Nationalist leader Adrian Delia is facing a rebellion from MPs who are now considering a ‘plan B’

The PN’s new leader is still unable to muster the unconditional support of his MPs, who refused to walk behind him on Sunday as the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has exacerbated the resolve of a section of rebel MPs 

Behind you! Adrian Delia addresses the press after his Budget reply on Tuesday night. His predecessor Simon Busuttil (right) was sure to make his presence felt
Behind you! Adrian Delia addresses the press after his Budget reply on Tuesday night. His predecessor Simon Busuttil (right) was sure to make his presence felt

The Nationalist Party’s embattled leader Adrian Delia is facing growing internal opposition inside his parliamentary group, with rebel MPs now discussing a ‘plan B’ in the wake of the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Five MPs who spoke to MaltaToday individually confirmed the scene during Tuesday morning’s meeting of the parliamentary group, when Delia was met with a barrage from MPs demanding a strong response on the murder, which happened on Monday.

Delia’s Budget speech, scheduled for Monday had then been postponed for Tuesday evening.

“On Tuesday morning we attended a parliamentary group meeting. It looked like Delia intended going about the meeting as if it were business as usual. But we reminded him of the serious situation we were in, and one by one we told him exactly what we thought,” a senior MP told MaltaToday.

“This is unprecedented. When there was a garnishee order against Daphne, we took to the streets. Now that she is dead, Delia cannot even honestly call for a national protest. He is the wrong person to ask for one. He was virulently against her after she published news stories about his business past.”

Delia, a newcomer who saw off former minister Chris Said in the leadership election where over 52% of paid-up members voted him as party leader, has been off to a bad start.

During his campaign, both Caruana Galizia and MaltaToday reported that as a lawyer he had taken charge of an offshore account for a Maltese landlord whose Soho properties in London were brothels.

Delia gave Caruana Galizia short shrift, derided her as “a mere blogger”, and filed five libel suits against her – which he said he will now withdraw.

But MPs on Tuesday were clearly up in arms as they urged him to take a tough stance after a car-bomb claimed the life of the journalist whose work on Panama Papers and allegations connecting the PM’s chief of staff to kickbacks on passport sales, bolstered the PN’s political work.

Delia’s own predecessor, Simon Busuttil – who had a working relationship with Caruana Galizia and had already said that Delia should not run for leader after an ethics inquiry was launched in the midst of his campaign – told the new PN leader to lay the blame for the murder directly at Joseph Muscat’s feet.

Other MPs remarked that Delia himself had a serious problem of credibility, having attacked Caruana Galizia for three consecutive months and instituted five defamation cases against her. Caruana Galizia had also called him a crook and derided his entourage as corrupt, drug dealers and thieves, referring to their previous criminal convictions.

While other MPs voiced their concern about the bombing, Delia appeared helpless as the few MPs who publicly supported his leadership bid did not raise a finger to support him.

Clyde Puli, a close associate of Delia, was not present for the meeting. The other MPs were Hermann Schiavone, Kristy Debono and David Agius, who is now running for deputy leader for parliamentary affairs. Another ally, Jean Pierre Debono, gave up his seat so that a casual election could be triggered to make way for Delia’s co-option to the House.

Delia’s problems now run further than the bluster of his parliamentary group.

For a group of MPs are convinced that Delia’s leadership will precipitate an haemorrhage in the party and disaster at the next European Parliament and local elections in 2019. Already in 2014, the PN had only managed to elect a third MEP from six by a cat’s whisker.

The MPs who spoke to MaltaToday said the air of rebellion is rife inside the PN. “Some are advocating Delia’s ouster,” one MP said, raising the fear of Delia completely losing control of a group of influential MPs.

On Tuesday evening, Delia’s speech in reply to the Budget was subdued, and his call for Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to resign failed to muster any popular support or reaction.

“The next day, the inevitable happened,” another MP told MaltaToday. “Muscat delivered an amazing speech and slapped Delia with all the accusations that Caruana Galizia had made about him. At one point, I had to stop myself from banging on the desk with approval at Muscat’s speech.”

Another MP also said that Delia’s presence at the national demonstration being held today Sunday in Valletta calling for justice for Caruana Galizia, is a sore point for MPs opposed to him.

“We have never been in this situation,” one MP told MaltaToday. “Delia simply does not have the support of his MPs, who expect his participation in today’s protest, to be very economical when it comes to saying something, having had his business dealings exposed by Caruana Galizia.”

PN councillor Michael Briguglio led the demonstration of the Civil Society Network
PN councillor Michael Briguglio led the demonstration of the Civil Society Network

Sunday no-show

No clearer is Adrian Delia’s quandary in the PN right now, with the fact that the Opposition leader actually stayed away from the protest while his MPs gathered amongst the crowd on Sunday. Even Simon Busuttil appeared outside the police GHQ in Floriana to demand the resignation of the Commissioner of Police.

At 3:30pm, Delia was informed by his close aide Pierre Portelli, the former  director of content at the Malta Independent, that his MPs were refusing to turn up at a designated meeting point at 3:30pm next to the Independence monument.  

The PN parliamentary group’s WhatsApp chatroom, seen by this newspaper, revealed  Nationalist MPs insisting they would make their own plans for attending the protest organised by Civil Society Network.

Democratic Party MP Marlene Farrugia, in a Facebook post yesterday afternoon, even called on Delia to resign before he inflicted more damage to Malta and the Nationalist Party.