Before the European Parliament elections, Joseph Muscat said: ‘after 25 May, there will be 26 May’. The inner circle of the Nationalist Party also now hope that things will carry on as before, but they are wrong. The clock is ticking and cannot be turned back.
Adrian Delia has grabbed this ‘it’s back to business as usual’ baton from Muscat, and is painfully hobbling along the racetrack with it. People are watching the gasps of this bleeding contestant, as he doggedly struggles on, with horror or delight, depending on their side of the arena. Yet he persists. But stubbornness does not change the political reality, as Theresa May now knows.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. This may be Delia’s unshakeable opinion of himself as Opposition Leader, but what could possibly lead him to believe that he can win? He has no track record of political success, other than persuading dejected PN members, grasping at straws after the 2017 electoral defeat, to try him out as their new leader. Now the PN has suffered an even bigger defeat in the EP elections, losing a seat and widening the gap.
Presumably, the reasons which drove Delia to abandon his legal career and suddenly charge onto the political scene like a crazed bull fighting a skilled matador, are similar to those which convince him to stay on. The good of the country cannot be the prime motive, as he is clearly doing grave harm by weakening and dividing the Opposition.
Could it be ego or ambition? It was certainly bold and, it must be said, wonderfully presumptuous to appear on stage out of the blue, with no experience in politics, or at least in handling the media (a crucial skill), and attempt to lead the battered Opposition to victory against seasoned politicians riding high on the waves of popular support.
Delia’s political epitaph might well be: “whatever was he thinking?”
What attracts him to this miserable existence, hammered and criticised by all sides, fighting a losing battle, humiliated and defeated? Can he (or his team) not read the writing on the wall? Does he have nowhere to go and nothing else to do? How about going back to legal practice?
When your political opponents want you to stay, you know that it is time to go. In 2007, former leader of the green party Harry Vassallo, had described Opposition Leader Alfred Sant as the PN government’s best asset, with voters living in fear of Sant’s return to power.
The PN will not manage to grow its support base under Delia. Likewise, the PL only managed to rise out of the ashes once Sant stepped down. Delia is now the PL government’s best asset, as its supporters have already starkly pointed out.
Other PL supporters are pointing fingers at backroom machinations by PN factions. A divided party is less electable. The government’s high approval ratings partly reflect, not its greatness, but the Opposition’s weakness.
To compound matters, the two PN candidates elected as MEPs, Roberta Metsola and David Casa, are not associated with Delia’s inner circle. Yet together they obtained 60% of the PN vote and both improved their personal performance in their share of the vote. This is widely interpreted as a PN protest vote against Delia.
PN supporters will not easily change their minds now. As things stand, candidates too close to Delia may be snubbed in a general election too. After the election on Saturday, signs were posted on PN party club doors saying, “we deserve better than this”. Evoking such reactions from PN voters, Delia must go.
Why does he want to stay on?
If he doesn’t leave willingly, he must be turfed out. A confidence vote at the PN Council may be cooking. Whichever way that goes, he should bow to the inevitable. Delia does not have the credibility or authority among voters to lead. There is no point heading a Party if you cannot take it to victory. Nobody is indispensable. The PN must show the courage and determination to elect a new leader.
The PN is in a terrible mess and Delia cannot sort it out. On the contrary, he also bears some responsibility for it. Whoever thought of highlighting abortion, cancer, and foreign workers in a campaign for the European parliament?
The PN did not present an effective environmental message either, despite growing concerns of voters about the state of the environment. Elsewhere in Europe, green parties have done well and that gap should have been plugged here too. The green party in Malta needs to be reinvented, but Partit Demokratiku’s fresh-faced environmental campaigner did relatively well.
A well-functioning strong Opposition is a fundamental part of a democracy. No single government should stay in power for too long. A political cycle of new ideas and faces is healthy.
If Delia wants to stay in politics he can stand for election in 2022, and perhaps hold a PN parliamentary seat. He may have admirable qualities as a lawyer and friend, but he is not suited to leading the Opposition. He should now bring this sorry chapter to a close before more damage is done.