Public infighting returned front and centre to the Nationalist Party in recent days, laying bare the challenges facing its leader Bernard Grech as he attempts to reunite his team.
What was meant to be a mundane internal election turned into a full-blown problem, with several activists resigning and former leader Adrian Delia standing up for them.
Here’s how it unfolded and where the party currently stands:
1. Rumblings of a block vote in Sliema
With Sliema’s PN committee (the group responsible for outreach in that particular town) up for re-election, some party activists started calling for a coordinated block vote and some of their comments were picked up by blogger Simon Mercieca.
This isn’t eyebrow-raising in and of itself – concerted efforts to make sure people vote for the same set of candidates are a common election strategy, from university student politics to the national stage.
However, this time the block vote was pitched as a way of rewarding those candidates who were perceived to support Bernard Grech.
2. The PN’s official Sliema page takes a stance
It got particularly serious when the PN’s official Sliema committee page pretty much called for a block vote to reward activists who were loyal to Grech from the start.
“Those who are pleased at the rapid rate of progress the party is making under Bernard Grech’s leadership should elect to its sectional committees those members who were at the forefront of electing him and welcoming him with open arms,” the message read.
The page ended up deleting this message and replaced it with a statement from the party’s electoral commission which “disassociated itself from divisive comments”.
3. Candidate warns against ‘pro-Delia, anti-Daphne’ rivals
Things got particularly serious when Simon Mercieca published a message sent by Kevin Wain, one of the candidates pushing for a block vote.
“Trust you are well. I am writing to alert you that Tony Galea, John Pillow, Anton Debono etc. have cast their candidature in the Sliema committee to oust the pro-Bernard Grech committee. They are anti-Daphne etc and they still call Adrian Delia their leader,” the message read.
He then went on to name the nine candidates people should vote for- himself, Joseph Vassallo Agius, Ernest Rossi, Joe Depasquale Schranz, John Dougall, David Soler, and Herbert Naudi.
This placed the other nine candidates – Patricia Cassar Torregiani, Carmelo Borg, Emanuel Borg, Mark Anthony Borg, Saviour Formosa, Lorry Calleja, Anthony Debono, Anthony Galea, and John Pillow – on the outs.
4. One of the ‘outed’ candidates opens up
Tony Galea, one of the nine candidates called out by Wain, then penned a lengthy Facebook post to decry “attacks” by PN supporters against fellow PN supporters.
“My intention, as that of my fellow friends and candidates, is to participate in this election for the sole benefit of the Party,” Galea, who was co-opted into the party three years ago, wrote.
“It is very disheartening to read personal attacks, in particular those by another candidate and his mother who, incidentally, is a female member of the committee.”
“Such communications only send a very negative message that can only lead to individuals taking their distance even more from the Party. It is not my intention to fall to that level but it is understandable, and I sincerely hope that you all agree with me, that I have to stand up and defend my reputation.”
He also responded to accusations that he’s ‘anti-Daphne’ by pointing out that the late journalist had regularly attended fundraising events he organised.
“As a voter in a democratic country and within a Democratic Party, I sincerely hope that voters have the right to choose their candidate in a serene atmosphere.”
5. All the nine candidates facing a block vote resign en masse
With the election approaching, all nine candidates who were facing a block vote resigned, citing the “vehemence and vitriol” that their candidatures were met with.
“At this stage, given the level of divisiveness in the campaign we feel that it will be impossible for us to achieve the level of unity, engagement and positive energy we wanted in order to drive the Party’s agenda forward in our locality.”
The sectional committee election was therefore scrapped, meaning Wain and the eight other candidates he promoted were automatically elected.
6. Adrian Delia steps into the fray
Adrian Delia immediately stuck up for the nine resigning candidates, warning the party to stop hurting people before it’s too late.
“An election may not be necessary but an examination of our conscience is certainly necessary,” the former leader wrote. “If we’re going to keep on hurting people we’re going to keep on destroying the party until there’s nothing left to destroy.”
“We must stop now before it’s too late. No one knows everything, no one is always right. Can’t you see that people don’t want hatred, that everyone must compromise a bit, and that if we’re going to keep on kicking people out, there will be no one left.”
“If we’re closing our door to Nationalists who want to play a part, who are we going to open it to?”
7. PN’s Bormla committee resigns in solidarity
Political moves in Sliema had repercussions across the harbours to Bormla, a traditional PL stronghold in a district where Prime Minister Robert Abela plans to run in. In solidarity with the nine ex-candidates, the party’s entire Bormla committee – namely Ivan Bezina, Carmen Farrugia, Tessie Farrugia, Richard Garzia, Ingrid Mallia and Rennie Muscat – resigned en masse.
In a statement, the Bormla committee criticised the PN’s Electoral Commission for not taking disciplinary action against the insults aimed at the nine ex Sliema candidates.
“This isn’t the same Nationalist Party that we were all born and raised in.”
The nine ex Sliema candidates responded by thanking their Bormla counterparts for their genuine solidarity.
So this is the current state. An internal election has been averted in Sliema, but it’s come at the cost of leaving nine activists extremely disgruntled and the party without a single committee member to represent it on the ground in Bormla, a traditional PL stronghold.
Meanwhile, Bernard Grech is facing his second serious internal conflict, and the first since a number of PN councillors and committee members resigned in protest following his victory last October.
The new PN leader had built his campaign around the importance of party unity and, to his credit, has managed to avoid the destructive open warfare that had characterised the last days of Delia’s reign.
However, this latest episode shows just how deep divisions in the PN run and just how tough it will be for Grech to tie the threads ahead of the general election.
What do you make of this latest dispute?