If a party leader were to be accused of domestic violence anywhere else in the world, his opponents would probably react. At the very least, they’d take the opportunity to make strong statements against abuse. But in Malta, the governing Labour Party is going out of its way to practically defend Opposition leader Adrian Delia – or at least, to remain silent despite the serious accusations recently made public. (Just imagine if the same allegations had been against former PN leader Simon Busuttil!) So why exactly is Labour being so coy on this grave matter? Here are eight reasons that could be contributing to this strange state of affairs.
1. The Labour government depends on the narrative that allegations should be dismissed until they are proven unequivocally in court
The Labour government faced a series of criminal allegations in the past five years, with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat regularly explaining his inaction by passing the buck onto the courts. Government officials, including himself, are the subject of numerous magisterial inquiries and never-ending court cases, which are then touted as being an example of “rule of law”. Demanding a different standard when it comes to the Opposition would expose the government’s own tolerance of criminal allegations. This is particularly interesting when you consider what Joseph Muscat had said in 2013, before he was elected Prime Minister. In a televised debate he famously asked then Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi to send a political signal against corruption. His tune changed soon after being elected.
2. Elected officials also thrive in a no-consequences culture because it lets them get away with more
The government has already forced the country to accept a situation where ministers can open undeclared offshore companies with impunity. This makes smaller transgressions easier to get away with. And by allowing Opposition exponents to get away with claims of wrongdoing – such as the cases of Stephen Spiteri, David Casa and now Adrian Delia – the bar keeps being set lower and lower, until almost nothing the government does can be seen as unacceptable any longer.
3. Labour would rather wait for a full-blown electoral campaign to take out the knives
At the end of May, Malta will go to the polls to elect our EU parliamentarians and local councils. It’s likely to be Muscat’s last electoral campaign since he’s vowed not to contest the next general election. There are people within PN who fear Labour has lots of material on Delia but they’re waiting until an election campaign to cause maximum damage in a way that ensures optimum electoral gain. Wouldn’t Muscat love to go out with a bang?
4. Labour exponents genuinely like Delia and his less aggressive political style
Delia is quite an affable person, but more importantly he entered the PN leadership race as an outsider who wanted to do away with the old PN ‘establishment’. This indicated a willingness to talk policy instead of focusing too much energy on other matters like corruption allegations – something Labour officials appreciated. Muscat has gone on record saying he has a much better relationship with Delia than with his predecessor Simon Busuttil and the two leaders have also been photographed enjoying each other’s company. Perhaps protecting Delia from the fallout of his acrimonious separation is just Labour’s way of keeping someone they prefer in the role of Opposition leader.
5. They don’t trust the testimony of Delia’s wife Nickie Vella De Fremeaux
Vella De Fremeaux’s brother has in the past days taken to Facebook to pledge his ongoing support to Delia, which is probably something many in Labour are factoring in their analysis. His statement undermines the testimony of Delia’s wife. Similarly, several people have invoked Vella De Fremeaux’s mental health as another reason to be cautious on this case. She has often spoken about her battle with depression. Obviously, this predisposition to disbelieve Vella De Fremeaux is problematic. It comes across as victim-blaming and sends a dangerous message to society, particularly victims of domestic violence who may fear being ignored or labelled liars.
6. Labour may want to reserve the right to absorb Delia into their fold
This might seem far-fetched but let’s not forget that some key Labour exponents began their career as rising stars of the Nationalist Party. These include MEP candidate Cyrus Engerer, government consultant Robert Musumeci, and MCST chairman Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando to name a few. Being extra nice to Delia while his party plans a mutiny can position Labour as the natural home for Delia and his supporters if he is eventually ousted.
7. They believe the privacy of Delia and his family outweighs the public interest in this case
This would probably be the most official explanation of the Labour Party, and there could be some truth to it. After all, Muscat himself has children roughly the same ages as Delia’s, who attend the same school. Even PN critics of Delia have confessed to Lovin Malta that they feel uncomfortable discussing this case in public because of the children. And this is also the reason the media has so far refrained from publishing any of the video clips that are circulating widely on WhatsApp, since Delia’s children appear in most of them and also seem to be filming some of them.
8. Public opinion is still being gauged
If there’s one thing Labour has down to an art, it’s understanding public opinion. In the case of Delia, there doesn’t yet seem to be the level of outrage one would expect. Perhaps voters are tired of hearing so many allegations about the man who has yet to be tested electorally. Maybe it’s just bad timing, given that the accusations were made over the Christmas holidays. Many people are also very disgusted by the way Delia’s privacy has been invaded with so many audio/video recordings, screenshots and other data has been leaked. This, at a time when people are particularly sensitive about their privacy. Ultimately, it’s only public opinion that can really tilt the balance, and, so far, the most publicly vocal people have been Delia’s supporters.