A friend of mine had dinner with Eddie Fenech Adami a few days ago. “Chief”, he asked him, for the oldies will always call him ‘Kap’, “who should I be voting for?”

After a pregnant silence – that dramatic pause for effect the consummate diplomat never drops even if he’s been out of business for a dozen years – the deceptively enigmatic answer was “You should vote for the Partit Nazzjonalista.”

If ever there was someone who fastidiously did things the proper way that was Eddie Fenech Adami. He will have very strongly held views about the subject. And he will find a way of expressing them without parting an inch from the appropriate silence a former party leader should keep about his successors.

But even Eddie Fenech Adami’s enigmata are not open to much interpretation. The term Partit Nazzjonalista is not just a brass plate on an address in Pietà. It is a set of values, a history, a legacy, a political culture, a system of belief, a chain of continuity, a community of like-minded individuals, a specific vision, an international political affiliation, an archive of institutional memory, an academy of knowledge and yes, that much maligned term, experience.

When Lawrence Gonzi and John Dalli faced off both ticked several of those boxes but only one of them ticked them all. The discourse was identical from both sides but the Councillors making the choice saw through one of the candidates and chose the other one. There was no doubt what “Vote Partit Nazzjonalista” meant then. There should be no doubt now.

The subtleties of campaigning for leadership in 2004 are no longer with us. There is nothing subtle about the leadership campaign that culminates in tomorrow’s final ballot.

I toyed with the idea of assessing yesterday’s leadership debate on TV but I decided it would be an exercise in futility. Most voters now appear entrenched in their camps. In spite of questions poorly answered and others still ignored, personality parties have now been formed around the two candidates and for each of the camps their candidate won the debate yesterday and the other crawled out bleeding on their knees.

It is an accurate cliché to say they watched different debates. And it is useless to try, at this late stage, to rip away from their clutches the satisfaction of the gladiatorial thumping they invested so much in.

One should think there still are people who in all this confusing babble have not yet made up their minds. I doubt yesterday’s debate will have tipped the balance either way for any of them.

But that familiar message from Eddie – as ever free of any ambiguity – may help them clarify their thinking and make the right choice.

Tomorrow, vote Partit Nazzjonalista.