On the one hand there is Chris Said, the person advocating #TheRightWay (because that’s not condescending at all). He’s a nice Gozitan chap who has failed to articulate a single compelling idea or argument throughout this campaign. He focused on his experience instead, projecting himself as a candidate of stability. And as he tries to follow in the footsteps of Simon Busuttil and Lawrence Gonzi before him, Chris Said seems to be another nice guy destined to finish last.
Even those lobbying for him today don’t really like him. Just a few weeks ago they were campaigning for Alex Perici Calascione who is pretty much exactly like Chris Said, except even more accountant-like. Choosing Chris Said is a vote for the status quo. Like Busuttil before him, he speaks about wanting to make the party of the people again, but whenever he speaks people tune out. He’s the classic tal-Mużew type who is still busy talking about putting the words “mother” and “father” back into the law rather than proposing anything forward-looking. And if he takes over the party, rest assured nothing significant will change.
On the other hand there is Adrian Delia who started off with the advantage of novelty and promised #ANewWay. Despite this, the former football president wasn’t very exciting at first. He was just another 40-something male lawyer with specs and an awkward neck. But while everyone else was busy mocking the entire contest, he quietly set up an energetic campaign team full of young Nationalists. And before we knew it, he began to stand out as a good talker who could actually offer something different – at least in style, if not in substance.
What happened next is what made him really interesting. A strong and heavy-handed movement developed against Delia. For lack of a better phrase, this movement is being referred to as the “PN establishment”. It’s not quite that, unless you think people like Franco Debono and Saviour Balzan are also part of the PN establishment. But it does include people like Daphne Caruana Galizia, an anti-government blogger who was associated strongly with the PN’s election campaign strategy of 2017 and is perceived to be very close to the actual PN establishment.
This movement is using an almost identical strategy against Delia as the one used (rather unsuccessfully) against Joseph Muscat at the last election. Adrian Delia has been accused of everything from money laundering to drug dealing, prostitution to freemasonry. Stories were coming out of the woodwork from all sorts of sources. In most cases the accusations weren’t direct but implied, or implied by association. Eventually, documents were unearthed from 2004 which were deemed serious enough for PN’s Administrative Council to grill Delia and ask him to reconsider his candidature.
And yet, despite almost hourly revelations on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s blog, Franco Debono’s bashing, countless anti-Delia column inches in the newspapers, a parliamentary group already planning a mutiny, and the Administrative Council’s rebuke, Delia still took part in the first part of the contest and emerged as the clear favourite. His message was resonating with even the most hardcore of Nationalists. Clearly, they were thirsty for change. And you can’t really blame them.
Soon it wasn’t just Adrian Delia who started receiving backlash from this perceived “PN establishment”. Supporters like the MPs Jean-Pierre Debono and Kristy Debono were suddenly accused of being government leeches despite the fact that they were key figures in the 2017 PN campaign.
Then it was Delia’s campaign aide and Sliema councillor Pierre Portelli who Caruana Galizia revealed was arrested at a brothel aged 22 (he’s now 35). Later it was Mark ‘Guru’ Grech, a highly influential youngster who was a formidable part of Simon Busuttil’s campaign last May and who is now helping Adrian Delia get elected. On the basis of that and his business relationship with the Prime Minister’s aide Luke Dalli, he is now being accused of having worked against Simon Busuttil at the last election.
And then it was the suitcase-chasing NET journalist Darren Carabott who got into the line of fire…
Every time somebody new was criticised, the impact was lost. It was a stark reminder of why PN lost the last election. No new ideas, only bashing the opponent.
The mudslinging also achieved the unintended consequence of demonstrating just how many young people have joined the Adrian train. Even NET TV’s sensation Mario Frendo is supporting him.
By clutching at straws to dent his soaring popularity, the anti-Delia movement is looking increasingly desperate and insecure. They also inadvertently highlighted the inadequacies of the candidate who they are now rallying behind: Chris Said.
If Chris Said was even slightly engaging – if he came up with one interesting proposal, if he inspired any level of confidence in his ability to lead the Opposition party to success – the people supporting him would have kept things civil. They wouldn’t have risked this all-out war. Why take down so many people of your own when you’re starting with a 40,000-vote disadvantage?
But because Chris Said is patently unelectable – probably even at party level – the strategic team that lost the PN’s election in 2017 have turned their still burning cannon onto Adrian Delia, and anyone else in their path.
Each day makes it look more like a desperate attempt to get him and his people out of the picture – at all costs. Why not add a few more to those 40,000 defectors, right?
To be fair, these people are not totally wrong in thinking Adrian Delia could be dangerous to the Nationalist Party. As a newcomer, there’s always that risk. And his dodgy offshore account set up when he was 29, doesn’t bode well, whether or not he says it was for a client. Nor do the myriad of other things that have been spread about him publicly and privately. He’s certainly not the squeaky clean leader many in the PN would have hoped for to continue bombarding Muscat on corruption.
More importantly, he doesn’t seem to have what it takes to mount any serious competition against Joseph Muscat or whoever takes over the Labour Party. Delia is simply not groundbreaking enough to capture the imagination of a nation so infatuated with Muscat’s progressive and results-oriented agenda. Just look at his comments on cannabis legalisation and tell me he doesn’t sound like last decade’s politician.
But with all his baggage, his inexperience, his “thugs” and his increasingly hysterical and right-wing rhetoric, Delia is still the only candidate (out of the two contesting) who offers a semblance of change. If the past two elections taught us anything, it’s that PN needs to change to be electable again. Adrian Delia might bring about the wrong kind of change – he might change things too much or not enough – but at least he guarantees some level of change. The other candidate simply does not.
To the PN “establishment”, Delia seems to be a masonic madman dead set on destroying the party and turning it into a money-laundering machine much like they believe Joseph Muscat did with Labour. But to many others, Delia means a clean cut from the past and the start of something more inclusive, rebooted and with at least some winning potential. Certainly more than anybody else who stood up to be counted at this leadership contest.
Sure, there is a risk that Delia will not be able to promote PN’s anti-corruption platform with much credibility. There is also a risk more skeletons will come tumbling out of his closet. But maybe that’s a blessing in disguise. Maybe it will force PN to go back to basics and work on its own policy and people before attacking the others. Maybe it can finally return to being a force our country really needs and find a purpose greater than just wiping the smirk off the incumbent’s face.
Or maybe it’ll get so bad that he’ll spark a real collapse within the PN and force some other candidates to take part in the next leadership contest.
Joseph Muscat has long told the PN to stop being negative and start discussing ideas instead of people. As cynical as it may sound coming from him, it was actually sound advice by arguably Malta’s most competent political campaigner. After all, people don’t just vote against parties but for them too.
The “PN establishment” should have found a candidate to present a positive, exciting and credible vision. In the absence of that, they left a vacuum that must now be filled by someone else. The best man of a shitty contest.
If our predictions for Saturday are right, the “PN establishment” must now make space and give Adrian Delia a chance. They must also hold him to account but focus less on his past and more on his future; not just who he is, but what he does. They should also help him flesh out his policies for the good of the country and try to form the strong Opposition the country sorely needs.
In the meantime, they should hope there’s another candidate getting ready in the wings, preparing to take the plunge next time the opportunity comes around. Hopefully, that person will be someone who could offer a new way that’s also right.
But for now, it absolutely must be Delia.