Long is the road that lies ahead of the PN. The Local Election results paint a positive picture of the trends for the opposition party, but less positive than the picture painted by the European Parliament ballot. Two votes taken on the same day yielded different results. This means voters are casting their votes strategically. Which also means their strategy will be different when it comes to choosing a government.

If these local elections had been a general election, Labour would have won by a larger majority than the PN ever obtained in its history. It will have 5 guaranteed years in government ahead of it. Where then is the PN? Look at the numbers.

This was the second time that local elections were held all together for Councils of all the villages of the country which lets us compare these results with what happened 5 years ago. More people could vote this time round. Less people voted. The balance was that around the same number of valid votes were cast. In fact, we had 1,000 less valid votes this year compared to 5 years ago. With such a small difference the figures can be compared without too much arithmetic.

Right. The PN halved the gap with which it trailed Labour. Five years ago, the parties were 47,000 votes apart. Now the gap is 20,000. That’s a big leap which explains the PN’s newly found courage.

From a great height there’s a measurable swing of a bit more than 10% away from the PL towards the PN. The PN increased its votes but 10.7% and the PL lost 10.5%. In absolute numbers the PN gained 11,000 votes and the PL bled nearly 16,000.

We need to place things in their context though. The PN’s result from 5 years ago was simply catastrophic. Its share had dropped below 40%. The PL’s was near 60%. Five years ago, we seriously feared Labour growing ever slow slightly to exceed a two-thirds majority which would have meant that not even the Constitution could restrain it.

Down from that extreme difference, when a single party dominated at a scale of supremacy beyond the wildest dreams of the authors of the Constitution, this election result brings us back to a competition between two parties where one wins and the other loses. The PL won and the PN lost.

Naturally these are national aggregates. Many people had their neighbourhood in mind when they voted. Many people vote for local candidates representing the party they want in government. Many others vote for candidates they want to run their village. You’ll have nationalist voters voting for a labour neighbour they trust. A labour voter might vote for a nationalist candidate.

You get independent candidates who are loved by everyone attracting local votes but who will not feature in national elections. Consider the charismatic Steve Zammit Lupi in Żebbuġ u Nigel Holland in Floriana. They tip the balance in local ballots but have no impact on a general election.

You get local party intrigues playing a role. Popular candidates who fall out with their party might change the results in their village, as happened in Għasri. Popular councillors who lose their party’s support cost votes for their party, as happened in Bormla. Local dramas might buckle national trends, as happened in Valletta.

Above all, less than 60% participate in local elections. Many absentees will show up on general election date and are likely to vote for either party.

I sum all this up to explain that the local election results do not amount to a definitive census. They’re not the last word on what would happen if a general election were to be held tomorrow.

If the PN is to ever win a general election this is not the end of that road. It’s its beginning. The PL has earthquakes aplenty ahead. The trauma of losing its supremacy will continue to expose previously unseen internal conflicts. Joseph Muscat will want to save his skin rather than help his Party and he will use his Party to save his skin. Robert Abela will trust less people for he won’t know who to trust.

Watch the coming election of the new European Commissioner. They flipped down the ranks in search of a candidate making Malta’s offer ever less attractive. The government fear sending a candidate who is humiliated in the European Parliament’s screening. Now they’re talking about Owen Bonnici because the poor man looks harmless. Until someone remembers he swept away a protest memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia 500 times until a court found him guilty of violating freedom of expression. And the government which named him to be European Commissioner did not even appeal that ruling.

That’s nothing compared to the years ahead listening to evidence in the case of the criminal sale of hospitals serialised weekly in court. How long must voters absorb news of money intended for cancer treatment being diverted into the pockets of thieves? That’s not all. We’ll also get the court drama on disability pension fraud: government officials bribed to help severe disability pension fraudsters.

That’s not all. At some point the prosecution of corruption in the power station will need to kick off. People will start to understand that every time they pay an electricity bill a slice goes to the people who took bribes in connection with that contract. They’ll start to understand why Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi set up Panama companies to receive the bribes paid on that contract. They’ll start to understand why Yorgen Fenech set up a Dubai company to pay them. They’ll start to understand why a journalist who tried to explain what was going on was killed in a car bomb.

All this will drag the PL down. That’s not to say it will prop the PN up. The PN must do more. It must show it is not made of people who are in politics to enrich themselves. That they’re not simply waiting their turn to slide up to the trough.

That does not mean they must be saints. Saints belong elsewhere. The PN had its share of corrupt people in its time. Those who were caught – like John Dalli – and those who weren’t – like Ninu Zammit. No party can promise to be ever pure and free of corruption because any government is made of people and people are beset by greed.

What the PN can promise is to implement the reforms the PL is resisting. That they’ll implement the changes wanted by the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry, by the Venice Commission, by the democracy office of the OSCE, the OECD, and the European Commission.

That they’ll implement laws to restrict the influence of wealthy people on politics. That they’ll strengthen the police and the prosecutor to ensure their independence to work without fear or favour. That they’ll ensure that cheaters are caught, fired, made to give back what they stole, and are punished as you or I would.

And the PN must convince us that they’ll turn the page on the pain corruption causes people. That they’ll restrict construction, stop the dust, cool the congestion, and spend more on health and education. That in sum the PN becomes more than an audience for the collapse of the PL or a temporary replacement because there’s no other choice: but to become a genuinely alternative government. That instead of counting the days for Labour’s fall we might be counting the days for a PN government.

I told you it’s a long road.