Delia should go: but at what cost for the Opposition?

This newspaper’s editorial position on Adrian Delia has been made clear time and again. For various reasons, he is not the man to lead the PN right now.  

An Opposition leader cannot function if mistrusted by his MPs; still less, with a public rift that is now splitting the PN in name, and possibly also literally. 

Regardless of the fact that he was elected by the popular vote of his party members, whose voices deserve being heard, Delia is in a quandary that leaves him unable to fulfil his Constitutional mandate with the necessary serenity he needs, and which needs to be imparted to the electorate. Clearly, there must be an exit strategy. 

Nonetheless, the PN’s impatient rebels have chosen a storming course of action that may backfire on the party. This is already their fourth attempt at getting Delia out: a process that has hardened hearts in a PN that is seemingly divided between those who favour Delia’s strongman appeal – which finds favour in the PN’s working-class base – and a more middle-class, part-liberal, part-conservative cohort that supported Simon Busuttil wholeheartedly as heir to Lawrence Gonzi, and which believes Delia is unable to fight the anti-corruption battle for various reasons. Add to this heady mix his marital problems (which keep being weaponised against him), and his financial misfortunes. 

What is clear is that the PN is missing a leader that unites both factions, the kind of inspirational leader it had with Eddie Fenech Adami, back in a time of need for the nation. 

The big risk here is that the bad blood inside the PN could linger for years to come, making it impossible to reconcile the factions.  

All along, however, there were other options. Delia’s rebels could have propped him up until the next general election, which would have surely seen him crash and burn: thereby necessitating the only honourable way out. But they refused to do this; perhaps out of fear that Delia might actually succeed in narrowing the gap with Labour, thereby encouraging him to stay on.  

Whatever the fear of that scenario, the rebels’ course of action has infected a wound inside the PN, even if it was in the course of making a necessary amputation. That wound is this pronounced division between the party elites and its dynasties, and the rest of its party grassroots from which it seems to demand unquestionable loyalty. Today this rift is clearer than ever. And if a real split occurs, putting back the pieces will only happen when a new generation of political leaders comes to the fore. 

Now, Malta has been plunged into a constitutional crisis after Delia refused to heed the no-confidence vote of his parliamentary group.  

Delia insists he is the lawfully elected leader of his party; and in truth, he is. That makes him the leader of the largest single opposition party in the House, and therefore the President of the Republic is obliged to appoint him Opposition leader. 

But now there are 17 MPs of that group who do not recognise him as such, and want Therese Comodini Cachia to take over. The President is actively encouraged to take note of this development and appoint as Opposition leader the person who commands the support of the largest single group in the House in opposition to the government. 

Yet some views differ on the all-important Article 90 (4) of the Constitution. Do the 17 rebel MPs constitute a “single group” in the House, or are they still PN MPs? 

Delia defiantly insists that as long as these MPs remain members of the PN’s parliamentary group, he is the Opposition leader as the elected leader of the PN. With this logic, one deduces that should those 17 MPs break away from the PN, they would be constitutionally regarded as the largest single group in the House: in which case Comodini Cachia would have to be recognised as the new Opposition leader. 

There is a feeling that Delia’s supporters are ready to encourage a formal split to ensure their vote in 2017 to elect Delia is upheld, with consequences taken to their logical extreme. The rebels want Delia decimated in a process that will finally take him once again to an election, this time having to face off Comodini Cachia in a vote for the party members. 

Yet we must also ask another question: in seeing the state of the Opposition in the face of the corruption allegations swamping the government, and with the need to keep scrutinising the Labour administration on crucial governance and constitutional reforms… if Delia really were a leader of goodwill, would he not have emerged from that parliamentary group meeting humbled by the vote of no-confidence, and announced his resignation? 

Delia obviously believes he is made of sterner stuff. And by putting on such a display of fighting spirit, he has arguably boosted his own popularity among his faction’s supporters.  

This has so far worked to Delia’s advantage… but is it good for the nation? The logical answer is no. Only a strong Opposition can give a powerful government a run for its money that is needed. And Delia himself cannot provide that.