There are two main strands of debate being fired across the Facebook battlefield of the PN leadership race and both are a reaction to a universally shared assessment that Adrian Delia has a very good chance of becoming the next leader of the PN before next month is out.
The first strand is of his supporters. He seemed destined to win but he is embattled by controversy caused by the revelations of Daphne Caruana Galizia heretofore the PN’s ally in combatting the Labour government but now the source of Adrian Delia’s supporters’ sleepless nights.
Their candidate is supposed to win but destiny seems to be countered by hostile forces which must somehow be defeated. Although it is hard to pin blame on specific individuals, the neutrality of the old leadership looks suspicious and perhaps motivated by a wish to outlive Adrian Delia’s threat of a pogrom of the old way to replace it with his new.
The second strand is the detractors. Adrian Delia looks set to win but how can such a thing be allowed? At first the objections were vague reservations on outsiders without experience, untried and unchallenged, taking over a party without consideration to its traditions, its networks, its culture and its people. Then Daphne Caruana Galizia provided justification for their misgivings and the panic set in. If the voting outcome looks likely to happen, surely there must be some divine intervention that could hit a reset button and fish us out of this politically mortal danger.
In spite of Adrian Delia’s defence of his own position against what is being reported on him, or perhaps because of that reaction, a substantial minority has by now decided it does not recognise itself as belonging to a party with Adrian Delia as its leader.
I have heard and read a few vague articulations for this inability to fall in love with Adrian Delia. Not many really have formed their negative views around the specifics of what Daphne Caruana Galizia has reported. Though the elements so far published make awkward reading there isn’t, yet, a damning smoking gun that made people throw up on the sidewalk.
The real damage was in his reaction. In first saying ‘no, never’ and then having to say ‘it is fake’ and then ‘yes, but it wasn’t mine’, he started to sound like Father Ted. But a star litigator of Adrian Delia’s calibre is not going to look the way he sounds and he rose to his full height and with furious anger declared that “if I’m leader the PN’s agenda will no longer be dictated by Daphne Caruana Galizia”.
Here the large minority is feeling the foundations of its belief system under attack. With all due respect, the PN’s agenda has never been dictated by Daphne Caruana Galizia. That is a notion absurd in the extreme. If you are referring to the PN’s two year campaign against Joseph Muscat’s corruption, then Daphne Caruana Galizia was frankly irrelevant. What dictated the agenda of the PN is the PN’s core and fundamental system of belief that politics is a service not an open marketplace for fraudsters and embezzlers.
We did not go out in the streets to protest the Panama corruption because Daphne Caruana Galizia told us to. And frankly you are under-estimating 138,000 voters if you think we voted the way we did because Daphne Caruana Galizia told us to.
I can speak for myself. If the PN stood silent in front of the Panama revelations I would have suspected its leadership was involved in the crimes the prime minister was caught committing. And I would have not watched in silence if that was the case.
What’s worse, if the PN bashed the free press – as Labour had done – for revealing the Panama scandal, I would not have been voting PN.
Because here is the major objection now of this large minority. A candidate leader who commits to shut down an independent journalist upon taking office is crossing some sort of line. As much as Daphne Caruana Galizia and any other journalist has no authority to dictate the agenda of the PN, nor, frankly, does its leader.
The agenda is ultimately governed by the party’s core statutory values that protect the free press. Any leader that goes against that core value is out of line and must be censored or removed.
This large minority acknowledges that the values of the PN are no guarantee of electoral success. They understand that honesty, fairness, prioritising the common good, ensuring justice and protecting the environment can alienate some voters who prefer greed, clientelism, individualism and moral compromise. They choose the PN because to them these values are more important than winning. And ultimately the belief, perfectly justified by history, is that what goes round comes round and the people of Malta can be persuaded that truth and right should and will ultimately prevail.
Take those values away, start bashing journalists for scrutinising politicians, and the reason to belong to the PN for these people is gone.
Now I wish to underline that this silent minority is not specifically or necessarily persuaded that Chris Said or Alex Perici Calascione perfectly represent their vision and ambition for the PN. This leadership campaign has completely failed to deliver any form of inspiration or even frankly basic communication for any conviction to have occurred.
But they can see what they definitely cannot bear: Frank Portelli’s proto-fascism and, I think the term is cautiously being attributed now, Adrian Delia’s populism.
Because the large minority is feeling the heat of an angry majority, whose anger Adrian Delia is tapping capably and effectively. He has conjured an invisible ‘other’ described variously as “xi ħadd”, “id moħbija”, “il-klikka”. This ‘other’ must be defeated and washed away because it is the cause of serial electoral losses. The fact that those losses followed three decades of victories is conveniently omitted.
Instead everything must be cleaned out and replaced with a new way. These may be casually picked campaign slogans. But in the hands of a leader who would rather attribute conspiratorial motivations to a journalist instead of spending time to address the scrutiny he seems surprised to be under, these ‘cleansing’ themes are raising the hair on the backs of many necks.
I’m not sure Adrian Delia thought this candidature through. Somehow he seems driven by a strong sense of destiny but seems insulted that the press – particularly the few in the community with the professional capability of digging up in his past – would look into his affairs.
He expressed disdain today that the outgoing PN leadership and candidates Chris Said and Alex Perici Calascione did not express solidarity with him “and his family” for “the attack” he was under. “Only Frank Portelli expressed solidarity”.
Well, that’s because the outgoing PN leadership and Said and Perici Calascione are not new to politics and they know that 24/7 scrutiny into the affairs of politicians is a basic fact of democratic life. Frank Portelli is neither a politician nor a democrat. And he expresses solidarity not out of courtesy but because he wishes to de-focus the scrutiny that is rightly on him and his affairs.
Had Adrian Delia ever been chased by generations of grotesquely hostile Labour party journalists; had he been confronted by the 22-year old Joseph Muscat and Glen Bedingfield, Simone Cini, Charlon Gouder and the other political journalists that followed when I stopped caring, he would have expected hell out there. And if he had like Tonio Borg and several other PN politicians poked the dragon and attracted the ire of Daphne Caruana Galizia he would have known what to expect from her as well.
The “attack” on him was nothing but exactly what a politician should expect: his laundry washed in public. If he made commitments with his clients in his past life that prevent him from being transparent in his political life than he should be thinking whether this life is really the right choice for him.
You decide one day to enter politics. You spend all your life before taking that decision preparing for it. You pay all your taxes. You do not get drunk in public. You do not have sex with prostitutes. You do not smoke a joint. You do not go into dodgy business. You need to spend all your life on the straight and narrow if you want to enter politics and that’s whether you are already in office or not.
There is no baptism once you get elected when all your past sins, venal or mortal, are washed away.
Now the angry majority is not thinking this through either. All they’re seeing right now is that with all the highfalutin moralising the PN lost and with all the sleaze and corruption the PL won. “Mel’hekk irid il-poplu”.
Why insist on fancy food, if people prefer burgers. Fire the Michelin star chef and let’s bring in the burger flipper to beat the joint across the street.
You can’t dismiss the logic.
Except that the PN is not a burger joint and if it’s going to become one this large minority will slowly but surely walk away.
Here at last is the PN’s clash of civilisations. It is not after all on whether gays should marry. The big moral crisis has nothing to do with the policing of sex and the clemency of euthanasia.
The big conflagration is over whether the PN should beat Labour by continuing to contrast with it or by imitating it.
For when Adrian Delia speaks of a hidden hand behind the journalist who reports on him; when he argues that the PN has been bewitched by a sorceress; when he implies that the PN is led by faceless men who decide everything no matter the democratic wish of its members, it does not sound like that’s too much of a ‘new way’. It is frankly a rather old way: scripted by a certain Joseph Muscat.
Now the Administrative Committee has agreed to meet on Monday to see ‘what can be done’ about the Adrian Delia case. I have no idea what rabbits they believe they can pull out of what hats but the reality is the decision to even meet risks hurting both sides of this divide.
The minority of panicked opponents to Adrian Delia now have some false hope that ‘something can be done’. I cannot imagine what statutory options the Administrative Council might have. Adrian Delia’s eligibility to run is beyond dispute. He has not broken any rules in the process, certainly nothing anyone has accused him of. Unless they resort to some far-fetched political trial that his discourse is in conflict with the values of the party, I cannot see what they could possibly ground any meaningful action on.
Inevitably therefore the large minority will be disappointed with the outcome of this meeting which can do nothing to change the basic reality they are most scared of.
The majority of enthusiastic supporters of Adrian Delia have now been given a physical manifestation to feed their paranoia. They will see a committee of elders convene to pronounce judgement on their candidate which judgement they anticipate will be inconsistent with the outcome they expect in the voting process. You see! They want to cling to power and stay on. They know they’ll be thrown out if Adrian Delia is elected so they’re trying to block him before he can get there. They are trying to block us before we can get him there.
We’re seeing this everywhere. A few high-profile episodes of party activists whose right to vote in the first round appears to have been denied for reasons of pure bureaucratic inefficiencies within the party have gone all over Facebook arguing they have been disenfranchised by the klikka because they intended to vote Adrian Delia.
This madness did not start with Adrian Delia. It has deep-seated routes in a number of factors.
Broadening the voting base was a romantic idea that seemed nice when first pronounced but ignored the need to balance continuity with change and political culture with popular will when choosing the party leader.
The mental and personal gap between party leadership and grassroots which has been widening since 1996 has now got to the point where these two realms barely recognise each other. That is fertile ground for party activists to get to the point where they feel the party leadership does not understand them or represent them.
Since the European mission was accomplished the party has failed to articulate a unifying vision for the next decades. Its disdain for materialism is noble but the alternative has remained vague, uncertain and incoherent. Where politics is vague politicians resort to the concrete: personality and personality politics is vain, shallow and quick to anger.
Facebook and social media has changed the political reality by democratising it and opening it up to one and all. No longer are sombre party councillors made to sit through a series of scripted speeches at quarterly conferences and made to raise their hands on cue in soviet unanimous votes to approve colourful brochures. A new agora has been laid out. But democracy, particularly of the participative type such as this, requires an educated citizenry that listens before it speaks and rates minds before hearts.
Instead we are feeling the rush of the Paris mob in the heat of September 1791 with new-found power, newly released but long suppressed anger and a cowering old regime collectively guilty of the simple sin of being there the summer before.
Adrian Delia might win the next election. Adrian Delia might lose it. This vote has become less of a choice between 4 candidates and more of a referendum for or against him. I doubt he planned it that way but that’s the way it’s turning out.
Irrespective of this outcome a deeply hurt losing side will feel a confusion and an abandonment even greater than the loss of the general election last June. Because this time they would not have lost the war, but they would have been abandoned by their own army, or so they would feel.
We are living in interesting times.