Sunday, 25 July 2010

MaltaToday: What is the Nationalist Party?

A Nationalist local councilor defies conservative homophobes by kissing his partner during the pride march. And in a re-edition of the 1960s political-religious struggle, a placard proclaiming that God is against divorce is directed against the Nationalist MP who tabled a pro divorce law. Is religio et patria in deep crisis?
Monday, July 19, 2010 by James Debono

Historically the strength of the Nationalist Party has been its ability to contain within it a very wide spectrum of ideas and to absorb and co-opt potential adversaries in a system of patronage where ideology and entrenched business/media/institutional interests interlope. Ever since the party accepted the reality of mass politics and shifted to the centre (in case of social welfare to the centre left), it has become a formidable electoral machine which won a majority of votes in all elections since 1981 with the exception of 1996.

And this was all thanks to the re-invention of the party in the mid 1970s when Eddie Fenech Adami as leader of the opposition transformed it from an elitist and conservative party to a mass popular party.

Despite and perhaps because of the Christian Democratic ideology it endorsed, the party became less dependent on the church by building its own local structures. In this way the party became a popular party in its own right. Borg Olivier might have been more secular in his world view but he was actually powerless without church backing. The more confessional Fenech Adami changed this. By presenting itself first as a mass movement against the Mintoffian excesses and than as a movement for Europe, the party managed to accommodate both traditionalists and cosmopolitan liberals in one big church.

Discussion on Divorce, civil rights and greater pluralism were postponed to an age of liberties following membership. Ironically following Malta's entry in the EU,a conservative reaction followed within the ranks of the Maltese establishment. Possibly the PN itself was caught by surprise even if elements within the party seemed happy to accommodate this reactionary movement. The party's flirting with Gift of Life fundamentalists is a case in point.

But in the meantime something all the more surprising was happening in Maltese society. It was the ability of social progressives to kick back not in the usual sporadic manner but in more systematic and organised way. The issue of censorship is a case in point. It might well be a case where the conservative elite has overstretched its arms.

Just as the PN had to respond to the greening of civil society before the 2008 election, despite being traditionally close to the pro development lobby, the PN might come the realisation that the time is up for confessional politics. The necessity of political survival might even prevail over one of the last marks of PN identity; conservative social values. For just as much as I resent this conservative mentality, it would be difficult to recognise the PN without it.

Alternatively the party might choose to keep the charade alive by relegating important issues like divorce to the Hyde Park status. But this will come at a cost.

For the purpose of this blog I limited my analysis to the clash between secular and confessional politics, but one can't ignore the crisis of the PN's social model-based on buying the peace and upholding aspects of the welfare state while undermining the re-distributionist model which makes this model sustainable in the long-term. Even on this front, something has to give.

In many ways contrary to what happened in the 1970s when the party reacted to Labour's hegemony, the party finds itself responding to social changes ushered by its own policies in the past two decades. Rather than a recipe for salvation procrastination is increasingly looking as the way to perdition. The real battle for the party's soul may well be fought after the next election especially if the party ends up in opposition.

No comments:

Post a Comment