What options do the PN rebels have? Five key scenarios

Despite being increasingly isolated with the resignation of key allies, PN leader Adrian Delia has thrown the ball back to the rebel MPs by staying on. As the prospect of a long war of attrition looms on the party, JAMES DEBONO asks what options are left for the rebels

1. Proceed to elect a new leader of the Opposition

The rebels may proceed to remove Delia from leader of the Opposition. With 15 Mps already reportedly being in favour of a change in leadership, they may well have the votes to do so.

But MPs have so far refrained from taking a vote to formalise their position. In the absence of such a vote it is unlikely that the President will intervene to appoint a new opposition leader.

If the rebels do not act now, Delia may be able to call their bluff. For after crossing the Rubicon and exposing themselves, the rebels can’t afford to lose the momentum. Still, the rebels will also have to unite behind an alternative name, something that may be easier said than done considering the bleak prospects any new leader would face.

Moreover MPs have no power to remove Delia from party leader. The prospect will also leave the party with two leaders, something, which would leave party members and voters even more disoriented. Delia has already hinted that he may take unspecified actions against MPs not toeing the line.

A decision by MPs to elect a new Opposition leader may result in a formal split especially if the rebels are expelled from the party. But the party statute makes it clear that party members can only be expelled by the party’s executive where Delia may not even have a majority. This would result in a permanent paralysis with the two factions unable to win a decisive victory.

The risk would be a free-fall in support, as the party is increasingly perceived as a joke.

2. Make Delia’s life hell by electing rebels to key posts

The rebels are aware of the limits imposed by the party’s statute which includes no provision on removing a leader elected by party members. But the resignation of key Delia allies including secretary general Clyde Puli, Kristy Debono from the post of President of the General Council and deputy leader Robert Arrigo may open an opportunity for the rebels to strengthen their hold in their party.

While Delia may decide to stay on irrespective of the results of these contests, his power could be seriously dented, with the party machine being taken over by his opponents. The danger of this is that it risks prolonging the agony and dispelling the prospect of any recovery in the polls. It could leave the party in a state of permanent confusion.

Votes for these positions may well be interpreted as confidence votes in Delia. The choice of Arrigo’s successor by party members will provide the greatest test for both Delia and the rebels. For if the post is contested by both factions, the result may well be interpreted as a referendum on Delia’s leadership among members.

If Delia loses this contest, he risks losing the only source of legitimacy he has left: the decision by party members to elect him in 2017.

On the other hand if a loyalist wins, Delia may well consider this vote as a one of no confidence in the parliamentary rump, which had tried to unseat him.

3. Convene General Council again to discuss no confidence motion

The General Council has no power to remove a leader elected by party members.

But the rebels may once again try to convene the General Council to discuss a motion on his leadership. Back in July Delia had accepted to have such a motion discussed and ended up winning the support of 67% of councillors. The vote only served to reinforce Delia’s legitimacy as party leader.

But he may still deem any such motion inadmissible insisting that the only body which can remove him is the party’s convention composed of party members. According to the party’s statute only the party leader has the power to convene the party’s convention.

Delia may well take this risk to quash rebellion and proceed with his “revolution”by seeking confirmation from rank and file members.

4. Accept a truce and wait for the next favourable moment to strike

Faced by Delia’s stubborn refusal to step down and the prospect of further sinking the party’s prospects, some of the rebels may back down.

Still this prospect is unlikely simply because the rebels have now crossed the Rubicon and backtracking would leave them exposed to the wrath of emboldened Delia loyalists.

The risk is that Delia may be wary of any truce, which leaves rebels in a position to plot their next move at some other more favourable juncture. On their part rebels may also fear being side-lined before the next election and this may strengthen their resolve to bring closure to the rebellion.

5. Formalise the split

None of the contending parties want to be held responsible for a split in the Nationalist Party but their actions may still make one inevitable. Both sides know that any split will pave the way for an even stronger PL majority in parliament, possibly a two-thirds majority simply because a split opposition vote may result in less MPs being elected.

But if the rebels feel they have nothing more to lose, they may well be ready to take the risk. On his part a delusional Delia may see this as an opportunity to finally implement his vision of the party unshackled by constant dissent.

Even if a split does take place, it won’t solve the party’s deeper identity problems. For while the rebels may unite against Delia, it remains to be seen whether they have a coherent narrative, which can unite social liberals and conservatives in one political home.

One advantage for the rebels would be that of starting anew while leaving the debts to Delia’s rump Nationalist Party, which may end up inheriting most of the party’s problems while losing most of the party’s MPs, front bench and talent.