The die is cast...

The risks of a prolonged war of attrition within the ranks of the party could be very damaging, if not fatal. And as party grassroots move to take sides in this face-off, outsiders sit back amused, watching the spectacle of an imploding PN

The situation unfolding within the Nationalist Party has now reached a clear tipping point. Like Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, the emergence of a clearly defined rebellion against Adrian Delia signifies that ‘the die is cast’: the PN is now clearly split into two rival camps, and the battle-lines have been drawn for a confrontation to decide the ultimate fate of the party.

In a sense, this marks an improvement over the preceding situation: where the precise division lines were far from clear. All the same, however, the situation still represents a stalemate. Neither side has yet made its first proper move on the chess-board… and both sides still need to present a credible way forward.

For the so-called ‘Blue Heroes’ – the 17-or-so rebel MPs identified by Jason Azzopardi in a Facebook post - this is the first time they have come out in public against Delia: although indications began last week with a letter – also published on Facebook - denouncing Delia’s actions following the most recent parliamentary group meeting.

The names of the 17 Blue Heroes did not come as a surprise: they clearly constitute the same core group – or ‘establishment’, as some prefer to call them – that had ensconced itself within the PN’s corridors of power over the past 25 or so years (to the extent that most point towards their ‘long years of service’ to the party as proof of their legitimacy.)

The Delia camp, on the other hand, comprises a rival faction that successively challenged this very establishment for the leadership of the PN in 2017.

As such, the public split does not resolve the ultimate question of who the PN legitimately ‘belongs’ to… even though the Blue Heroes have now staked their claim in no uncertain terms, by demanding Adrian Delia’s resignation.

Delia, too, seems to have drawn his own line in the sand. On Sunday at Mellieha he challenged the rebels to toe the line or leave, while praising those who have stood by him over the past two years.

Significantly, these also include party veterans such as Robert Arrigo and Carm Mifsud Bonnici: suggesting that Delia also enjoys a level of support from the old guard.

But neither side has indicated what it intends to do next. Delia has promised an ‘utter revolution’ to get rid of dissenters, but has not indicated what shape this revolution will take.

Meanwhile, the Blue Heroes have not given any sign of their intentions, either. Will they take action to have Delia removed as Opposition leader, through a vote of confidence in the parliamentary group? Or will they wait to see who will replace Kristy Debono, Clyde Puli and Robert Arrigo, following their resignations last week?

Moreover there is uncertainty concerning the extent of the so-called ’rebellion’. One Nationalist MP, Stephen Spiteri, has since distanced himself from Azzopardi’s Facebook update… and others may yet feel pressured to do likewise. Doubts therefore remain about whether the ‘Blue Heroes’ can muster the necessary majority to delegitimise Adrian Delia as Opposition leader.

Nonetheless, Delia’s position has undeniably been dealt a crushing – possibly fatal – blow. At this juncture, his ability to ever reunite the Nationalist Opposition – still less, to work towards a national majority at the polls - seems not merely remote, but absolutely impossible.

Matters are further complicated by the fact that the rebellion openly pits the PN Parliamentary group against the express wishes of the party’s internal structures. This fight is developing into an establishment vs party members divide; and if both sides continue trying to humiliate the other, the Nationalist Party will only scuttle its chances of reunification even at electoral level.

The risks of a prolonged war of attrition within the ranks of the party could be very damaging, if not fatal. And as party grassroots move to take sides in this face-off, outsiders sit back amused, watching the spectacle of an imploding PN.

Unfortunately, however, it is not just the PN that will implode, but also any hope of a viable Opposition in the near future. It is for this reason, too, that both sides have to set out clear and concise strategies, to somehow extricate the PN from the mess it is in.

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