I can assure them that this is not going to happen. On questions of moral issues I will also find no problem in giving a free vote if one feels that a law is in conflict with an MP’s ethical views.

A final comment on the campaign and race ahead?

“I am getting good feedback from everyone I am holding meetings with and I am looking forward to the challenges ahead. I have risen rung by rung on the party’s ladder and have vast experience in the party now. My appeal to council members and party members is to weigh the proposals being offered by us candidates who are after all four colleagues. Our ultimate aim is to make the party stronger and more attuned to today’s challenges and I sincerely hope that this will be the goal of each and every one of us”.