Nationalist Party Leader Adrian Delia is facing a new headache as the number of MPs who oppose his leadership could soon grow.
Former party leader Simon Busuttil resigned a few days ago to take up his new role as Secretary General of the European People’s Party (EPP), while Marthese Portelli announced her resignation from the House on Thursday, without giving a reason.
Busuttil, often described as the leader of the faction opposing Delia but who has never spoken out publicly against Delia, could be replaced by David Thake, a vocal anti-Delia critic who has confirmed his intention to contest the by-election on the 12th district. Thake is the favourite to replace Busuttil, having obtained 126 first-count votes and 868 second-preference votes from Busuttil’s surplus.
Former St Paul’s Bay mayor Graziella Galea is also in the running for the seat.
In 2017, Thake had resigned from the St Paul’s Bay local council and sent a letter to the Opposition Leader, in which he stated; “My position as a local councillor on the PN ticket is – in my opinion – no longer tenable given my views on your suitability as leader of the PN.”
Speaking to this newsroom a few weeks back, Thake noted that there had been a “significant shift” in the way the current Nationalist Party leadership has approached certain issues, such as corruption.
He also said that his resignation was not primarily because of Adrian Delia per se, but because of a certain group of people the PN leader had been surrounded with, and who have since left. He did not shower praise on Delia, however, and said that, “The whole idea that when one doesn’t agree, one should leave, is incorrect.”
On the other hand, Marthese Portelli’s resignation has opened the door for businessman Ivan Bartolo to become an MP. Indeed, Bartolo seems to be next in line for the seat, followed by Swieqi mayor Noel Muscat. Bartolo told The Malta Independent on Sunday yesterday that he is considering his options. Another possible contender, George Pullicino, said he is still to decide.
In 2018, Bartolo quit from his brief to develop a business plan for the PN – a role given to him by Delia – over an apparent lack of willingness by top party officials to implement the changes he was recommending.
Last year, he fronted an initiative by party councillors to oust Delia from the party leadership. The group had collected over 200 signatures, forcing the PN leader to call a vote of confidence, which he won comfortably.
The Malta Independent reported recently that Bartolo was being touted for a top PN job, possibly the post of CEO, which the party is considering to create.
Party sources said that, should Thake and Bartolo be elected as MPs it would spell trouble for Delia, who has struggled to reign in his Parliamentary Group since his election as party leader in 2017.
The PN descended into chaos last month after the publication of a MaltaToday survey that showed that Delia’s trust rating has plummeted to just 13.5%. Delia faced fresh calls for resignation, but stood fast, citing widespread support from the party’s paid-up members (tesserati). It was reported that 17 PN MPs were calling on Delia to step down, and there were plans for these MPs to ask the President to remove Delia from his Opposition Leader role. This could have led to a situation where the party has two leaders – a party leader and an Opposition leader – something which PN MPs said would be disastrous.
Sources said Delia’s position could become more precarious with the appointment of former party treasurer Boris Xerri as head of the PN’s electoral commission – ELCOM. Xerri was among those who signed the petition leading to a vote of no confidence in Adrian Delia last year.
It was all smiles in a photo of Delia, interim PN Secretary General Francis Zammit Dimech and Xerri taken at a Ta’ Xbiex restaurant this week, but Xerri had lashed out at Delia only a couple of weeks earlier. On 8 February, he said in a Facebook post: “Adrian Delia is justifying that he remains party leader out of loyalty to the people who voted him in. How many of those people have realised that he isn’t fit for purpose? Do not let him use you.”
Sources have also told this newsroom that Zammit Dimech is proposing Dennis Zammit to assist Xerri. Zammit was a representative of the group which advocated the vote of no confidence in Delia last year, a vote which did not pass as Delia obtained 2/3 of the preferences to stay on as leader.
Many at Dar Centrali are interpreting these appointments as yet another move to render Delia’s leadership ineffective.
Delia recently lost two key allies with the resignations of secretary general Clyde Puli and PN general council president Kristy Debono. Deputy leader for party affairs Robert Arrigo is set to leave later this month too.
Party sources said that with the loss of key allies, the appointments of people who supported a bid to oust him and the possible addition of two anti-Delia MPs, the PN leader could be facing more trouble in the months to come.