PN leadership race: Claudio Grech biding his time before deciding

'Many of the re-elected and new MPs are waiting for Claudio Grech to announce his bid,' a PN MP has told MaltaToday

Claudio Grech, widely touted to throw his hat in the ring
Claudio Grech, widely touted to throw his hat in the ring

The Nationalist MP widely expected to be the third man to run for PN leader, Claudio Grech, is still biding his time before throwing his hat into the ring.

Speculation inside the PN is over whether Grech’s mulling could dent his chances in the wake of outsider Adrian Delia’s bid for the top post, the first to make his candidature known.

One senior MP who spoke to MaltaToday said Grech, a former chief of staff to Austin Gatt, enjoyed the support of various Nationalist MPs. “Many of the re-elected and new MPs are waiting for Grech to announce his bid,” the MP said. “But Delia’s bid has also attracted support from a particular strand in the party.”

Delia, a lawyer and businessman who is also president of Birkirkara F.C., is said to enjoy the support of Nationalist MPs Clyde Puli and Kristy Debono – who could possibly be vying for the deputy leadership posts – as well as Debono’s husband MP Jean-Pierre Debono and reportedly, Pierre Portelli, the Malta Independent’s director of content who has not ruled out considering the secretary-general’s post.

Delia is bound to be taken to task over his business interests, with the veteran Media.Link journalist Dione Borg having suggested that all candidates be vetted before facing the 1,200 councillors of the PN – a proposal welcomed by Chris Said and Adrian Delia. “That is a clear dig at Delia,” said another Nationalist MP who spoke on condition of anonymity. “And you will see the campaign building up on social media when some voices start saying Delia was defence counsel for Charles Attard ‘iz-Zambi’, who pled guilty to having participated in the attempted murder of [Fenech Adami’s chief of staff] Richard Cachia Caruana.” [Attard later recanted his guilty plea while in prison].

If Delia does get elected by the PN’s 23,000 paid-up members, his co-option to the parliament will mean an MP must resign. “If somebody elected by first-count votes resigns, the party will have to stop other candidates from contesting the casual election. In all likelihood, someone who got elected in the casual elections could make way for Delia,” the MP said.

On the other hand, Gozo MP Chris Said is making inroads with PN councillors but still does not have the backing of staff members at PN headquarters. “As secretary-general his reform programme in 2014, and perception that he was undermining Simon Busuttil, could hurt his chances with certain electors.”

Claudio Grech is still meeting councillors in a hush-hush strategy aimed at getting a feel of the mood before taking the plunge for the 13 September election. “He knows the campaign is long and that he need not decide until the very end. He is not rushing into any decision,” the MP said.

Other rumoured bids could come from PN treasurer Alex Perici Calascione, and CEO of the 6PM software group Ivan Bartolo, both of whom are not MPs.