Unchallenged by MPs, Adrian Delia lives to fight another day

INSIDE THE PN EXECUTIVE MEETING • Co-option debate reveals party split, but Delia is defiant: ‘I will take the PN to the next general elections’

The bloodbath did not come as expected.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia, fresh from a European election that lost the PN its third seat in Brussels, and a massive haemorrhage of local councils that turned the political map scarlet red, yesterday entered his party’s executive committee meeting determined he would not call for a vote of confidence.

Inside the Pietà headquarters, Delia found no sign of rebellion either: no MP, not even the ones thirsting for mutiny during the last week of vote-counting at Naxxar, raised their voice to call into question Delia’s leadership.

Only Mark Anthony Sammut, the president of the executive, put his head up for the chop, telling journalists later that – despite a vote of confidence called by Delia in him – the worst result ever for the PN had to carry consequences. Not just for him, but also for the rest of the party.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia walking into the PN headquarters
Opposition leader Adrian Delia walking into the PN headquarters

Yet nobody publicly aired that view during the PN executive meeting: MPs like former party leader, Simon Busuttil, only spoke on the agenda’s key item, the co-option of a new MP for the seat vacated by David Stellini – for him the choice was Xaghra local councillor Kevin Cutajar, a clear favourite among the ‘anti-Delia’ MPs.

But that vote was won by Delia’s chief political advisor Jean-Pierre Debono, husband of MP Kristy Debono, who first resigned his seat in 2017 to allow Delia to be co-opted to the House. And only just: 42 votes in favour, to 40 against, a divide redolent of the PN split that has inhabited the party since Delia’s election.

For a PN that has suffered losses in Gozo, once a blue heartland, the decision not to replace a Gozitan MP with a Gozitan will have some effect on the sister island – a tab Delia will have to pick up later.

Chris Said, the former Nationalist minister, made sure his umbrage at the decision was clear: on Facebook, where PN supporters from Gozo were reacting angrily to a Net News item announcing that Debono had been selected, said: “Gozitans are rightfully disgusted at what happened. I am considering my next move.”

In the meantime, the main criticism he had to face came from MP Claudio Grech, still considered a papabile for the leadership for the mutinous faction of MPs.

“This result is very bad… but it is useless to discuss anything without some form of direction. You have to present us with at least three proposals on the way forward. And then we have to analyse the proposals. We only take a decision if we have carried out an analysis,” Grech, a business consultant, said.

“How can we even come here to discuss the names for the co-option, when the fact is that we have a dysfunctional parliamentary group?” Grech asked. “We know what the problems are – and they’ve been with us ever since Eddie Fenech Adami stepped down – and yet we don’t have the solutions.”

Little, however, happened in the form of debate on Grech’s intervention.

One MP, who spoke to MaltaToday on condition of anonymity, at one point said the shouting emanating from one group of feuding MPs was so loud, nobody could understand anything. “There was a feud between Robert Arrigo and Kristy Debono, and Roberta Metsola – they were at each other’s throats, hurtling accusations at each other. They were shouting so much, we couldn’t even understand what they were arguing about.”

Delia’s men – secretary-general Clyde Puli and media chief Pierre Portelli – appealed for a more level-headed approach, mindful that Delia’s departure carried with it a lot of casualties. “If we stand divided, we fall,” Puli implored.

And Portelli, perhaps unaware of the understatement of his observation, said: “It is important that we don’t just blame one person, but that everyone carries their responsibility.”

Delia reacted angrily to claims by Beppe Fenech Adami, another of his detractors, to a conspiratorial accusation that Stellini’s resignation had been “timed” so as to make the last-minute nomination of Cutajar hard to succeed. Delia defended himself, with Stellini intervening to insist his resignation was in good faith.

A request for an experts’ analysis into the PN’s electoral loss was also not taken up: the people suggested for the analysis were the criminal defence lawyer Joe Giglio, public health expert Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat, sociologist Mario Vassallo, and public policy expert George Vital Azzopardi. MP Mario Galea apparently was vocal in his disagreement.

With Mark Anthony Sammut then announcing his resignation, both Delia and Clyde Puli asked the Gudja local councillor to reconsider and called for a confidence vote. Sammut replied that his mind had been made, giving the press a lengthy press conference afterwards.

The MPs left Pietà with little to say. Only Delia – who, unlike his predecessor, always seems to have time for the press – took journalists’ questions, one by one.

“Everyone is at liberty to make their own interpretation,” he said when faced with the fact that his the PN executive was divided down the middle on the co-option of his own ally.

“These meetings are always characterised by people discussing freely. There was a strong argumentation made on the representation of Gozo in the parliamentary group, and equally on the lack of representation of the seventh district. That discussion took place, and the matter was decided by a secret ballot. That is the beauty of democracy.”

Still Delia refused to see the glass as half-empty. “I am happy today that we have a parliamentary group in place and ready to start proceedings as the House opens on Monday.”

As he said earlier in the day, when he ruled out calling for an internal confidence vote, Delia refused to admit that the PN’s results in the local and European elections meant he had to go. “This election was not about me. The party has its structures in which its members can force a confidence vote. At any time they want, they can take that step.”

He even side-stepped suggestions that Mark Anthony Sammut’s impassioned plea to the leadership to assume its responsibility for the PN’s worst result ever, meant that he should pack his bags.

“I think that everyone has their political responsibility to shoulder. Mark Anthony Sammut felt that his had to be carried by way of resignation. I think my political responsibility is to fulfil the mandate entrusted to me by our paid-up members, and see that it is carried out, that the party is changed.

“We can analyse this result, and we can see that the people have given us a clear message: the PN has been told it has to stay in Opposition. But the PN has to change before making its claim for power. This challenge has to be surmounted before we can present ourselves to the electorate and humbly ask for the people’s trust.”

Delia was equally candid about yet another of his arch-detractors, the MP Jason Azzopardi. Wilfully ignoring a plea by PN deputy leader David Agius from hanging the party’s dirty  laundry out on social media (Azzopardi recently said Metsola’s and David Casa’s re-election were a two-fingered salute to the PN leadership) the MP was today on Facebook again sniping at Delia: “So who had no role in our political strategy is assuming responsibility and resigning,” referring to Sammut. “While those who devised and carried out the strategy, could not care less. That’s some establishment!”

Delia acknowledged that bridges with Azzopardi had been burnt.

“I will ignore Jason Azzopardi. He has been doing this for some time and it has done the PN no favours.

“Azzopardi has to carry his own political responsibility and explain to the people how these actions have ‘helped’ the party. I have always tried to make an advance to Jason, but I don’t think I will lose any more time dealing with what he says on social media. I won’t ask him to resign for what he says, but people are certainly making their decisions.”