Adrian Delia is facing a fresh wave of internal anger, discontent and calls for his resignation, but can weather the storm if he so pleases, safe in the knowledge that only the party’s members can force him to resign.
However, the same cannot be said of one of his closest allies, Secretary General Clyde Puli, whose job is under serious jeopardy as a result of proposals which have been delayed and stalled for quite a few months.
This latest crisis within the PN may seem like a sudden development but it has actually been brewing for a while. After the PN’s calamitous defeat at the 2019 MEP and local council elections, Delia entrusted former minister Louis Galea to oversee a reform process to make the party more electable.
Galea had spent ten years as the PN’s Secretary General between 1977 and 1987 but his main proposal was, quite ironically, to get rid of his old position once and for all so as to introduce more points of power within the party.
A PN source told Lovin Malta that Clyde Puli had used the powers vested in his position to try and exercise as much control over the party as possible.
“It was a bottleneck… every proposal, every statement had to pass through Puli and proposals just got stuck there,” he said.
Galea’s solution was to abolish the role of Secretary General entirely, just as the Labour Party had done after Joseph Muscat was elected leader, as well as the role of deputy leader for party affairs, which is currently occupied by Robert Arrigo, who announced his resignation today.
Instead, a new role of party president would be created and this person would be assisted by three Vice Presidents, each in charge of different aspects of the party. According to the proposal, none of these four positions can be occupied by MPs, which would allow them to focus exclusively on the party instead of their constants but which would effectively rule Puli out.
The role of Secretary General is one of the few salaried positions in the party and it is as yet unknown whether the new positions proposed by Galea will be salaried too or merely voluntary.
On 13th December, while Malta was in the midst of major political upheavals, the Nationalist Party’s General Council convened an extraordinary meeting in which it set timelines for the discussion of Galea’s proposals – 31st December for the PN Executive Council and 31st January for the PN General Council. However, the process has since stalled, prompting PN MP Ivan Bartolo to pen an opinion piece to express his frustration at how Galea’s proposals have fallen on deaf ears.
“These changes are facing resistance as internal politics, driven by personal agendas, are sucking out the much-needed oxygen for these new ideas to grow their own roots,” he wrote in Times of Malta. “Yet again, the fear of the unknown, the comfort zone and personal interests, for some, are way more important than what the Nationalist Party and our country need.”
On 1st February, Galea held a meeting with Puli and deputy leaders Robert Arrigo and David Agius to discuss his stalled proposals, as well as the appointment of a new leadership team. After no progress was made, Galea resorted to the nuclear option
“I have asked [PN Executive President] Alex Perici Calascione to convene the Executive Committee so as to take all the necessary steps to appoint a new leadership team as soon as possible. In these circumstances, it is only a new team that can assure the party will adopt the necessary measures and proposals to reform and renew itself.”
This could spell bad news for Puli, who has been by Delia’s side from the start and who is one of his most vocal supporters. The Executive Committee appointed Puli as its Secretary General back in 2017 and, if successful, a motion of no confidence at this party organ could remove him.
As for Delia himself, his position seems safer as no one but the PN’s card-carrying tesserati of the General Convention has the power to remove him as party leader. For as long as Delia enjoys the trust of his base, he will have the power to lead the party for as long as he pleases.
However, President of the Republic George Vella can indeed remove Delia from his role as Opposition leader if he has reason to believe that he no longer enjoys the support of the majority of his MPs, with reports suggesting that this could well be the case.
Such a move will not force Delia to resign but will pile an unprecedented amount of pressure on him to do so, while PN MPs will have to decide who will be Opposition leader from among its ranks.
If Galea gets his way, then Delia could well be the first and last PN leader elected from the party members. Back in July, Galea told Times Talk that it was a mistake for the PN to allow its members to elect the party leader.
“The party members need to be consulted, they could even be indicating the next potential leader, but the actual choice cannot be simply left to a massive group. It requires a sieve,” he said. “Committee and councillors are in the chain of daily political decisions. Party members follow and watch but they’re not an integrated part of the process which makes politics.”
It is unknown whether this will be discussed as part of Galea’s proposed reforms but if the Delia experiment crashes and burns, it will surely be put up for discussion.