The choice Chris Said made

The choice Chris Said made

Chris Said had three options to choose from.

The traditional thing to do would have been to withdraw his candidature and openly back Adrian Delia in the final round going for party unity and ensuring for himself an influential future in the PN led by his erstwhile rival. That normally happens when the choice of leaders is a matter of charisma and leadership qualities. It happens when none of the mainstream contenders or their followers expect the election of someone else to bring about such a radical transformation of the party that they may no longer be comfortable living within it.

Clearly this is not a normal election and judging at least by the rhetoric of the candidates’ supporters, if not of the candidates’ themselves, a mood of a coup has been created where people seem to feel either the election goes their way or they face the political gallows.

The remaining two alternatives available to Chris Said where to withdraw and not back Adrian Delia in the confirmation ballot or the option he ultimately took of staying in the race.

Although Chris Said has not externalised his thinking about his decision, not yet anyway, I think one can reasonably make an analysis of the considerations that must have been in play.

Had Chris Said withdrawn from the race, Adrian Delia would not have automatically been crowned. He would still have had to face a ballot on the 16th: effectively a plebiscite on whether to confirm his election that would have required a two-thirds ratio for his approval. Since the option we are assessing is one where Chris Said would not have backed him, one would have to imagine Chris Said and all the other Adrian Delia sceptics actually campaign for a no vote. The detractors would only need to persuade a third of the party supporters to defeat Adrian Delia.

True those people would be voting for a negation: never an easy campaigning prospect when you’re offering nothing against something, or someone. But people who dislike both Chris Said and Adrian Delia would find it easier to vote no to Delia when that does not in itself mean an expression of a preference to Said.

Why would Chris Said want to block Adrian Delia? We have no evidence of any deep-seated antipathy between the two. But we do have a lot to suggest that a considerable chunk of the PN’s support, as well as entire generations of former leaders, fear that the election of Adrian Delia would bring about a transformation of their party beyond their recognition.

It started with the fact that Adrian Delia fell on the party like rain from an unclouded sky. On top of that came the reporting of Daphne Caruana Galizia corroborated by her harshest critics at Malta Today. Then came Adrian Delia’s mismanagement of those allegations. But all these are doubts on the quality of the leader: enough to doubt the future electoral prospects of the party but not enough to create an existential crisis.

And yet there is now an existential crisis. What started out as a concern about the suitability of the leading contender has become a fear of ideological ruin. There have always been people who threatened not to vote PN or switch to Labour for one petty reason or another. But a line has been crossed this time when considerable numbers have declared themselves politically orphaned purely on ideological grounds.

It is conventional to say that the old Nationalists were arrogant for turning their backs on people who switched their vote because their demands for dodgy building permits and sinecures could not be met. We must chase every vote and grovel and whimper at the feet of those who could not see the big picture. The record shows the party was over-time losing its touch. Maybe there was no longer a big picture. Maybe there was no longer the skill to explain it.

But the situation we have now is not of people threatening not to vote if they don’t get what they want. We have people threatening not to vote if their party changes to the point they no longer recognise themselves within it.

In Adrian Delia they see characteristics they are used to disliking about Labour. Some of these impressions Adrian Delia brought upon himself. Others have been attributed to him by intuition that may with time prove unfair or might just as well prove correct.

His deftness with the spoken word is perceived as demagoguery. His forceful rhetoric is perceived as pandering to baser instincts in his audience. His uneven responses to criticism is perceived as a contempt for the press. His failure to produce in reasonable time an ‘audit’ that no one asked him for in the first place is perceived as a cavalier attitude to truth. His willingness to exploit Labour-concocted myths to further his position is perceived as egotistical to the point of megalomania.

And yet, it is clear, he enjoys massive support. Anyone who has worked in the PN for the last 30 years privately or publicly confesses to his magnetic ability to attract and fire up crowds to an extent not seen since church schools were shut and a young man was shot and killed for having a drink at the wrong village bar. That is impressive. But to the portion of the party support that is worried about populist tendencies it is also exquisitely repulsive.

You would think someone like Chris Said would want to avoid this disaster at all costs. In choosing to stay in the race on the 16th he confirms he does want to avoid this disaster but no, not at all costs.

I think Chris Said has been through enough elections to know that his chances of gaining more than half the votes at the next ballot are not exactly encouraging. Let’s be coy about this and just say that his election would be a surprise. He could have chosen the tactical retreat which may have been enough to scupper Adrian Delia due to the higher threshold of a lone race. Or he could have, do remember, ensured his political safety by backing Adrian Delia at the last ballot.

Instead he must have calculated that distasteful as the outcome may prove to him and his allies, the members of the party have a right to be given a fair choice between two alternative futures of the PN. Never has a party leadership election presented a starker choice.

In a democratic process nothing is more sacred than the vote. But people often run away with this idea to places no democrat should go. Voting processes are mechanisms not principles. The principle is that the people chosen by the majority should run a party (or a country) on behalf and in the interests of everyone. The mechanisms attempt to get as close as possible to an understanding of majority will but they are necessarily imperfect. Some voting mechanisms are more imperfect than others, especially when tried and tested systems are tinkered with and vitiated.

The designers of the present electoral process, being tested now for the first time ever, made a bit of a dog’s breakfast which is misdirecting everyone, particularly the suffrage voting on the 16th. The ballot last Saturday among the councillors did not show that the will of the councillors is for Adrian Delia to be leader. Reaching that conclusion is to allow oneself to be carried away by the wave of support the leading candidate is enjoying.

What happened on Saturday was the first part of the old electoral system to choose a leader. It is called the exhaustive ballot system where a ballot is taken every time the last candidate is eliminated or a candidate concedes until you’re left with one. The first ballot may indicate the voters’ initial mood but is no guaranteed outcome.

As the conventional wisdom on papal conclaves go, the cardinal with the most votes on the first ballot is the least likely to be crowned in the last one.

If the exhaustive ballot system had proceeded as it has always had in all prior leadership elections it is almost certain that Adrian Delia would not have won that hypothetical race. Alex Perici Calascione would have almost certainly backed Chris Said for the second ballot (and Frank Portelli would have backed Adrian Delia). Most of those original votes would have gone in the direction that their candidate recommended and even accounting for second ballot abstention and a few rebels here and there, the outcome would have almost certainly favoured Chris Said.

Even with three candidates participating, the first ballot among the councillors was an Adrian Delia yes-no plebiscite. And the majority vote in that plebiscite was clearly ‘no’.

Frank Portelli never meant to win this election. He may be fascist but he’s not stupid. He did it like he did just about everything in his political career: to strengthen his bargaining position when negotiating his personal issues, of which he has plenty. When he smelt his advantage he publicly backed Adrian Delia recommending effectively that any supporters he did have back Delia even at the first ballot.

Frank Portelli understood the changed dynamics of stunting the exhaustive ballot to a single vote better than any of the other three candidates. If Alex Perici Calascione and Chris Said had understood this as well as Frank Portelli, Perici Calascione would have done for Chris Said ahead of the vote what Frank Portelli did to Adrian Delia.

Stunted the process may be, and misleading the result. But the rules are the rules and this is the reality we live in today.

Chris Said has chosen to live within that reality and fight the next two weeks on the terms that have been determined for him rather than by him.

  • Gordon

    Great piece. Thanks for clarifying the intricacies of the whole affair. Let’s hope it gets to as many tesserae as possible.

  • simonbon100 .

    Great read……thanks

  • Dortmin Lang

    Where are Chris Said’s supporters? Delia is hounded by his but Said is very alone. It seems to me that Said’s ticket relies exclusively on being the “inside” person, an integral part of PN’s history over the past few decades. But these are times of change. The past is gone. The fact that Simon is still clinging to the leadership post after the party losing the election by a wider margin than the previous time is evidence that change is not coming from within. That no investigation has been held by the party on why it lost so big is evidence that rot has set in. The only investigation ordered by Simon is to bring a part-time farmer to head an Ethics committee on the eve of the leadership election. This sends the message – whether intended or not – that the party that failed to renew itself from within is now seeking to halt the renewal from outside, out of desperation. The situation is one of no hope. This is why no better candidates stuck their neck forward for the leadership position. Nobody bets on a losing horse. So you end up with Chris Said and his “karriera tieghi” mantra. Why does he want the leadership position? “Ghax ghandi 30 sena t’esperjenza (bla tebgha).” It’s like he is filing an application for a promotion within the civil service. Chris lacks charisma. He built his record by saying “Yes” to Pieta. This is an old trick in Gozo, saying “yes” to the powers that be on the other island. It works well when the powers are in power. But when they aren’t, it’s meaningless; it leaves the utterer dazed and without direction. When his Gozo voted 70% against divorce, it was an incredible unity of both Nationalists and Labourites. Yet he went to Parliament and voted in favour. On the gay issue, Gozo stands against if it’s the Gozo of the divorce referendum. He voted in favour. And now he speaks against what he voted for. Bniedem tal-paroli. It’s Chris Said that made Delia. If Delia is elected, Chris Said will dutifully serve. He has already said so if you read his comments between the lines. Typical civil servant mentality. One could expose Delia as being a fraud but if there is no leadership material running against him, the party voters are faced with a Hobson’s choice.

    • Sa Pace

      I don’t see Simon Busuttil clinging to the role: he announced his resignation and that of the whole administration team the very day after the General Election result. He did not design the election process himself and, frankly, i think he kept himself too much out of the picture throught these gruelling weeks. Most of all, i’ve seen a great wave of change in the past two and a half years within this party, starting with involving tesserati in party elections and setting up policy fora (which made people like me start to take notice). On another theme – the part-time farmer also happens to be a former successful General Secretary, Minister, and member of the EU court of Auditors. I assume he has more insight into things than you and I. Whether you like Chris Said or not is another story.

      • Dortmin Lang

        Whether one likes Chris Said or not is not another story. It’s what this article is about. Is Said electable? Or would it be better if Said quit the race, thereby imposing a possibly insurmountable 2/3rd minimum on the Delia faction. As for the part-time farmer scaling to great heights, this doesn’t make him ethical or justify his chairmanship of an ethical commission. Just because Delia would win the party ticket doesn’t make him ethical. Just because the Prime Minister won a massive election doesn’t make him ethical re Panama, etc. As for Simon’s resignation, he is still visible when he should have moved to the shadows for the next few months and, possibly, years. Just look at Gonzi and Fenech Adami. They knew when to step out of the limelight. Instead, Simon just led a crusade, equipped with a Whip, for values that quite frankly don’t square with his party. And the party blindly voted for the law despite the fact that the government ignored the 80 suggestions for change by the same NP.

  • doreen debono

    Can you please clarify the process? If Said pulls out, then Delia needs the endorsement of two-thirds of the Tesserati, and if neither Said nor Perici back him (and neither Simon, Beppe, Gonzi, Eddie, etc) then he won’t get thus qualified majority and we’ll have a new contest with new candidates. However, if Said stays in, then whoever of them gets more votes, wins. In such case, methinks it’s better for a Said to PULL OUT of the race.

    Said now stands between Delia and the Party leadership. In a straight run, he’s unlikely to win. But if he pulls out, to encourage a plebiscite on Delia, then we can have a new poll, hopefully in 2 yrs time.

    • Emanuel Delia

      The process is as follows:
      1. If Adrian Delia faces the ballot of the 16th on his own he needs two-thirds of valid vote casts to approve him in order to be declared leader. If he falls short of that the process is cancelled and nominations re-open from scratch.
      2. If Adrian Delia and Chris Said both face the ballot of the 16th, the one of them with more valid vote casts than the other is declared leader.

      • doreen debono

        So isn’t it obvious that if the Party wants to avoid having as Leader for the first time a person whose integrity isn’t beyond reproach, the only sensible way forward is for Said to pull out if the race and declare that he isn’t supporting Delia. Anzi, that he pulled out to ensure a plebiscite about whether Delia is acceptable or not. I reckon that we’ll over a third would ensure this.

        It’s time that the grandees of the Party stopped sitting on the fence. We need a declaration signed by people like Eddie, Lawrence, Simon, Beppe, Said, Perici, and others saying that:
        -they renounce Delia due to his suspect integrity
        -they urge Tesserati not to endorse Delia, thereby ensuring a new contest.
        Once it has the backing of Said and Perici, it reflects over 50% of Councillors.

        This is just the start. They must then do 3 things:

        A. Call a meeting of the Kunsill Generali to vote to postpone a second contest by 18-24 months
        B. To appoint an interim leader like Louis or Simon who undertakes not to stay on beyond 2 yrs, and not to contest the next General elections
        C. To encourage true leaders to emerge. This is the toughest part. But it can be done.

  • Evaristsammut

    Intelligent analysis with an interesting conclusion. However the tesserati are a totally different population and most of them might feel that given the qualities and vision of Adrian Delia, it would stand to reason to give the man the chance to improve the party. The man has so much inner strength and conviction that it is immediately apparent, even to the casual observer that he is what the party needs.