The PN has no ‘Plan B’, either

To ‘get rid of Delia’, today, is also to kiss goodbye to a not-insignificant section of the PN’s voter-base: a voter-base that has already dwindled to just 36%

It is no longer an open secret that the PN is in full civil war mode. The situation has been simmering beneath the surface since 2017, has now erupted for all to see.

What is less clear is the immediate future of an Opposition party that is now on the brink of disintegration. The problem cannot be reduced merely to a question of whether Adrian Delia should stay on as leader. Delia has already, repeatedly stated that he intends to soldier on until the next election, and has now presented a plan (internally, at least) on how he intends to turn things round.

It is therefore useless to carry on insisting on his resignation, as his opponents within the PN are doing.  Delia will not ‘go gently into that good night’. The only way he will relinquish his position, is by being forced to do so.

The fact that that no effort has been made to oust Adrian Delia from the leadership is significant for two reasons. It suggests that the faction inimical to Delia lacks the necessary strength in numbers; and it also indicates that there is, at present, no ‘Pan B’ for the PN’s current predicament.

Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea

While it is understandable that Delia should be expected to make way, given the extent of the electoral thrashing last month… it is inconceivable that the opposing faction has yet to make its own intentions clear. No one has stepped forward to propose an alternative way forward to the PN. It is as though ‘getting rid of Delia’ has become an end in itself, with no forethought to the repercussions.

This presents the PN with a choice of evils.

If Delia stays on – as present circumstances indicate he will – the civil war can only be expected to deepen further, until a split becomes not only ‘inevitable’, but, de facto, already there. The embattled leader may have plans to reduce the electoral deficit by the next elections… but this is only doable if the two factions somehow reconcile: which doesn’t look likely at the moment, nor at any time with Delia as leader.

Moreover, Delia will find it harder to come up with a plan to regain the confidence of the parliamentary group, rather than the electorate. The chasm is now simply too wide open to possibly be bridged through ordinary internal diplomacy. And it will widen further, as Nationalist MPs and activists will be mindful that their own chances of future survival will depend on the distance they maintain from their leader.

To align too closely to Delia, over the next three years, also means to commit political suicide when the party is led by someone ‘from the other side’.

Short of somehow managing to ‘eliminate’ all his internal critics, Delia simply has no realistic option of achieving the party unity required to narrow the electoral gap. His stated political aim is technically unobtainable: with him at the helm, the path to regeneration is hopeless… and everyone in the party, including Delia himself, knows this.

But no viable alternative path seems to be visible, at present.  Though clinging to his position by a thread, Delia retains a loyal following among sections of the party grassroots. Just as a portion of Nationalist voters preferred staying at home rather than voting for ‘Delia’s party’, the same formula will surely work with the shoe on the other foot.

To ‘get rid of Delia’, today, is also to kiss goodbye to a not-insignificant section of the PN’s voter-base: a voter-base that has already dwindled to just 36%.

One solution touted in the past months, is the election of an interim leader instead of Delia. Names floated around include that of former social policy minister (and leadership contender in 2004) Louis Galea, and former EU commissioner and deputy leader Tonio Borg. Both can be considered elderly stalwarts with no leadership ambitions of their own. This would make them best placed for leading the party in to a voyage of self-discovery, thus facing the existential problems which have been plaguing it since 2008.

This may well have made sense back in 2017, immediately after the election defeat. But embarking on such a path now, less than three years before the general elections, would either mean that the interim leader would have to lead the party in the next election (which would be confusing for the electorate), or that the leader elected after the interim phase would barely have a year before facing the electorate.

The choice of interim leader could also weigh heavily on the party. Electing someone who lacks charisma or who may be tempted to direct the party in a more socially conservative direction could sink the party further.

Ultimately, however, no amount of interim leaders can compensate for the lack of a clear vision with which to entice the electorate. The PN must, in brief, take drastic, radical action to end the infighting; then embark on a soul-discovery mission, to reinvent itself as a modern, forward-looking Opposition party.

It may still face a lengthy spell in Opposition; but for the present, that is better than allowing the PN to annihilate itself utterly.

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