[ANALYSIS] The vote that may have solved nothing

Divided parties are destined to lose. For the PN the question from now on is: ‘Can the party re-unite before the next general election?’ 

Adrian Delia won a vote of confidence within the Nationalist Party with 68% of councillors voting for him to stay on till the next general election
Adrian Delia won a vote of confidence within the Nationalist Party with 68% of councillors voting for him to stay on till the next general election

The attempt to remove Adrian Delia has taken the Nationalist party into uncharted waters.

Instead of waiting for another three years to give Delia the chance to face the electorate in a general election, a faction of the party has taken the unprecedented step of launching an attempt to depose him.

This strategy risks making the divide unbridgeable, irrespective of yesterday’s general council vote.

Seizing the moment

The move to depose Delia intensified after the party received a thrashing in local and MEP elections last May.

Not only did the party lose important localities like Mosta, Valletta, St Paul’s Bay and Siggiewi but Delia failed to even secure the election of one of his preferred candidates to the European parliament.

The way Delia led the PN’s campaign raised strong doubts on his competence as a party leader, which remain unaddressed.

Predictably, the anti-Delia camp seized the moment, seeing a chance that party stalwarts would lose faith in a leader who seems destined for another big loss in the next general election. And initially Delia looked vulnerable.

Calling MPs’ bluff

Yet, the attempt to convince Delia to leave out of his own free will failed. Despite calls for his resignation during parliamentary group meetings the PN leader did not budge.

On that occasion, Adrian Delia predictably exploited the greatest weakness of his internal adversaries: the absence of a credible rival to challenge him, take his place and reunite the party.

Faced with Delia’s unwillingness to call it a day, the only alternative for rebel MPs was that of electing a new Opposition leader instead of Delia, who would remain leader of the party.

But such a course of action would have strengthened the perception of an internal ‘elitist’ coup by MPs to reverse the choice of party members. They backed off, fully knowing that only a leader who wins a contest among party members can enjoy the same legitimacy.

Delia still enjoys the choice of party members in a democratic contest held two years ago.

Convening the council

Instead, the party rebels embarked on the more torturous path of dethroning Delia through party structures by collecting 150 signatures from members of the general council to call an extraordinary meeting.

Again, the rebels proceeded without proposing an alternative leader. They never could convincingly answer the question; what will happen if Delia is dethroned and nobody of substance is willing to take his place in such a difficult moment for the party?

Instead they hinted at an interim leader with no name or face.

A hard nut to crack

The bid to unseat Delia through a council vote did not come as a surprise. Delia may well have avoided the trouble by immediately calling the vote himself and thus dictate the pace of events.

But in the subsequent weeks Delia showed tact and reclaimed the initiative, proving himself as a harder nut to crack than anticipated.

His first move was the collection of a rival and more numerous petitions by both councillors and members asking him to stay.

This confirmed the loyalty of a sizeable segment of the party which now pits itself against the so-called ‘establishment’.

It was a clear message that if the party does dethrone him, it will also have to deal with the ‘Delia crowd’.

Emboldened by this support he reacted by convening the council himself from a position of strength and co-opted party grandee Louis Galea to preside over a 12-month political reform process.

Galea’s name has often been mooted by Delia’s detractors as an interim leader if Delia is removed.

Any doubts on the legitimacy of the general council vote were dispelled by the appointment of party stalwart Francis Zammit Dimech as the head of the electoral commission.

Yet the most serious long-term consequence of the revolt is that it risks making the divide more permanent.

The latest ‘revelation’ that started on Manuel Delia’s blog with regards to alleged failure by Delia to pay mortgage payments, only serves to rub salt on the festering wounds.

For such revelations on the eve of the decisive vote are not extraneous to the civil war being fought in the PN and are bound to condition its aftermath.

The aftermath

The rebels consciously created a situation where it is hard to imagine that all those engaged in this battle can turn a new leaf and live happily ever after.

The only resolute scenarios would have been either a very convincing vote for Delia to stay or a very convincing vote asking him to leave.

In this sense, they even made it harder for the party to ever regroup. The vote itself had another unforeseen consequence.

Delia himself gave a hint of this when he said that after the vote, rebels will have to toe the party line.

Any such attempt is bound to trigger a reaction, which leaves the party even more divided.

The rebels have not presented a clear way forward on what would happen if Delia is toppled and how they would deal with the loyalists who could still claim legitimacy from the vote taken by party members two years ago.

Both camps know that the party can only recover if it presents a united front.

Yet the chance of this happening after yesterday’s vote are even more unlikely than was the case before the rebels announced their plan to depose Delia.

The risk is that the calm after the storm will not last. It may well be back to square one, another uneasy truce dictated by the result which will be broken at any moment.