The PN’s future hangs in the balance

Yet ironically, Adrian Delia is also the only person who can help resolve the PN’s crisis: by resigning and giving his full backing to a successor, in order for some form of healing process to begin

Yesterday, the Nationalist Party held an extraordinary parliamentary group meeting to discuss the leadership of Adrian Delia, following revelations that he may have been ‘economical with the truth’ concerning his rapport with murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.

By today, the outcome of this meeting will be known. But even from now, one inevitable result is already painstakingly clear.

Whether or not Delia successfully staves of an umpteenth attempt to oust him from the leadership, his position is by this point manifestly untenable.

This is partly because of his unconvincing response to the allegation that he had dealings with Fenech, even after it emerged (in November 2018) that Fenech was the owner of 17 Black: the offshore company set up to convey money to companies owned by Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.

On 27 June, Delia was asked twice whether he had been in contact with Yorgen Fenech since this revelation. He denied the allegation; yet the next day, Delia hinted that there may have been some communication after all… but no direct contact.

Last Sunday, however, a number of Whatsapp exchanges between Delia and Fenech were published, painting a very different picture of events.

It would appear that Delia had in fact been in regular Whatsapp contact with Fenech throughout the first half of 2019.

While these communications were always initiated by Fenech, their nature and wording also suggest a certain familiarity with the two: with Fenech addressing Delia as ‘Kap’ (leader), and even – in one message – going as far as to pledge him unconditional support.

During the same exchange, Fenech asked the opposition leader if he was up for a casual meal.  “Good day to you. Thank you, I’ll ask Pierre (Portelli) to organise it,” Delia replied; though he later denied that the meal itself took place.

In view of the bigger picture, however, the question of whether they did dine together becomes irrelevant. On the surface, these transcripts already appear to catch Adrian Delia out in a blatant lie.

Coupled with the separate allegations (currently under magisterial inquiry) that Delia had received money from Fenech, the new revelations can only raise further suspicions that Delia may have also been financially dependent on the disgraced businessman… which would in turn explain why Delia was either reluctant, or unable, to cut ties completely.

This poor judgement has exposed the PN leader to the possibility of blackmail: with Fenech having it on record that Delia was ready to meet him, despite the criticism levelled against him as the owner of 17 Black by the Nationalist Party.

What is arguably even worse, however, was Delia’s response to the allegations:  in which he portrayed himself as a victim of a conspiracy trying to “silence him” in his struggle to “fight corruption”.

Even giving the benefit of the doubt regarding Delia (highly unlikely) claims of a ‘frame-up’, the fact remains that a political leader cannot ‘fight corruption’, while concurrently defending himself from so many separate accusations.

The stark reality is that the Whatsapp story forced Delia onto the defensive; when, as an Opposition leader crusading against corruption, he should really have been pouncing on Labour over separate revelations concerning the ownership of the secret Dubai-based company, Macbridge.

Besides, these messages indicate that Delia did not view his own party’s stance on 17 Black and Panamagate as reason enough to cut ties with the man at the heart of those scandals. As was the case with Joseph Muscat, his sheer closeness to Yorgen Fenech renders him unsuited to the role. Simply put, Adrian Delia has become a liability for the party.

But the situation also has repercussions for the country as a whole. With corruption allegations still topping the political agenda, the Opposition must somehow confront a government whose new Prime Minister has already taken steps to distance himself from his predecessor, and thus reclaim a degree of moral authority.

The PN’s ability to ride the crest of this wave hinges entirely on having a leader who is above all such suspicions. In Delia, however, the PN has the opposite: a leader who cannot be taken seriously in the struggle against corruption and maladministration; and who is no longer trusted by various factions of the PN’s already-splintered support base.

Yet ironically, Adrian Delia is also the only person who can help resolve the PN’s crisis: by resigning and giving his full backing to a successor, in order for some form of healing process to begin.

By this morning, this may already have happened. If not, the parliamentary group will have limited options: all of which can only realistically lead to further fragmentation of the Opposition… and with it, the possible extinction of the PN as a whole.