A critical juncture for PN and Malta

Just as personal problems sometimes become public concern, the Nationalist Party’s internal problems cannot be considered ‘private’, when they also directly affect the delicate balance of power that keeps democracy from disintegrating

A good football coach knows that not every personal problem, unrelated to the nature of the game, necessarily warrants a resignation. Not every off-the-field controversy, no matter how big, should force a coach to step down.

But a good football coach should also know when off-the-field problems are big enough to become a distraction for both himself and the team, to the extent that they affect the team’s ability to achieve the desired results. When that happens, resignation becomes not only necessary, but also inevitable.

Crude though it may appear, that analogy holds good for Adrian Delia’s position as Nationalist Party leader. In recent weeks, Delia has faced unprecedented pressure, emanating from within his own party, to hang up his boots and call it a day. Such was the pressure that the PN even felt it had to issue a formal rebuttal, insisting that – contrary to ‘press reports’ – ‘Delia is here to stay’.

It may have been intended as a reference to this newspaper (which reported on the internal party strife), among others; but no one can deny that at least part of the pressure comes from the Nationalist Party itself: even (it appears from leaked private conversations) from members of Delia’s own ‘faction’, as it were.

Delia has enough experience at club football level to know when a situation is salvageable, and when the external pressure is big enough to warrant resignation. Having said this, the question of Delia’s tenure as PN leader remains an internal party matter, to be decided either by Delia himself, or by the party organs. And it is ultimately a decision to be taken on the basis of what is best for the party, as well as – by extension – what is best for the state of Malta’s democracy as a whole.

Certainly, it should not be taken only on the basis of Adrian Delia’s publicised marital problems. Such issues should not, in themselves, be reason enough to resign from office. If that were the case, many other MPs, politicians and ministers should have packed their bags and left by now. And while there is no doubt that a separation is invariably traumatic on the individuals involved, especially when children are present in the relationship, it is ultimately how people deal with that trauma, and the stress it causes, that determines the legitimacy of calls for a public person to step down.

It is not enough to argue that the existence of these problems, alone, will automatically distract Adrian Delia from his political commitments. Different people deal with such issues differently, and it is altogether too early to pass any judgment in this case.

But if Delia’s political commitment does become visibly lacking as a result of his personal problems, he will have no option but to leave the helm of the party. This is also the reason why a private matter like a separation can become a matter of public concern.

Nonetheless, for the same reason it is logical to ask whether Delia’s family problems are indeed having an impact on his political work. After all, Delia is not just another MP or politician, but the leader of a political party aspiring to be in government. He also holds a constitutional role as Opposition leader.

Moreover, he is expected to lead his party into next year’s European Parliament and local council elections. These elections are an important test for the PN, coming as they do after two successive, heavy electoral defeats.

Within this context, it is perfectly understandable for people within the party to expect their leader to dedicate all his energy and focus to the cause. It is by no means misplaced or inappropriate to express such doubts openly.

But family issues are not the only causes of doubt. Adrian Delia has been at the helm of the PN for over a year now: having been elected party leader on the controversial promise of ‘restoring the party to its rightful owners’.

He subsequently attempted to oust his predecessor Simon Busuttil from the party, only to find that he had overestimated his own support levels, and underestimated Busuttil’s. Through his own actions, he has exposed an internal (and seemingly unbridgeable rift) within the party. It is difficult to imagine how the same person can possibly be expected to heal this divide; and the party cannot hope to overcome its electoral obstacles unless it puts these differences behind it.

Just as personal problems sometimes become public concern, the Nationalist Party’s internal problems cannot be considered ‘private’, when they also directly affect the delicate balance of power that keeps democracy from disintegrating. This concern only becomes more paramount, when contrasted with the apparent political strength of the Labour Party at this point in time.

The Nationalist Party owes it to itself, first and foremost – but also to the country – to get its act together in time to restore the political imbalance.

These issues, too, form part of the calculation that Delia has to make at this crucial juncture for himself, his family and his party. It is a judgement call that rests with Delia; but nobody should be surprised if people ask questions.