Delia, a new Opposition leader and the Constitution: understanding the road ahead

With Delia losing the support of his own MPs, the country is in uncharted waters. MaltaToday tries to make sense of the situation in this quick-fire Q&A.

President George Vella: at some point the buck is likely to stop with him
President George Vella: at some point the buck is likely to stop with him

After Adrian Delia lost a vote of confidence at the hands of his own MPs, we try to understand how the road ahead will pan out. We look at the legal and political ramifications of yesterday's unprecedented decision.

Can Adrian Delia’s appointment as Opposition leader be revoked?

Yes. The President can revoke the appointment of Opposition leader and this requires little else than George Vella exercising his judgment.

What do you mean, ‘exercising his judgment’?

Well, the appointment and removal of the Opposition leader is regulated by Article 90 of the Constitution and with Delia losing a vote of confidence among his MPs, it is likely that sub-article 4 will kick in.

PN leader Adrian Delia lost a vote of confidence among his own MPs
PN leader Adrian Delia lost a vote of confidence among his own MPs

Does the President have to be informed or asked to remove Delia?

Some lawyers like Franco Debono believe the Constitution is pretty clear on this and the President is empowered to revoke Delia’s appointment given that he lost a vote of confidence. But given this is uncharted territory, others argue that those who forced the no confidence vote must now take the step and visit the President.

But what does sub-article 4 say?

If “in the judgment of the President” another MP “has become the leader in the House” of the largest opposition party, or the current Opposition leader has “ceased to command the support of the largest single group of members”, the President is duty bound to “revoke” the appointment of Opposition leader.

Has Delia lost the support of the largest single group of members though?

Yes. Nationalist MPs were asked point blank to vote on whether they trusted Adrian Delia as Opposition leader. 19 MPs voted no, and 11 voted yes. The result was officially confirmed by the party and Delia.

The 30 people in the parliamentary group, included the PN’s two MEPs, which from a constitutional stand point are irrelevant. But even if one assumes they both voted against Delia, removing them from the equation still leaves the Opposition leader with 17 votes against him. In parliament, the PN has 28 seats, which means that 61% of its MPs do not support Delia. Two other independent opposition MPs – Marlene Farrugia and Godfrey Farrugia – have also publicly declared that they do not support Delia.

But removing Delia will create a vacancy. Who will take his place?

The President can either appoint the leader of the largest political party in opposition or appoint an MP who, “in the judgment of the President, commands the support of the largest single group of members” from the Opposition. The PN is the largest political party in opposition but given the lack of support Delia has among his MPs, the President will be forced to shift to the second option of choosing an MP who commands majority support.

So far, the MPs who forced the no confidence vote have not put forward a name to take Delia’s place.

PN MP Chris Said proposed the motion of no confidence in Delia
PN MP Chris Said proposed the motion of no confidence in Delia

If no name is suggested what can happen?

The President can summon Opposition MPs and gauge who they support. But it is expected that those who planned this coup will put forward a name. The most obvious name is Chris Said, who was the one to propose the no confidence motion. But others like Claudio Grech have also been mentioned as possible contenders for the post. So far, there is no clear indication of who will be proposed to take Delia’s place as Opposition leader.

Does this mean Delia will no longer remain leader of the PN?

No. The haggling over the role of Opposition leader is regulated by the Constitution and has no bearing on who leads the PN. In any case, Delia has made it clear that he intends staying on as party leader to fulfil the mandate of members who elected him to lead the PN until the next general election.

But won’t this create a funny situation with the PN having a leader, who is not Opposition leader?

It is unprecedented. And within the Maltese context it is politically embarrassing for a major party aspiring to be in government. But there is nothing that stops this from happening. It can become complex though in parliament as to how the Opposition will regulate its work. It will also be uncomfortable for the new Opposition leader to be sitting next to PN leader Delia in parliament.

READ ALSO: Adrian Delia loses no confidence vote

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