[ANAYLSIS] Five scenarios for the PN if Delia goes to a confidence vote

Only a strong – though unlikely – no-confidence vote can end the PN’s civil war. In reality, whether Adrian Delia survives or is dethroned by a few votes, the confidence vote demanded by councillors will only accelerate the PN’s meltdown

Rebel MPs and party activists have cunningly picked on Adian Delia’s greatest weakness: his unwillingness to seek a confirmation vote from councillors as suggested by former PN leader Lawrence Gonzi, in the aftermath of the party’s mid-term electoral disaster.

Instead of calling for such a vote himself from a position of strength as the leader who willingly faces his party’s verdict, the hesitant leader found himself facing a vote demanded by those who want him out.  

Delia probably thinks it is unfair for him to submit to a vote of no confidence after losing the European and local elections, when former leaders in the same position failed to do so. He may try to stop the vote from happening although this would leave him politically weaker – even if he is right in questioning the legitimacy of such a vote.

For the rebels have invoked an article in the party’s statute through which the party’s highest organ, the General Council,  can be convened at the request of 150 of its members, to force a vote on the leadership even if the statute itself actually says leadership matters can only be the competence of the General Convention (which elected Delia through the party’s paid-up members).

The only clause applicable to the leader is that obliging a vote in the General Convention in the space of three months after a general election.

So while Delia has called the bluff of rebel MPs by staying on in the absence of a direct challenge for his leadership, he has also underestimated their ability to gather 150 signatures with the aim of putting his leadership on the party’s agenda.

Yet while the rebels may now be closer to their goal of dethroning or weakening Delia, they may well have unleashed a nuclear bomb at Pietà, which may well leave the whole party weaker irrespective of the outcome of the vote. In fact, out of the five possible outcomes precipitated by their actions, only the two most unlikely ones: namely a strong majority in the council for or against Delia, that would give the party much needed stability.

1. Delia is confirmed by a large majority of councillors

If a confidence vote in Delia is deemed admissible, only a strong majority for Delia would conclusively resolve the issue in his favour, nipping the rebellion in the bud and silence critics in the parliamentary group, for anyone putting the spokes in Delia’s wheel after such a vote would be seen as a spoiler.

Delia’s own reluctance to call for such a vote himself suggests this outcome is unlikely. Moreover, the risk by those calling for such a vote suggests they believe in a good chance of succeeding in dethroning him. Yet it remains difficult to determine what should qualify as a strong vote for Delia. It is hard to imagine Delia winning the election with the support of 96% of party councillors as Gonzi did when faced with his own small backbench rebellion in 2012.

In 2017 Delia qualified for the second round after 616 out of 1,354 councillors voted for him. Yet the combined support for Chris Said and Alex Peric Calascione amounted to 721. While in normal circumstances one would expect that over time councillors who supported other candidates would converge around the new leader, this may not be the case with Delia, whose leadership was never accepted by a large segment of the party.

2. Delia is deposed by a large majority of councillors

A strong majority to remove Delia would most probably put an end to Delia’s ambitions and usher an internal contest or transitional phase in which Delia will no longer be a factor worth considering. Such a humiliation would make it hard for Delia to run in any subsequent leadership election. It would signify that the mood in the party has turned against him.

But this outcome is also unlikely. Apart from the fact that Delia still commands the support of a large segment of the party, some middle-of-the-road councillors would be wary of the risk of opening a Pandora’s box that could leave the PN weaker, preferring instead the status quo.

Once again it is difficult to quantify what a strong vote against Delia means. A substantial drop from the 616 mark would be a strong indication of Delia’s fall from grace. Even if he is removed by a large majority of councillors, the party would still face the prospect of electing a new leader despite the dim prospects it faces in the next general election. Strong candidates aiming at the premiership may prefer running after the next general election.

In short, even in the most favourable scenario for the rebels, the vote could have unforeseen consequences simply because councillors would be voting to depose Delia without knowing who would be replacing him. Even if the party opts for an interim leader, they would still need confirmation – and may even face a challenge.

3. Delia is removed by a small majority of councillors

This may be the most dangerous scenario for the party.

If Delia manages to retain the same level of support as in 2017 or even increase his support but still lose the confidence vote, he may well argue that party members should have the final say on whether he should stay on as leader. The no-confidence vote may then be interpreted as a reversal of the popular vote amongst party members from whom Delia will continue seeking his legitimacy as leader, and will not prevent him from seeking his way back into the leadership by re-contesting the leadership.

It is also likely that opposition to Delia will split into rival factions loyal to different contenders representing different visions for the party. This may trigger a divisive campaign in the party which could effectively divide the party not just in two, but into even more pieces. And that would lead to blame on the instigators of the no-confidence motion for an acrimonious split which would leave the party even weaker than it is today.

4. Delia is confirmed by a small majority of councillors

Surviving by a whisker will not be enough to silence his critics, who will still attempt to thwart Delia’s authority by presenting themselves as the representatives of a large segment which no longer recognises Delia’s leadership.

But Delia may well interpret this as a success achieved against all odds, a feat considering the backstabbing he has faced in the past two years, and use the result to impose his so called ‘new way’. But two conflicting interpretations of a result may well increase the risk of implosion as more voters desert the faction ridden party.

5.  The leadership stops the vote from taking place, deeming it inadmissible

Fully knowing that any outcome except a strong confirmation for Delia would be used against it, the leadership may well try to avoid the vote on the basis that it is not foreseen in the party’s statute.

Certainly those opposed to Delia will deplore any legalistic attempt to block the vote as an attempt to thwart internal democracy. The Delia faction will hit back at the rebels putting in question their “rule of law” credentials, arguing that they are not even capable of respecting the party’s statute. After a divisive conflict of interpretation of the party’s own statute, further confusion and legal wrangling could bring the party closer to a split: if the rival factions cannot even agree on the statute, it may well mean that a divorce is closer.

And while former candidate Ivan Bartolo, the first prominent name to sign the petition, argues that he wants to avoid Labour winning a two-thirds majority in the next general election, a split precipitated by the petition may well make this outcome more likely.

But the real aim of the proponents could be that of presenting Delia with Hobson’s choice: either thwart their demand on statutory grounds and risk being perceived as anti-democratic, or to submit to the judgement of councillors to expose the level of discontentment in party organs with his leadership.

This will inevitably erode Delia’s leadership especially if his authority is further challenged by the party’s General Council. If that is the case the petition is a warning shot that if he intends to stay on, Delia must prepare himself for three years of Chinese torture.

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