It’s been a tumultuous political career for Adrian Delia but the Opposition leader is facing his trickiest test yet.
Over 150 members of the PN General Council have signed a petition over the weekend, formally requesting an internal secret vote of confidence in Delia. And while the Council doesn’t have the power to actually force Delia out, a vote against him will send a strong message that he enjoys significant resistance within his own party.
What is the General Council?
The PN has several organs and branches, but none is more powerful than the General Council. Consisting of some 1,500 members, including MPs, councillors, candidates, branch members and grassroots leaders, the Council is able to collectively shape the party’s direction. This includes changing to the statute and making political statements by adopting certain political documents.
The General Council also used to be responsible for electing the PN leader, until former leader Simon Busuttil spearheaded a change to the statute. Now the General Council gets to shortlist two leader-candidate,s but the final choice lies with the General Convention, composed of some 15,000 card-carrying members (tesserati).
The President of the General Council is Kristy Debono, an MP who has been a vociferous supporter of Adrian Delia since he assumed the leadership in 2017.
What can the petition do?
According to the PN statute, a General Council meeting will have to be called if 150 members (10% of the Council) formally request it, but party insiders told Lovin Malta that this provision has never been used in recent history.
Kristy Debono may reject the petition on the grounds that the General Convention, and not the General Council, is responsible for choosing a leader. However, this will likely be met with resistance by the petition signatories, who will argue that they are merely exercising their right to make a political statement.
Who has signed the petition so far?
Over 150 people have signed it, but only a few have gone public so far. These include former PN executive president Mark Anthony Sammut, former PN candidate Ivan Bartolo and MŻPN’s president, secretary general and social media officer Joseph Grech and Emma Portelli Bonnici and Amy Camilleri.
Can the General Council force Delia to resign?
In a nutshell, no. The statute grants the leader security of tenure between general elections and includes no provision through which the leader can be forcibly removed him from his post.
If a leader wants to remain in charge of the party after a general election, he must seek a vote of confidence at the General Convention, and not the General Council. Technically speaking, Delia can remain in charge of a party for as long as he likes so long as he enjoys the support of his tesserati.
So why hold a General Council vote in the first place?
The point is for the party’s highest organ to send a strong message of distrust to the leader. If he loses a vote, it will mean that more than half of his own party doesn’t want him in charge and it will be very difficult, although not impossible, for him to stay on in such conditions.
However, Delia is likely to face pressure to resign even if he wins by a majority that isn’t overwhelming. An MP told Lovin Malta that Delia would be in a problematic position even if he wins 70% of the vote, because that would mean that practically one third of the PN would have declared their distrust in their own leader.
It’s Delia’s moment of truth
Delia’s leadership has been marred by internal friction and infighting since he took charge of the party two years ago. While the situation seemed to have cooled down in recent months, it boiled over again following the PN’s historic defeat at the MEP and local council elections.
The leader’s critics have warned that the results prove Delia is unelectable, but his supporters have played the situation down by claiming the criticism is originating from a small group of MPs who want to take control over the party.
A vote will be the perfect opportunity to determine, once and for all, how much support Delia enjoys within his party. What will happen afterwards is anyone’s bet.