If there are any smart political strategists left in the Nationalist Party, this is what they should be telling Adrian Delia: find someone to replace you before it’s too late. If Delia succeeds in finding a suitable successor, history could judge him as the person who changed the fortunes of his party and country. As things stand, however, there will only be regrets.
It’s not everyday that a country finds itself in a position where rampant corruption at the highest echelons of government are exposed for all to see, and yet the public chooses to look the other way. If you’re part of the opposition, it must feel extremely frustrating. But there’s no use blaming the public without understanding the context behind why this is happening.
An electorate’s tolerance to corruption is directly proportional to their general satisfaction of government, weighed against its alternative. For example, when the Nationalist government was resisting basic progressive reform such as divorce, the public had zero tolerance for a Finance Minister who accepted a handmade clock as a gift - especially because the Labour Party was already pitching itself as a government-in-waiting.
Today, because the country finds itself on a superhighway of change that most people are enjoying, it feels like nothing can justify us pulling the brakes. Not even the most damning of allegations. And especially not if the Nationalist Party is the alternative.
In fact, there’s such a reluctance to replace the government in Malta that the Prime Minister has become totally anti-fragile. The more scandals thrown at him, the stronger he gets.
"There’s such a reluctance to replace the government in Malta that the Prime Minister has become totally anti-fragile. The more scandals thrown at him, the stronger he gets."
And it’s not because he possesses some magical quality. It’s because he survives all hits and therefore looks invincible. The bigger the scandal he survives, the greater the respect for him grows from his supporters. And the more difficult it becomes to challenge him internally.
It’s also because he remains focused on doing precisely what the vast majority of the public wants him to do - showing leadership, vision and determination in all aspects of their lives, no matter how minor they may seem.
Whether it’s making life easier for a couple to access IVF, appeasing recreational cannabis users or being the first mover in the global industry of Blockchain and cryptocurrencies, he’s still pushing change faster than Malta has ever seen before.
On the other hand - because democracy in Malta is ultimately always a choice between the two parties large enough to muster enough candidates to win an election - we have Adrian Delia’s Nationalist Party.
Some thought he was on the right track when he toned down PN’s aggressively anti-corruption rhetoric. We thought it may have been the first step to replacing it with an inspiring progressive narrative and maybe even some policy ideas that could capture people’s imagination.
Instead it was a classic case of one step forward and two steps back. Instead of beating the drum against corruption, he started beating the drum against IVF and cannabis, while speaking of immigration and criminality in the same breath. And still, there’s not a single hint of forward-looking vision. He only talks about change he wants to hold back, not change he wants to bring about himself.
This terrible strategy has left the party more divided on moral issues than it has ever been, to the point that it is now openly voting in distinct factions in Parliament. Which means the only way to show unity again within the PN is to revert to the anti-corruption platform.
To be fair, there hasn’t ever been a better time to do this, thanks to the Daphne Project and the new revelations surfacing every day, which seem to have finally earned the attention of the world.
But the problem of course is that Adrian Delia is just not the right person to steer the anti-corruption platform, which is why he avoided it in the first place.
Delia is not above suspicion, given everything Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote about him. Much less so now that she has been assassinated and her stories have been given fresh impetus and credibility by 18 of the world’s most reputable news organisations.
The most basic logic demands that a party trying to make political mileage of a dead journalist’s corruption stories cannot be led by one of the individuals she exposed.
Adrian Delia had sued Daphne Caruana Galizia but dropped his libel cases after she was killed, so there has been no closure on the stories she wrote about him.
"The most basic logic demands that a party trying to make political mileage of a dead journalist’s corruption stories cannot be led by one of the individuals she exposed."
And even if you forget corruption and social issues altogether and focus on the bigger picture: who in their right mind can ever trust a politician with the economy if they can’t even handle their own taxes?
So really, Delia is doomed on all angles - and that’s forgetting his starting point of a 40,000 vote deficit (or if you are to believe the more recent surveys, a 70,000-80,000 vote deficit).
He cannot win on the economy. He cannot win on progressive ideas. He cannot win on corruption. And if Joseph Muscat is true to his word and appoints a successor to face the next general election, Delia cannot even win at being the newer face.
Whichever way you look, Delia literally has nothing working in his favour, no matter how delusional we want to be about it. So as tempting as it is to ask Nationalists to rally behind him for the sake of the greater good, that would just be delaying the inevitable.
Adrian Delia is doing some good work in terms of outreach by going into village clubs and socialising with people from all walks of life. He now needs to channel this energy into finding a successor who can do what he cannot.
However, there remains one thing Adrian Delia might just be able to do better than anyone else. He might be smart enough to recognise his own misfortune and start finding somebody to replace him. He might also be open enough to attract the right people and persuasive enough to convince his internal supporters.
This doesn't need to come off as an embarrassing resignation, but an exemplary and strategic move that shows he is the bigger person and is ready to do what is best for the party and the country. He also needs to stick around to help the party unite and not undo the work already started in bringing back some of the more neglected sections of supporters.
Obviously, he needs somebody with vision and considerable guts to step forward and suggest themselves for the job, unlike when they all chickened out of last year's contest. That might be the hardest part, but certainly not an obstacle that cannot be overcome.
If he pulls this off, history could be very kind to him indeed. If he resists, things are only going to get worse for everyone.