Adrian Delia’s ‘New Way’ appears to be dead and buried despite his unlikely ascent to the Nationalist Party’s leadership in a first-of-its-kind election that was open to every single paid-up member (tesserat).
His repeated assertions that the results of the European Parliament and Local Council elections would have little bearing on his tenure have fallen on deaf ears, with the fallout from two devastating electoral results proving the opposite.
With his party in meltdown mode and a dubious co-option vote exposing the PN’s deep factionalism, here’s how Delia’s tenure took a dramatic turn for the worse in little over a week.
1. Delia puts on a brave face at the counting hall
With projections showing a 51,500 vote margin in the European Parliament elections, Delia made a brave appearance at the counting halls.
Facing rapid questions from the press, Delia remained defiant, insisting he was the right man to lead the PN into the next general election and that he would learn from mistakes made.
“The process of change has already started, in spite of all our financial and structural limitations,” he said.
While the margin did actually grow from the 2017 general election, the lack of any leadership challenge meant that he was able to ride the wave of pressure and hold onto his post, even if from a brief moment.
2. A downward revision provides some respite
Losing an election by a mammoth 42,600 votes is no sign of success. However, the downward revision of almost 8,000 votes managed to offer some respite for the embattled leader.
Delia and his inner circle also did what they could to spin the result in some sort of positive direction.
“A few months ago surveys were saying that there was a gap of around 100,000 votes,” Delia told the press, echoing earlier statements by both PN Secretary General Clyde Puli and PN Deputy Leader Robert Arrigo.
3. Disastrous local council results pile more misery onto the PN leader
Days after the MEP election results were announced, the Labour Party emerged as the clear winners at the end of counting for the local council elections, demolishing the Nationalist Party and running away with the majority in 49 localities.
Walking away with just 19 of the 68 local councils across the island, the PN also lost key battleground localities such as Valletta, St Paul’s Bay, San Ġwann, and Siġġiewi.
The local councils could have been fertile ground for Delia to make some significant gains, however, fielding around 100 fewer candidates than the Labour Party resulted in the government dealing a second blow to their rivals in quick succession.
4. An MP resigns
As Delia tried to keep his grasp on the PN Leadership, Gozitan MP David Stellini resigned after his unsuccessful run for MEP. In his resignation, Stellini bemoaned the issues surrounding partisanship plaguing Malta’s political system.
However, Stellini probably did not expect for his resignation to so clearly expose the ‘partisanship’ or factionalism within his own party.
5. Factions exposed: The race for the open seat
Stellini’s resignation meant the race for his seat was on. In what has become typical for the PN, the party’s internal politics bubbled to the surface for the entire public to see.
PN figures associated with the old guard and former Leader Simon Busuttil immediately threw Kevin Cutajar’s name into the ring. While, Jean Pierre Debono, a Delia-loyalist who gave up his own parliamentary seat for his Leader, immediately declared his interest in the role known.
A vote within the PN’s Executive Committee would take place on Saturday 1 June.
6. Executive President resigns
As members of the press and public turned their focus on the result of the co-option, PN Executive Committee President Mark Anthony Sammut resigned from the post as a result of the electoral defeats. He also called on others within the executive to do the same.
7. Jean Pierre Debono is elected
In the narrowest of margins, Debono was selected by the PN Executive Committee in a secret vote, beating Cutajar by 42 votes to 40 votes.
8. Party figures cry foul over serious issues in the voting process
With the dust yet to settle, PN figures including Sammut took to social media to flag severe issues with the voting process. Neither Stellini or PN Treasurer David Camilleri were entitled to vote in the co-option election.
Sammut claimed that Debono, who is the assistant secretary-general and political coordinator, compiled the members’ attendance data into a list that was only given to him right before the ballot took place.
“Only one person could have added [Camilleri] to the list, and here the conflict of interest is clear,” he said.
MP Jason Azzopardi, one of Delia’s harshest internal critics, went one step further and accused Debono of “fraud”.
Meanwhile, PN’s youth branch MŻPN also spoke out, demanding that political responsibility be shouldered. “Enough is enough,” MŻPN said in a Facebook post.
8. Co-option postponed
In light of the controversy, the Speaker of the House was informed that the co-option would be postponed. Meanwhile, the PN Gozo Regional Committee challenged the co-option of Debono to Parliament, insisting that allowing Stellini to vote in Saturday’s executive committee was in breach of the PN statute.
Gozitan voters also filed a judicial protest over the issue.
10. The PN backtracks – Debono steps away from co-option and a Treasurer’s resignation
In another twist, Debono decided to back down his interest for the seat, despite having declared his interest in the spot as soon as it was made available.
He has maintained that everything was done democratically and transparently.
Camilleri would also resign. However, he insisted that no one had told him that he did not have the right to vote, despite him declaring his intention to do so.
BONUS: What’s next for Delia?
While refraining from the hypothetical, Delia is just about holding on to his leadership despite ever-growing pressure.
Working for Delia is the severe lack of a genuine leadership challenge. While many PN MPs and party figures continue to talk a big game on social media as they have done in the past, no one has dared to mount a challenge against Delia.