Newly-elected PN leader Adrian Delia has been deprived of any semblance of a political honeymoon following an acrimonious contest.
For while in normal circumstances the assassination of Caruana Galizia would have united the party behind its new leader, Delia was himself the target of documented evidence linking him to a bank account registered in Jersey. It allegedly handled money for the owners of properties in Soho used as brothels. The allegations were leveled against him by none other than Daphne Caruana Galizia.
His depiction of Caruana Galizia as an ‘insignificant (bicca) blogger’ in the campaign for PN leadership, and her last words that “crooks are now everywhere” have returned to haunt Delia with a vengeance, resurrecting the question of whether he is the ideal leader of the PN in the current circumstances.
So what has Delia done to address the mess he found himself in?
- He took a leaf from Fenech Adami by deeming the 2018 Budget irrelevant and using his budget speech to attack Muscat’s good governance record.
- He has gone over the top in asking the Prime Minister to resign, fully knowing that this is a political dead end, a move which may well have been dictated by the need to unite the party behind him.
- He called for the resignation of the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General, a call which found widespread support in civil society and gave the opposition a rallying cry.
- He withdrew libel proceedings against Caruana Galizia, opening himself up to the PM’s criticism that he is doing so to avoid a verdict on the accusations leveled against him by Caruana Galizia.
- He apologised to Caruana Galizia’s family for calling her an “insignificant blogger” and was roundly rebuked for doing so.
- By staying on, he is calling the bluff of internal critics who are being cornered into either openly revolting against a democratically-elected leader or accepting him.
- He has solidified his hold on the party through internal elections which have seen Kristy Debono elected as President of the PN’s General Council, albeit with a wafer-thin majority. The new executive is also mainly composed of Delia sympathisers.
- He said that if he was in Busuttil’s position, he would resign his parliamentary seat, thus turning the tables on the former leader who, prior to the leadership election, had said he would have withdrawn from the race if he were in Delia’s position. Yet, by doing so, he may have further alienated those who in Busuttil see a beacon for the good governance cause.
And in the process what has he failed to do?
- While there was some semblance of party unity immediately following his Budget speech, this fast dissipated amid rumours of an impending parliamentary revolt, even if Delia seems to have warded this danger.
- Amid further revelations on his punctuality on tax returns he has failed to address the perception that he lacks the moral stature to lead the PN in this time of need.
- He has not heeded calls to postpone elections for deputy leaders in his party in a bid to heal long-standing wounds.
- He failed to accept the PM’s challenge to call on the judiciary to investigate him on the allegations made by Caruana Galizia.
- He has avoided attending civil society protests, taking a back seat while politicians perceived as internal critics or potential rivals took centre stage.
All this leaves Delia in a Catch-22 situation, for while the government’s greatest weakness remains the impunity of those in power, Delia is increasingly seen by a large part of civil society and his own party as being part of the problem rather than the solution.
The PN is led by a leader denounced as “a crook” by Caruana Galizia, whose memory is cherished by many Nationalist voters. Was Caruana Galizia right on everything she wrote about Labour and only wrong on Delia?
This is the question which troubles the rank and file PN voter who venerates Caruana Galizia but would like to see the party united again. PN leadership contestant Chris Said’s motion proposing a commission made of three retired judges to investigate Caruana Galizia’s claims on public officials served to reinforce the point. For how can such a commission be appointed if it does not also investigate Caruana Galizia latest claims against Delia?
The fact that the motion was presented by Delia’s rival in the leadership race further embarrassed the party. Ultimately Delia is winning precious time. For if he survives this moment he is in for the long haul and the party will have no choice but to rally behind him.
Delia is unlikely to ever assume the complete control Muscat enjoys over his party and the PN is destined to remain a coalition of sorts united by a common adversary.