[WATCH] Delia so energetic he sometimes needs to be slowed down - Pierre Portelli

Portelli said he and secretary general Clyde Puli have to "almost rein Delia back", since he is so enthusiatic to bring reform proposals forward

Tonight's Xtra delved into the possible developments 2019 might bring
Tonight's Xtra delved into the possible developments 2019 might bring

Adrian Delia is far from reaching his peak when it comes to contributing to the Nationalist Party, and his energy is so great that he sometimes has to be slowed down by others in the party, Pierre Portelli said.

The PN media head, who was a guest on tonight's Xtra along with lawyer Edward Gatt, spoke about the uphill battle Delia had faced after he took over the party's leadership, since it had lost two elections and was in financial difficulty.

The programme delved into the possible developments which 2019 might bring in Malta’s political and economic landscape, with Portelli saying he thought the May European Parliament and local council elections could see the PN improve its standing.

“I think the Nationalist Party's position will continue to become better, as it is slowly doing. Certain people will vote irrespective of who is leader, because they feel a connection with the party,” he said, when pressed by presenter Saviour Balzan on whether the MEP elections could solidify Delia’s leadership itself.

On his part, Gatt said the results would be a win for Delia, but not for the PN, if the gap between parties remained as it was at the point of the 2017 election, without becoming larger. “This means maintaining both the vote gap and the number of European Parliament seats,” he said, “Delia hasn’t really had a chance to start yet, because of the internal damage he found in the party. So if he manages to keep the gap from growing, he’d already have done very well.”

Portelli, too, underlined the difficulties Delia had faced, in the past two years as leader, in rebuilding the party. “When you inherit a party which didn’t only lose two elections by a large margin, but which also has very little financial leeway, you have no option but to rebuild it from scratch.”

PN head of media Pierre Portelli
PN head of media Pierre Portelli

He said Delia still had a lot of potential to reach. “[PN secretary general] Clyde Puli and I have to almost rein him back every day… If he could put forward certain reform proposals more vigorously, he would, but we encourage him to do things at a slower pace. He oozes energy, and it’s difficult to lower it. He keeps on going till late at night.”

Portelli said that it was too early to say what the main theme of the European elections could be. “But I think the Labour Party will try to start a presidential campaign for Joseph Muscat, since the Prime Minister has made it clear that he does not intend to remain in his post after the next election, and they will ask for a thank you vote for Muscat, in return for Malta’s economic success."

Muscat could step down some time before the next general election, Portelli opined, to give time for a new leader to gain traction.

Gatt said what would be most interesting during the MEP elections is how the election results would affect what will happen to the leaders of Malta’s two main political parties.

“Without a doubt, the interpretation of the results will have its consequences. If the results are very positive for the Labour Party, I think Muscat would have a golden opportunity to step down as Prime Minister,” he said, also conceding, after an interjection by Balzan, that Muscat could also choose to remain Prime Minister but cease to be the PL’s leader.

“And how will the anti-Adrian Delia faction in the PN interpret the result?” Gatt questioned.

Portelli said that the European election results would only have some impact on the perception about Delia's progress. “The moment Delia's leadership began, the party set its sights on the European elections.”

Regarding Malta’s economic prospects this coming year, Portelli questioned whether people would have better standards of living in 2019 than in the year previous. “We need to see what impact the direction our country is heading is going to have,” he said, “I suspect our country has gone through a boom, and what is coming next is fatigue, which is going to leave many people struggling.”

Asked by Balzan whether some sectors of people in Malta were not being reached by the economy’s trickle-down effect, Portelli said certain people were struggling to maintain their existing living standards, such as those who couldn’t make their salaries last enough to cover rent and other expenses.

Gatt said that he thought not much would change in 2019 over the 2018 climate in Malta. “I think the government has the challenge of keeping the economy going as well as it is doing now. When you rise very high, there is always the fear you could slam back down. There is also the danger that we focus too much on what happens locally. In reality, there is big political turmoil in Europe. One hopes these issues don’t end up affecting us. I predict this will be another challenge.”

It is true that the social-gap in Malta is growing, he said, and the economic boom actually worsens this. “The more you improve the economic situation, the more this problem will emerge. The government has to see that money is set aside to cater for those who are not benefitting from economic expansion.”

Another subject discussed in the programme was the shadow cast by journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder, with Gatt saying the effects of this would still resonate in 2019. “I expect that next year the compilation of evidence against the three suspected of her homicide will progress into a jury trial or a higher juridical process. And the police will keep investigating who the people who commissioned the murder may be.”

Portelli said that while Caruana Galizia was alive, the media was in a comfortable position, because it could simply just report on her stories and have her face the consequences instead of them. “Many journalists were in a sort of comfort zone… now that she was murdered, the landscape has changed.”

Lawyer Edward Gatt
Lawyer Edward Gatt

He highlighted the importance of there being an investigation into whether her murder could have been avoided. “Instead the government is chasing those who place candles [at her memorial].”

This prompted Gatt to disagree, saying Portelli's wasn’t a fair comment. “An investigation is being carried out, and the funds and resources being spent are greater than ever before.”

Portelli clarified that he had not been referring to the criminal investigation into her murder. “Should the government not dedicate resources to find what we could have been done better [to avoid her assassination?, he asked.

Reacting to a video comment by PL communications director Aleander Balzan - that even if Joseph Muscat didn’t remain Prime Minister, the Labour Party’s drive to make Malta the best in Europe will guarantee that it will remain in government - Portelli said that this wasn't a wise way of looking at things. “After we won the European Union referendum, I felt the PN had understood the people and found the right balance… but things develop totally differently from the way you expect… Labour would not do well to hold onto such reasoning.”

“If Muscat leaves, he’ll leave a large void and the fight for leadership will be a big one. You have the Chris Fearne faction that wants the party to return to its labour routes. Then you have those who want the opposite.”

“Let us not delude ourselves that we have a party which is completely united, and another which is split down the middle,” Portelli said.

Gatt, said, however, that the gap between the two parties was so large that, even if the next PL leader isn’t “God’s gift to leadership,” it would still have a very solid grounding, election-wise.

Tonight's programme was recorded last week