It would be reasonable to expect that at tonight’s PN meeting, the new leader announces his path to the office of Leader of the Opposition. Tomorrow is Independence Day and as an official of the state, an occupier of a ranking constitutional title, the Leader of the Opposition participates in the formal ceremonies of the state.
Joseph Muscat had made it his populist habit of publicly expressing contempt for state ceremony. It was for the PN to constantly remind everyone that the symbols of the republic are not ego trips for the pompous and the self-important. They are what the French used to call the manifestation of the secular religion. The later Marxists, transitioning from anti-bourgeois cynicism, recognised the importance of ceremony and state ritual as a binding cement of identity and belonging to a collective.
As leader of the largest opposition party, the leader of the PN personifies the democratic balance between the executive power of those chosen by the majority and the moderating scrutiny of those representing the minority. There is no democracy without opposition. There is no constitution without institutions. There are no institutions without the persons who carry the roles for some time, even if briefly.
It would be reasonable to expect Adrian Delia to be standing in the role of Leader of the Opposition at our Independence Day memorial tomorrow.
After all, repeatedly in his campaign for leadership, he reassured everyone that his election to Parliament – which is necessary for the President to be able to swear him in as Leader of the Opposition – was a formality he had fully prepared for.
Journalists asking him the question on how he planned to find his way to Parliament were thinking beyond the 2nd of September. When replying to them that his election to Parliament was all arranged, it was presumed Adrian Delia too was thinking beyond the 2nd of September.
To be fair there has been a lot of head scratching about what he actually might have had in mind. The bi-elected MPs were all asked whether they would give up their seat and their replies sounded rather categorical in the negative.
The Partit Demokratiku would have to cooperate if he planned to replace anyone of the other PN MPs but that clearly did not appear to be Adrian Delia’s strategy. The confrontation with Simon Busuttil – himself the broker and the personal interlocutor with Marlene Farrugia – ruled out any cooperation from the PD. On TV Adrian Delia went on to denounce the pre-electoral PN-PD alliance as a mistake and an error of judgement of the old elite.
Forza Nazzjonali effectively drew its last breath when Adrian Delia was elected PN leader. To expect PD’s self-sacrifice now when cooperation with them has been apparently renounced as official party policy is, clearly, mindless optimism.
Leaks of long meetings with Ivan Bartolo and Maria Deguara over the last two days betray the fact that after all there was no plan. There was a bluff that proved sufficient to dismiss any arguments from Chris Said that it was safer for the members to elect an MP as a party leader. But no plan as such.
There also was, it seems, the hope that the resounding majority expected from last Saturday’s ballot would be enough to brow-beat some MP or other to submit to the leader’s will. There is a lot to be said for that expectation. The number of unelected candidates who lined up on Facebook the last three days saying they would fall on their sword for the new leader if only they had one is remarkable. Of course it is easy to offer that which one does not have to give.
Anyone who tried and failed, or tried and managed, to obtain a parliamentary seat knows how much it is they would be giving up.
Getting that seat requires years of hard unpaid work, knocking on doors hoping not to face undiluted hostility behind every door, like postmen braving ‘beware of the dogs’ signs. It requires years of lines of people demanding the impossible and complaining when it is obtained for them. It requires years of indistinguishable cacophonies of brass band concerts and amateur sopranos overdoing the vibrato in the Ave Maria. It requires expenses in feeding and buying drinks for the ungrateful, the hostile, the indifferent and the fake. It requires misguided charity in funding fireworks and poorly managed village clubs. It requires competing with friends and losing to backstabbers. It requires doing so in the full knowledge that the expense made in money and family can never be recovered.
Keeping that seat once you get it is even harder but then you have to pretend you enjoy it and you smile as you glorify the experience as your spirit dies a little bit more inside.
Obviously the question after all that candour asks itself: why would anyone in their right mind go for such a thing? And, as you might expect, the intuitive suspicion plays itself out and many assume ‘they must do it for some reason’. The altruism, public generosity and sense of duty it takes for people to run this gauntlet in the four years leading to every election cycle is so rare, many fail to recognise it when they see it.
The seat in Parliament is not the reward for that effort. Things only get harder once elected. But it is the platform the candidates worked so hard for in order to be able to make a contribution to their community.
It is indeed a big ask to have them give it all up after all the effort.
It is indeed a bigger ask to give way to someone who short-circuited all that hard work.
Backed by an underwhelming majority vote in Saturday’s poll and the moral authority of a party leader who has been all of three days in the job, Adrian Delia needs one of those MPs, all of which feel they have done more than their bit to earn it, to give up their Parliamentary seat.
One of them will give way, probably today. They will be hailed a hero and the sword they fall on will be gifted back to them like a rudis from antiquity. But if the soon to be ex-MP was not elected in a bi-election do not under-estimate how the failed candidates eligible to contest a bi-election might feel about being asked not to run. They too underwent the ordeal of campaigning for a seat and the fact they did not get it does not make it easier.
Ultimately what Adrian Delia is left with is a wider acceptance of the inevitable symbiosis between his will and the will of the party. Party leaders earn that sort of aura over years. Adrian Delia needs it now. In this great test, and in many others yet to come, people at the wrong end of his desk must perceive his command as the incarnation of the collective will of the party. What he wants is what the party wants. What he needs is the good of the party.
When he announces the resolution of this steeplechase to a parliamentary seat, Adrian Delia will announce the triumph of his will.
Then he can lay a wreath at the Independence Memorial.