Is the PN heading for a real split? Factions’ next moves will be crucial

The PN was already split down the middle… now the rebels’ move to depose Adrian Delia is spurring on a counter-move that could lead to expulsions and a real split

The 17 rebel MPs have spoken: they want Therese Comodini Cachia to be Opposition leader. But Adrian Delia remains the PN’s legitimately-elected party leader, and constitutionally, still Opposition leader.

With former leadership rival Chris Said moving a no-confidence vote against Delia as Opposition leader, and now also informing the President formally of that vote and that MPs no longer support Delia, the next moves in the coming hours and days could prove crucial to the future of Malta’s largest opposition party.

Here is the kind of picture we expect to develop in the coming days

1.     Adrian Delia is still constitutionally the Oppostion leader

The Constitution lays down the following when it comes to the Opposition leader and the role of the President of the Republic:

Article 90 (2) (a) first states that the President appoints as Opposition leader the MP who is the actual party leader of the opposition party with the largest number of MPs.

Article 90 (2) (b) says that in the absence of the above, if the opposition parties are say, equal in number, or if there is not an opposition party (for example, just MPs in opposition), and therefore the President cannot find a party leader as in (a) above, then he turns to the MP who enjoys the support of the largest single number of MPs in opposition.

2.     In that case, as elected PN leader, Adrian Delia is surely the Opposition leader because he was elected fairly and squarely by party statute rules

And yet, 17 MPs from his parliamentary group voted against him in a no-confidence vote; and he refuses to step down. The rebels are now putting forward Therese Comodini Cachia as their preferred MP for Opposition leader.

READ MORE • Six reasons Adrian Delia’s position is now untenable

3.     So what does the President do now?

As long as Delia remains in place as the PN leader, he is clearly the MP who commands the party in Opposition (Article 90, 2, a).

But the Constitution, in Article 90 (4) imbues the President with an active role in deciding “in his judgement” what happens when the Opposition leader – in this case Delia – no longer enjoys the support of “the largest single group” of MPs in opposition. In this case, George Vella would have to revoke Delia’s position as Opposition leader.

Kevin Aquilina, former dean of the Faculty Law, believes that “as the guardian of the Constitution, the President has to take the initiative because this time around the challenge to Adrian Delia is not based on speculation but a clear motion of whom we know the proponent and a voting result that was confirmed officially by the PN.”

This stance is echoed by Franco Debono, the former Commissioner of Laws, who said the President has to take an active role in such an impasse.

But we also spoke to some other constitutionalists, who think the ‘17 Blue Heroes’ have to actually be part of a recognisable “single” and “largest” group.

4.     But does a single group actually exist?

Are the 17 MPs in the PN right now “a single group”? Because as things stand, the PN in Parliament has its elected party leader: Delia.

So does George Vella have to see those 17 MPs announce they are formally splitting from the PN parliamentary group and become a new independent formation in the House, for him to see them as the largest single group in the House with the right to support a new Opposition leader?

5.     Then there is an important party question…

As we have already reported, a Delia ally and PN executive committee member wants the executive to discuss the actions of the 17 MPs, and take disciplinary action against them. That’s an actual clause in the PN statute: Article 6(2) says no member can prejudice the best interests of the party, in which case such a complaint against such members will have to be decided inside the executive, an extended forum that includes some of the MPs and other members from the different party branches. It is unclear how strong Delia's support in the executive is. 

6.     What if this leads to an MP’s expulsion?

Imagine if such a scenario would lead to the PN executive agreeing to expel one of more MPs who provoked the no-confidence vote or went to the President of the Republic demanding he strip Delia of the role of Opposition leader. Once that door is opened, you could expect a formal break-up of the PN’s parliamentary group, with the 17 MPs (and two MEPs) announcing they are no longer part of Delia’s PN.

7.     And then the President really would have to act…

He would have to recognise the 17 MPs as the single largest group in parliament… and therefore recognise Therese Comodini Cachia as the new Opposition leader.

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