PN rebels’ unity candidate proves elusive after second day of talks

Nationalist rebel MPs are trying to unite behind one candidate with the ability to beat Adrian Delia, unite the party and give the PN a fighting chance in the general election

Incumbent PN leader Adrian Delia will contest the leadership election
Incumbent PN leader Adrian Delia will contest the leadership election

Nationalist rebel MPs were unable to put forward one candidate to run against Adrian Delia in the leadership race after a second day of intensive talks yesterday.

Sources close to the meetings told MaltaToday that discussions to find a unity candidate continued on Tuesday between prospective leadership contenders, MPs and others within the party.

“The rebel MPs want someone who can win the race against Delia, unite the party and give the PN a fighting chance in the next election, which is why they are trying to rally around one candidate,” the sources said.

Delia will be contesting the leadership election that will be decided by party members. His detractors want to avoid a bruising multi-horse race that will have to be whittled down to two by the party councillors first.

Delia enjoys the support of 44% of councillors, which can assure him a place in the run-off.

“The rebel MPs know that having too many candidates will split the anti-Delia vote and this could weaken the strongest prospects, which is why they are trying to push one candidate and convince the rest to step aside,” the sources said.

PN MEP Roberta Metsola and lawyer Bernard Grech appear to be the front runners in this exercise with MPs believing both can tick the respective boxes.

Metsola was unavailable for comment yesterday but sources close to her said she was gauging internal party support not just for her candidature but also for her idea of radical change.

READ ALSO: Roberta Metsola considering all options as PN leadership race beckons

Grech would only tell MaltaToday that he was “still considering what was best for the country and the party” when contacted.

Neither of the two prospective candidates have committed themselves as more talks are expected over the coming days.

But the exercise may prove harder than expected because it means that candidates who have shown an interest in contesting have to be convinced to put their ambitions on hold.

One such stumbling block could be to convince Therese Comodini Cachia not to contest. She is the only MP so far to have shown an interest, giving her a slight advantage over Metsola and Grech who do not hold a parliamentary seat.

Comodini Cachia was chosen by her colleagues to replace Delia as Opposition leader in a bid that was thwarted by the President and has represented the rebel MPs over the past couple of weeks.

Comodini Cachia has publicly said that she wants to remain a “catalyst” of change within the PN, stopping short of declaring a leadership bid. But sources within the party said she was miffed after her apparent side-lining by the same MPs who pushed her forward.

“One other consideration the prospective candidates are making is the possibility of a general election within the next six months that will not give the new leader a chance to start healing internal divisions,” the sources said.

The PN’s electoral commission yesterday issued a call for expressions of interest in the leadership post. The call, which is open to all PN members, closes on Monday.

The call forms part of the screening process that has to take place before candidates are given the go ahead to formally submit their leadership nomination. Anybody who fails the due diligence exercise will not be allowed to run.

The screening process can also prove tricky as some of the rebel MPs believe Delia should fail the due diligence exercise. The incumbent is the subject of a magisterial inquiry on allegations that he received funds from murder suspect Yorgen Fenech to frustrate David Casa’s European election bid.

Delia has denied the allegations, insisting he was never offered money, let alone received it.

However, others within the party fear that any attempt to prevent Delia from contesting the leadership race would anger his supporters and create further division within the party.

Additional reporting by Saviour Balzan