Several key protagonists of the Nationalist Party are fuming and have told Lovin Malta they expect leader Adrian Delia to step down to protect the party from further fallout caused by his acrimonious marital separation.
Delia is facing accusations of domestic abuse by his wife Nickie Vella de Fremeaux and has also had his phone compromised, with dozens of intimate messages circulating WhatsApp.
“It’s better for Delia to sink alone than for the whole party to sink with him,” said a senior member of the party who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
He said there were rumblings in the party about what steps should be taken next but "something had to be done".
“Labour wants him to stay because they have even more dirt on him and they want to reveal it closer to the election. It’s unprecedented to have people like (Labour MEP) Alfred Sant and (government consultant) Robert Musumeci defending a Nationalist leader, especially one faced with such serious accusations," he added.
This senior member acknowledged there could be short-term backlash if Delia were to be removed but the party would gain respect in the long term.
An MP who spoke to Lovin Malta said the situation had escalated in recent days and the party was finally starting to realise that something had to be done.
"Previously, we were thinking we could wait till May, until after the European Parliament elections, to restart a discussion on leadership. But now we're realising we can't wait until May.”
Another major PN protagonist said it was clear Delia should step down, because his personal life was now overshadowing the political direction of the party.
“I believe when there is anything in the public domain that diverts attention from what the Opposition should be doing, the person involved should step aside. And on this matter, it’s even worse because as an Opposition we should be unequivocal when it comes to domestic violence.”
'Delia should be replaced by an interim leader'
The ideal situation would be for Delia to step down temporarily, of his own accord, and be replaced by an interim leader, according to this senior official. She warned that if key people were seen to be pushing Delia out, it could cause the party to split and further disintegrate.
“This is a serious threat. Delia has a substantial amount of support and the party cannot risk losing those voters. We will end up with a one party state,” she said. “The minute one of us speaks out, it becomes about us. We obviously don’t tolerate domestic violence and it’s something we want to speak out about but we’re in a really difficult situation.”
She added: “It’s significant that Delia’s most vocal supporter is (government consultant) Robert Musumeci, whose allegiances are clearly towards the government. It’s clear that Musumeci is doing the government’s bidding and it’s also clear that the government has a hunger to become even more powerful.”
Government consultant Robert Musumeci is a vocal supporter of Adrian Delia but insists he will never vote for PN again
‘Situation within PN risks slipping into civil war'
Another senior PN official warned that the situation in the party is teetering on the brink of civil war and that efforts must intensify to convince Delia’s supporters that a leadership change is needed.
“There’s an element of the old guard wanting to regain their power, but to be brutally honest I think they have a point this time round that his position is untenable, especially now that these videos are doing the rounds,” he said.
The PN member did not rule out a leadership race before next May’s MEP election, but warned such a situation would cause extreme anger among Delia’s supporters.
“The people on Delia’s camp are saying the anti-Delia faction is publishing these leaks to harm him and that they had an agenda to remove him from day one,” he said. “Personally, I believe the Delia people need to be given a chance in May. If the result is disastrous, it would be a game changer and I think they would change their minds. If this doesn’t happen, Delia’s supporters will argue that he wasn’t even given a chance to contest an election and it would be a strong argument.”
Another MP said she did not envisage a leadership race before the European Parliament elections, but not because the party doesn't need a change of leadership.
"I do not envisage a leadership race before May because this leadership is so lost in its own interests and egos that they do not see the higher good and are incapable of acting in the interests of the higher good. If they did, they would not have allowed such matrimonial difficulties exposing five children to public judgment. The way this leadership team is navigating these difficult times shows they are more interested in retaining their seats rather than act in the best interest of the country, the party and five children.”
"But then the Delia project thought of by Clyde Puli, Pierre Portelli and Jean Pierre Debono has failed and each one of them is unable to call it a day for his own selfishness and sense of entitlement.”
‘Adrian Delia is walking around with €500 notes’ *
Yet another top MP said he was seriously considering resigning from the PN and politics for good unless action was taken in the coming days.
"The party structures should immediately meet and discuss what is happening. That's why PN amended its statute in the 1970s to make sure each organ is run by someone who is not the party leader. We cannot have a leader with these allegations and none of the officials or structures speak up. What is happening is not happening to the leader, it's happening to the party."
The source said there were even more allegations to come.
"I've been told by three different sources that Delia is going around with €500 notes. You don't do that when you have a declared salary of €2,500 and you owe €2,700 plus school fees and expenses every month in maintenance. Something is not right and I'm sure it will be exposed soon. Those €500 notes might be coming from donations."
A long-time party insider said: “It’s obvious what should be done. The separation is already a huge distraction for Delia but the acrimonious nature of it is now dragging the Nationalist Party through the mud."
"I’ve seen some of the videos and voice recordings of him with his family. It’s true everyone shouts and swears at his family sometimes, but not the Nationalist Party leader. That’s just not part of our brand."
"Even some of the messages that are being leaked are terrible. He’s using his position to chat up women. That’s simply not acceptable. Even lower level employees shouldn't be doing that, let alone the leader. I expect the party’s organs to act but they seem to have been taken over completely. I’m trembling as I speak because it’s really sad to see the party I love in this state, unable to identify right from wrong."
‘People are abusing of Nickie Vella de Fremeaux’s vulnerability’
Nickie Vella de Fremeaux
However, another MP warned that Delia’s internal critics are taking advantage of Nickie Vella de Fremeaux’s mental health.
“Elements of the establishment weren’t happy when Delia got elected and have an interest in him failing so they can replace him, but the truth is that the PN belongs to the people, not to them,” he said. “This is a private situation and Adrian Delia cannot even defend himself because of a court agreement to not speak about this case. However, some people are illegally acquiring private things to bring him down and abusing of Nickie Vella de Fremeaux’s vulnerability. She needs help, not people abusing her.”
"I’m very opinionated but, because I suffer from depression, they say I’m saying what I’m saying because I’m not quite there"Nickie Vella de Fremeaux
In a recent interview with Lovin Malta, Vella De Fremeaux confirmed she suffers from depression, but warned many people misunderstand her condition to the point where they brush off her opinions as stemming from her depression.
“I’m very opinionated but, because I suffer from depression, they say I’m saying what I’m saying because I’m not quite there,” she said. “Many a time, mental health doesn’t mean you become mad. It means you have a condition which has to be treated but it doesn’t necessarily make you completely cuckoo. The fact that you have a depression or are anxious absolutely doesn’t mean that everything you do is done because you’re mentally unstable. Since Adrian was elected, this stigma has become even worse, because if people don’t like what I’m saying they’ll dismiss it by saying I’m a miskina who’s not quite all there.”
Another MP urged people to allow the family court time to take a decision before passing judgement on the case.
“As it stands, one party’s documents are being leaked while the other party’s documents are tied in court so the information out there is biased,” she said. “We cannot take an objective analysis, simply because we aren’t exposed to all the documents.”
“I understand the argument that the best thing he can do to safeguard his children is to step down as leader, but being in public life has its ups and downs, and one of the downsides of our job is that we’re under constant scrutiny.”
PN deputy leaders, whip adopt coy stance
PN deputy leader Robert Arrigo insisted that anybody trying to combine party matters with Delia’s family concerns were incorrect.
“If you have a problem with your wife, or if she has a problem with you, you can solve it among yourselves.”
Asked if this contradicted a PN statement last year which said domestic abuse was not a private matter, Arrigo said: “I wouldn’t know what article you’re talking about and for me, a year seems a long time ago.”
Fellow deputy leader David Agius said he has nothing to add to a statement Delia had issued, in which he insisted he will not cave in to “malign” attempts to turn this personal issue into a political one.
“This is a very delicate situation, but the most important thing is that Delia is the leader and that I respect the party, the leader and his family. That’s what I would say if I were in his position; I would ask people to respect the party, to respect the leader and to respect his family.”
PN whip Robert Cutajar said he refused to comment on personal matters or make any public judgments in this regard. Asked whether this position contrasted to a PN editorial last year which said domestic abuse was a public not private matter, Cutajar said he would not draw comparisons and had no comments to make.
Cutajar confirmed that the PN's parliamentary group would be meeting before Parliament reopened on January 14th.
Significantly, the Labour Party has remained completely silent about this case and questions sent to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat remain unanswered. Lovin Malta reached out to Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield who said only: "I do not wish to comment on the situation being faced by the current Leader of the Opposition. That is a personal matter which has to be dealt with by him and his family. The PN remain unelectable because they have not learnt anything from their mistakes."
*Update: Adrian Delia has since denied that he is “walking around with bags of €500 notes”. He said this to The Sunday Times of Malta when clarifying his financial situation. Delia did not repost to questions sent by Lovin Malta.