It may be useful for those who want to understand what will be happening by the next school run to brush up on the rules governing the election of a PN leader. ‘Brush up’ is a bit of a misnomer because it suggests these are established rules that have been gathering dust after a very long papacy. The rules of this conclave are new and to some extent have been improvised along the way so this is a freshman program rather than a refresher course.

The four candidates in the race have 2 weekends left of campaigning before at least 2 of them are eliminated.

On 2nd September the members of the General Council – the inner-outer circle of the party – get to shortlist the top two candidates in a ‘first-two-past-the-post’ poll. Each voter gets to choose one candidate and the candidate with the least preferences gained is eliminated before the next ballot is called to eliminate the next least preferred candidate. Until there are two.

One complication (or simplification if you’re efficiently minded). If at the first ballot between four, the second ranked candidate gains more votes than numbers 3 and 4 put together, 3 and 4 are eliminated in one go and 1 and 2 are declared shortlisted.

But unless number 2 quits the race of his own accord, the General Council must shortlist 2 candidates even though the relative performance of the candidates can be emphatically disproportionate and the Council’s preference is made very, very clear.

All the talk about ‘opening up’ the election to the members has suggested that the General Council is some form of narrow cabal of loyalists, some close-knit and self-perpetuating circle that decides everything over brandy and cigars after dimly lit lace and silver dinners.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There are around 1,500 members of the General Council and quite simply anyone interested enough to be part of it, already is.

The following list may not be a gripping read unless you’re particularly curious who gets to have a first round vote on 2nd September. Memorising this may however do miracles for your social conversation over the Santa Marija break. Here’s the people with a vote:

  1. The party leaders;
  2. One representative each from 13 district committees elected 2 years at a time;
  3. MPs, MEPs, Local Councillors and hamlet aldermen elected on the party lists;
  4. Individuals elected by the party’s committees in each town and village to top up councillors and aldermen to ensure that for each 500 voters in every quarter of the country there is at least a member of the General Council (this ensures that votes from PN-majority localities are not over-represented);
  5. Members of the PN’s Gozo Committee;
  6. Committee members of the party’s branches (youths, women, workers, pensioners, SMEs, equal opportunities and professionals);
  7. Approved general and European election candidates;
  8. Elected party officials.

These people choose the top two candidates. As explained either one of the shortlisted candidate (unlikely for both, almost unimaginable for the top ranked candidate) can decide to quit at this point. If only one candidate is left, he faces all party members (with some exceptions explained below) on the 16th September. Party members get to say whether they’re ok with the one option offered to them and two-thirds have to say yes or the process is scrapped and nominations re-open.

The rather likelier event is 2 candidates face the party members in which case one of them must logically acquire a relative majority and that will be enough to definitively raise the cup.

The party rules have defined eligibility to vote excluding any member who has not renewed their membership in the last five years or who has refused renewal at any time. Membership for the current and previous year must be paid up though late payments even after Busuttil’s resignation were accepted. An exception was made to allow members that are less than 18 years old to vote if they had been members for at least six months when Simon Busuttil resigned.

Campaigning rules have been given to the candidates. The cardinal rule is they are forbidden from criticising or badmouthing each other. They can only promote themselves and they must do so with circumspection, speaking only indoors or on party media (that ensures balance for all participants) and without fanfare that looks (or is) expensive or wasteful.

There are of course no rules about what their supporters might say or do. The trench warfare underway on Facebook is outside the party’s control and to some extent outside the candidates’ as well.