It is no secret that six weeks into his role as PN chief, Adrian Delia has not managed to align his parliamentary group behind him. It is unclear from the outside what the extent of the resistance is but it feels considerable.

It did not start out well for Adrian Delia. But the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia precisely one month into his term transformed the very difficult into the seemingly impossible.

The issue has transformed from a level of scepticism and doubt to a certainty for some that the PN cannot be led by Adrian Delia and at the same time put up a credible opposition to the government in the present, defining crisis.

Rebel opposition MPs are not looking for a leader they think is “better”. They are looking not to be led by one that is effectively disqualified by virtue of his own very short record in politics to speak on behalf of the nation about how the government created an environment in which Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination was inevitable.

At the time when all institutions designed to hold the government to account are failing, the least the country needs is the failure of the parliamentary opposition as well. It should be the most articulate and the most vociferous advocate of resistance. And yet, several MPs have anonymously told the press it is impossible for them to stand behind Adrian Delia as he mouths the right words but personifies inconsistency.

It is not like Adrian Delia does not have support in the parliamentary group. He does have plenty loyalists.

But while the opportunity to finally force Joseph Muscat to face the public’s anger and assume responsibility; whilst even the opportunity to harness public sentiment on the failings of our institutions in order to build a new republic, passes us by, the parliamentary opposition fails in its duty to give the people of Malta the leadership they need.

For this is what parliamentary oppositions are for. To negate and oppose, to resist and defy, to reveal and question the government. And the present authoritarian, obfuscating, possessive, overbearing, arrogant, corrupt government can only be matched by the sharpest, most consistent, best prepared opposition to it.

The subject of Adrian Delia can no longer remain at the centre of the current political crisis. This is a side show that is not helping anyone. The MPs who are withholding their support to the new leader are not merely conditioned by their personal likes and dislikes. They are reflecting the loud messages of their constituents who essentially warn them that as voters they are as detached from an Adrian Delia-led party as they have ever been from Labour.

You hear the argument that if rebel MPs are so principled in their objection why do they not quit the PN and form their own party? I expect their answer, if they had the political courage to speak outdoors, would be that frankly their problem is not the PN. They are perfectly happy within the party they’ve called home all their life. Why should they move out of the home they built because the new tenant is not fitting in?

There is a flipside to this. Adrian Delia was elected legitimately to his position, according to the rules of the house. The rebel MPs are in defiance of the membership’s choice and therefore challenging the democratic process itself.

The conundrum feels intractable and while the two sides of the argument entrench themselves, the opposition is not only irrelevant, it is actually the target of hostility as it throws itself in the long list of institutions failing the public that pays for them.

This has to be solved now. By the end of the week. If it is, there is no guarantee Joseph Muscat will not again get away with it. But if it isn’t solved by the end of the week, it is guaranteed that, with the unwitting support of the PN, Joseph Muscat will gloriously extend his incumbency when he least deserves it.

We need to think hard here to find a solution to this.

First some basics because there are many misconceptions around. Malta is a democracy and the PN is a democratic party. But Malta is also a republic and within that republic the PN is but a club of like-minded people.

The republic has a codebook called the constitution and the constitution knows no party leaders or elections from party members. The constitution knows the leader of the opposition who is identified as the person enjoying the support of the largest number of members of Parliament not supporting the government. That does not make the constitution less democratic than the PN’s internal processes. The constitution identifies the MPs as electors because they in turn have been elected directly by the people. And that election was not restricted to party members. It was by universal suffrage.

In Westminster terms the MPs elected on the PN ticket form the parliamentary party. The constitution is blind to the leadership of a political party and therefore leadership of the PN does not constitutionally entitle anyone automatically to leadership of the parliamentary opposition. Rather, if anything, it’s the other way round.

If the President gets wind of a critical mass of opposition MPs disapproving of Adrian Delia as leader of the opposition, she would have to ask Adrian Delia to prove he enjoys the support of a majority of non-government MPs. That would have to include the two Partit Demokratiku MPs who have been unambiguous in withholding their support to him. If those two were to be included in a count, Adrian Delia’s chances would be slimmer.

Adrian Delia should therefore get to the bottom of this now. As John Major put it in an analogous situation the critics within his parliamentary party should now put up or shut up and he should challenge them to do so.

Adrian Delia should, now, call his parliamentary party to a secret ballot of confidence in his leadership of the opposition. If he wins it he is not only entitled to keep his office but in my opinion also fire from the whip any MP who persists in resisting him even after the ballot.

If he loses the ballot, he is obviously no longer leader of the opposition. Having been toppled from that post he would serve the best interest of the party to resign his leadership of it.

The argument that he has only recently been elected by party members would not hold water if such an outcome were to materialise. Elections elect people but they don’t give them an entitlement to the position they are elected to. They can stay there for as long as their position is tenable. And a party leader who has just been dismissed as leader of the opposition is not in a tenable position.

It is true that it is rare for someone to lose their job during their probation period but scarcity changes nothing.

Adrian Delia’s would turn out a tragic political journey if it were to come to that. To say he was unlucky would be an understatement though at least some of what happened to him would have been a product of short-sightedness. His campaigning rhetoric was harmful and unacceptable even as he was pronouncing it from his pulpit. But when Daphne Caruana Galizia died the memory of that rhetoric became a political millstone.

The PN, Adrian Delia, his supporters, his challengers, owe it to the people of Malta to clean up the mess they’re in right now. Before sunset. They have a job they’re paid for and they’re not doing it. The national agenda needs to shift from Adrian Delia to Joseph Muscat by the morning. And the country needs to look up from its current despair of feeling it has no alternative to resort to if the bid to make Joseph Muscat accept responsibility for the present crisis is successful.

It’s time to put up or shut up.

The photo with this post is from Malta Today.