Anyone questioning Lawrence Gonzi's leadership is now clearly putting himself or herself outside the party.
Gonzi's resounding triumph does not solve the current problem facing Gonzi in parliament, something which can only be resolved by an affirmation of the one seat majority in parliament. The only way for Gonzi to translate last Saturday's vote into political stability for the country is by winning a confidence vote in parliament. The quicker this is done, the better for the country. The urgency for such a vote is dictated by the eurozone crisis; for the longer the uncertainty the greater the risks for our wellbeing. The fact that Franco Debono has at least returned to the fold, by voting in the contest of a party from which he had resigned, bodes well for the survival of the government.
On the other hand the abstention of Jesmond Mugliett and Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando shows that Lawrence Gonzi does not enjoy the full trust of the parliamentary group. But both politicians have made it clear that they will still vote for the government in parliament. So ultimately if Franco Debono ends up voting for the government in crucial votes, the government will last till next year.
Although the result was expected especially in view of the perceived loyalty of council members, the contest itself has strengthened Gonzi's hand as the undisputed leader of the Nationalist Party. Anyone questioning his leadership is now clearly putting himself or herself outside the party.
Still the contest itself has been largely unpopular in the country, being ridiculed not just by the Labour party but also by the media in general. The Times's cartoon of Gonzi as King Carnival summed it all. Although Gonzi faced the calculated risk of a secret vote, ultimately what stuck in people's minds was the farce of a one-man contest. While clearly a triumph within the party, the one-man contest was more of a humiliation for the PN leader who had to go through an unnecessary contest in his bid to win back the loyalty of a prodigious MP. But Gonzi may well have chosen the only way to avoid certain defeat in a sudden election. He has given Franco Debono his pound of flesh to buy very precious time. Now it all depends on how Gonzi uses this time.
For diehard loyalists the contest was a celebration of Gonzi's rule in the party. The risk for the party is that this will further entrench the loyalist core at the exclusion of more critical voices. As happened more than once in the past years, the party has been used to solve the leadership's problems. Instead of rising above the leader to redress the party's fall from electoral grace, the party has found itself fixing Gonzi's problems. In some ways the party is now shaped in Gonzi's image.
By ditching GonziPN in his first speech as the re-elected leader of the PN and anointing Simon Busuttil as his envoy to reach out to civil society, Lawrence Gonzi has given a taste of party's electoral campaign. Although the government will probably survive, the party's electoral machine has been activated. While Labour will ironically ape GonziPN by presenting a front of old and new "star" candidates held together by the sheer charisma of the leader, the PN will present itself as a team of strong personalities-some of which could be aspiring for the succession. Yet whether this will be an electoral gimmick or a matter of substance will depend on Gonzi's ability to reach out to his critics and more importantly to segments of the electorate who do not share his worldview in crucial matters like ethics and morality.
The Maltese electoral system is to blame for current political quandary. It perpetuates a two party system, which encourages both parties to contain within them all possible contradictory views, which can only be held together by presidential leaders. At the same time Malta remains a parliamentary democracy whose electoral system only recognises parties and MPs. Therefore while encouraging parties to fight presidential campaigns, it makes it impossible for the elected leaders to govern in a presidential style. Gonzi may well use his last months in power to enact political reforms which address the country's democratic deficit through changes in the electoral law and party financing.