Delia wants to call time on dissent ahead of EU elections

Delia said all party members had a choice to make: they could work to make sure the party is best prepared for the challenges ahead, or – if they did not want to work – well, their choice was easy too

Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia has told MaltaToday it is high time for dissenters within the party to fall in line and to give their utmost or step aside.

“After I was elected leader, there were people who immediately pulled up their sleeves and set to working with me, while others have taken longer to come to terms with the result of the leadership election or with my leadership,” he said.

“But this cannot go on any longer and they too must now fall in line.”

Delia was blunt about MPs who were actively intent on harming him and his leadership. “I cannot tell if there are people within the party specifically intent on harming me, but I know for a fact there are some who have been dragging their feet ever since I was elected leader,” he said. “I am not worried personally, I can deal with it, but as leader I expect the party to be united behind me.”

On 3 May, speaking on Net TV, Delia acknowledged for the first time in public the need for the party to come together and present a united front.

All party members, he said then, had a choice to make: they could work to make sure the party is best prepared for the challenges ahead, or – if they did not want to work – well, their choice was easy too.

“My experience has taught me to expect some people to oppose me, but this cannot go on unchallenged any longer. I will remain open to debate and criticism but I expect others to accept my decisions as final… We are now entering a crucial stage in the legislature, and we need to start preparing for the MEP elections next year,” he said.

Delia said the PN could no longer afford complacency and division within its ranks. “It is my duty as leader of a party in opposition, and one day possibly in government, to ensure that all members are on board with my vision and also with my decisions,” he said.

Circling the wagons

MP Hermann Schiavone, a Delia ally, was also blunt about colleagues and party officials who continued to oppose the party leader.

“Those MPs or officials who do not like Delia or his style of leadership need to make a decision,” he told MaltaToday. “The only honourable thing for them to do is to recognise the result of the leadership election and step aside if they cannot bring themselves to accept it.”

Schiavone said discussion and debate within the parliamentary group was healthy but he did not discount there being individuals actively working to undermine Delia.

“Some of the words spoken in parliament and outside by certain individuals, for example, could be construed as dissent and rebellion by outsiders,” he said.

“I have no problem with the leader recognising the dissent within the party publicly,” he said.  “Contrary to the Labour Party, where everyone tries hard to appear to back Joseph Muscat at all costs, we realise people might have divergent and conflicting ideas on issues and we do not ever intend to stifle internal debate.”

Delia gave MPs a free vote on amendments to the domestic violence bill. But MPs who voted in favour felt they were given the cold shoulder after Delia said he would stand by the free vote, but vote against the amendments. Only eight MPs voted in favour: Simon Busuttil, Jason Azzopardi, Chris Said, Therese Commodini Cachia, Mario de Marco, Karl Gouder, Karol Aquilina and Claudette Buttigieg.

Then a week later, Jason Azzopardi’s parliamentary speech alleging that a police sergeant had tipped off the murderers of Daphne Caruana Galizia before their arrest – a claim denied by the Commissioner of Police – was met with scepticism by MP David Stellini, a Delia ally, who said on TV that Azzopardi should provide evidence to back such claims.

This week, MP Ivan Bartolo, in another speech in parliament, called for an end to in-party fighting among MPs, officials, members and supporters. “Talk like ‘You’re one of the eight MPs?’ [who voted in favour of the domestic violence bill amendments] will only serve to divide us even further,” he said.

Bartolo said it was not right for anyone to attack MPs and officials who did not attend the opening of the general council last Sunday. “We fill Facebook with attacks against them… in my opinion this is not right,” he said. “Everyone needs to take this step. We need to divest ourselves of our ego and – together – fall behind our only leader.”

Dissent? What dissent?

MPs who early on in the leadership race placed themselves against Adrian Delia have dismissed the possibility that anyone could be out to harm the leader.

When asked by MaltaToday to confirm the existence of a group of dissenters intent on harming the PN leader, former party leader Simon Busuttil would not comment except to say that his only current interest lay in “the pursuit of justice”.

Karol Aquilina said he was not aware of anyone within the party who is opposing Delia, but said that, as in all political parties, there was a “legitimate and healthy discussion” within the PN on a number of specific policy areas.

As to whether he felt that anyone was actively trying to harm Delia, his reply was curt “Absolutely not.”

Claudio Grech was of the same opinion. “I don’t see any group or individual intent on harming Adrian Delia,” he said. “The PN is a living organisation in which there is a high degree of freedom of expression, wherein discussion will never be dictated by dogma but by varying insights and perspectives.”

Jason Azzopardi was equally effusive of the party’s unity, saying he was sure there is no one within the PN Group opposing Delia.

As to whether Delia could have been referring to him when he called out dissenters in the party, Azzopardi – who was squarely opposed to Delia during the leadership race – said that was not possible.

“Not only I’m sure he was not referring to me but he could never have been referring to me as the mutually reciprocal sincere rapport between us can be evidenced by Dr Delia entrusting me (together with another lawyer) to defend his court case over the €2 billion corrupt VGH deed,” he said.

“Thinking aloud, I surmise he was referring to those with fake profiles on Facebook hell-bent on sowing division within the Party (futile as this is) or those writing on FB that a number of our MPs caused ‘harm to the Party over the last five years’, when it’s evidently a figment of their putrid imagination.”

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