The weekend of Malta’s opposition crisis: 36 hours waiting for word from the President

Malta’s opposition party is formally split over a coup to depose Adrian Delia, but it’s the President’s verdict that everyone is waiting for 

President of the Republic George Vella
President of the Republic George Vella

Over 36 hours passed since the President of the Republic concluded meetings with MPs from the Opposition in a bid to resolve a constitutional crisis prompted by a no-confidence vote by Nationalist Party MPs against leader Adrian Delia. 

But President George Vella has been cautiously silent despite meeting a majority of PN MPs who, going by a secret vote held last week in the PN’s parliamentary group, declared they want Therese Comodini Cachia to be Opposition leader. 

Adrian Delia released no statement on Sunday, a customary day for party leaders for rousing speeches in local clubs. Instead, it was the group of rebel MPs which issued their statement to react to Labour leader Robert Abela’s address in Mosta. 

On Saturday, Delia appeared unperturbed by the challenge he was facing internally, with allies who spoke to MaltaToday insisting they could start censure motions against the MPs who launched the coup. 

Malta’s Opposition leader is appointed by the President; constitutionally, it is the leader of the largest party in opposition to the government. Delia, elected in 2017 by a majority of paid-up members – the first ever leader elected in a popular ballot – is sure the President will retain him as Opposition leader. 

However, the Constitution also says the President must appoint the MP who commands the trust of the largest, single group in opposition when the standing Opposition leader has lost his MPs’ trust. 

Rebel MPs and their advisors – constitutionalists Austin Bencini, Kevin Aquilina and former ECHR judge Giovanni Bonello – believe Vella now has seen a majority of MPs who have denounced Delia and want Comodini Cachia step in as Opposition leader. 

Labour insiders, as well as Delia’s allies, think a more literal interpretation of the Constitution means Vella can only appoint Comodini Cachia as Opposition leader if the 17 rebel MPs split from the PN parliamentary group. 

The rebel MPs are now expecting that Delia will make his intentions clear on Tuesday, with an executive committee meeting that will either produce an olive branch, or a counter-offensive to censure MPs – maybe even threatening expulsion. 

It is unclear whether Delia has the necessary numbers inside the executive – a forum that groups a selection of MPs and other party councillors – to take the upper hand. Critics think any move to force a real split could be Delia’s undoing, motivating even his loyalists to abandon him. 

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