Six reasons Adrian Delia’s position is now untenable

Delia’s position as PN leader is no longer tenable, simply because he has been very economic with the truth when facing direct questions on his relationship with Yorgen Fenech

Out come the knives...
Out come the knives...

Adrian Delia famously claimed he had no contact of “relevance” after November 2018 when Yorgen Fenech was exposed as the owner of 17 Black, the secret company listed as the client of Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi’s Panama companies. Now it emerges that Delia had entertained the prospect of a meeting with Fenech months after the revelation.

Can Delia stay on as a lame duck leader?

What’s sure is that his position as party leader is no longer tenable, simply because he has been very economic with the truth when facing direct questions on his relationship with Yorgen Fenech.

1. Delia’s painful striptease on his Fenech chat has damaged him

Instead of being upfront by admitting his mistake for not immediately turning down a request for a meeting made by Yorgen Fenech on WhatsApp after November 2018, Delia went for a slow and painful striptease, which just obscured the latest attempt to reunite the party following a General Council to revamp the party’s statute.

On 27 June Delia denied having had contact after news of Fenech’s 17 Black ownership broke when asked twice. Yet the next day Delia hinted that there may have been some contact but no communication.

“Last year, I don’t recall any communication, any which is of relevance.”

“If I receive a thousand messages, on Messenger, which I don’t go through all myself, and there was a message, a message, just ‘hi there’, a message, like any others, I have to go through all of them, and go through them… But there was not any type of communication”.

Now it turns out that Delia entertained the possibility of meeting Fenech after the 17 Black revelation, by replying to Fenech: “Good day to you. Thank you, I’ll ask Pierre (Portelli) to organise it.”

Although Delia denied actually meeting Fenech after November 2018, Delia clearly did not dismiss the invitation and refrained from telling Fenech that such a request was highly inappropriate in view of the party’s strong stance on 17 Black and Panamagate.

2. The messages expose a serious character flaw in Delia

Delia showed poor character in not being able to politely rebuke Fenech, now that he was properly linked to Panamagate and serious corruption allegations which the same PN was attacking. Delia did not want to burn bridges with the powerful businessman but Fenech’s warmth suggests a level of confidence and trust had been established in meetings between the two held before November 2018. And this speaks volumes of the reverential attitude of the Maltese political class towards dominant business groups.

And even if this was a case of excessive politeness on Delia’s part in reply to unsolicited messages from Fenech (or his natural friendly disposition) the publication of the messages shows Delia lacked the courage to express his PN’s outrage at 17 Black’s involvement in Panamagate directly towards its owner. This poor judgement has exposed him to blackmail, with Fenech having it on record that the PN leader was ready to meet him despite the criticism levelled against him as the owner of 17 Black by the Nationalist party.

3. His own MPs have raised the bar on Fenech contact post-17 Black

The messages will make it more complicated for the party to question the behaviour of Labour ministers who were still in contact with the business mogul after the 17 Black revelation. At a time where Robert Abela is finally taking steps to distance himself and Labour from the Panama gang, Delia’s character flaws – although incomparable to actual involvement in corruption – damages the PN’s chance at being more credible than Labour on good governance issues.

The absurdity of the situation is that instead of pouncing on Labour by referring to a story on the ownership of the secret Dubai Macbridge company published by MaltaToday, Delia found himself defending himself from the WhatsApp story published in the Sunday Times.

4. Blaming a conspiracy will not help Delia much

Delia’s reaction to the leaks was that of painting himself as a victim of a conspiracy trying to “silence him” in his struggle to “fight corruption”. So if he was such an anti-corruption warrior, why didn’t he raise the issue with Fenech when he was presented with a perfect opportunity to do so after November 2018?

Even more surreal is Delia’s suggestion of a Labour conspiracy against him, with the Times serving as the useful idiot. “If the Sunday Times has access to Fenech’s mobile… Why is this the only ‘exchange’ published? Why no exchanges between Yorgen Fenech, Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi?” Delia may be consciously targeting Labour, fully knowing that the source behind these stories could be nearer to home.

5. Delia has once again confirmed a negative perception of him

This is not an isolated case on various issues in which Delia has lost trust with his own followers. The ‘Daphne crowd’ has conspiratorially seen Delia as some Labour Trojan horse not ready to take on their nemeses, Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri. Other voters simply fail to see Delia as an alternative PM. The WhatsApp texts continue to erode trust from both categories: one claiming that Delia was in league with Fenech in a bid to thwart MEP David Casa’s chances of re-election in the 2019 European elections in return for cash, the other baffled by Delia’s muddled replies and inconsistencies. With corruption allegations still topping the political agenda, the PN must confront a government whose new PM can distance himself from his predecessor and reclaim a degree of moral authority. Delia instead is cornered with the tables turned back on him.

6. Delia is heading towards certain defeat anyway

Ironically, this train wreck of a leader is the only one who can resolve the PN’s crisis by resigning and giving his full backing to a successor, and heal the wounds of the past months.

If not, the only option for the parliamentary group would be to disown Delia and elect an Opposition leader while Delia remains party leader, something which would disorient the electorate further. Delia knows that MPs lack the courage to go down that road and therefore feels safe clinging to power even as a lame duck. Delia has already weathered previous eruptions from his rebels. But while he previously did enjoy a degree of democratic legitimacy, he is now weaker and more exposed to both enemy and friendly fire than ever. In short Delia is now a liability. The question is: would removing him be costlier in terms of party unity than keeping him? Till some weeks ago the answer was yes, because removing him would be a messy and bloody process.

Now even a bloodbath may be preferable to paralysis. But the rebels must present someone to fill the vacancy just two years before an election where the party risks an even heavier defeat. If Delia survives, the PN risks having more pieces for the next leader to pick up.

READ ALSO: PN rebels want to force Delia’s hand with vote in crucial MPs’ meeting