‘The party belongs to its members,’ runs the motto of the Adrian Delia campaigners. They chose him to lead it and any attempt to remove him robs them of their right to choose the boss.
That is not the logic of democratic systems but the logic of elected monarchies, even absolute monarchies. There aren’t many left and there haven’t been many to begin with but there’s a country that famously chooses its absolute monarch by ballot: the Vatican. Like the tesserati, cardinals are a group of select electors who in a free and secret ballot choose their king. Once chosen he’s on the throne for life (or until he chooses to relinquish it). No one can push him out even if nobody likes him.
By that logic Adrian Delia said it did not matter that the majority of the Nationalist Party’s MPs does not have confidence in him. He said it did not matter that the majority of the members of the party’s executive organ does not have confidence in him.
At this point, failing Adrian Delia’s resignation, the next step would have logically been to ask the party’s general conference to pronounce whether it has confidence in the party boss: that’s the general council made up of about 1,500 people mostly elected from the party’s branches and local committees.
Adrian Delia yesterday wanted to cut to the chase. He announced before the executive committee started meeting that he would bring in all party members again to vote on whether they wanted him to stay on.
That idea for a plebiscite was presented as some democratic initiative. Again, the historical comparisons are rare but very significant. Napoleon became First Consul of France by coup d’état. He needed legitimacy so he submitted the question on whether he should be made Consul for Life (i.e. dictator) to a general plebiscite. When he decided to restore the monarchy with him as founder of a new dynasty he again submitted the move to a plebiscite. He won both resoundingly. But his was the only name on those ballot sheets.
A plebiscite looks like democracy because it involves voting. But when one is asked to vote to confirm a dictator, one is not in a democracy; one is in a dictatorship.
Adrian Delia would like to think there’s something of a Napoleon about him. But as with Joseph Muscat before him, his is Bonapartism without Bonaparte: a hollow, unjustified, vain self-adulation, a self-referential cultism that isn’t even mitigated by some redeeming leadership qualities. The founder of this faith of dilute-to-taste revolving-door demigods was Franco Debono: first in the line of petty divinities cast largely out of unwarranted self-confidence.
Adrian Delia thought he was being smart. He rightly expected the executive committee to push back on this neat dictatorial coup wrapped in the trappings of a democratic confirmation. So, his trolls were prepared with a Facebook barrage accusing the “rebels”, as they are called without affection, of wanting to deny party-members a say in their leadership and to choose for them instead.
The simple truth is that there is universal agreement that the system of having card-carrying members choose the party leader brought the Nationalist Party into the catastrophic state it is now. It is reminiscent of Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici’s democratisation of the Malta Dry Docks where the Board of Directors was elected by and from among the shop-floor workers. That disaster was as definitive as it was predictable.
But that does not mean the system of choosing the PN leader can be reversed. There is no way a successor of Adrian Delia can have sufficient legitimacy to take over the party if they are not elected by the same suffrage that chose Adrian Delia before them. The mind-numbing arguments on legitimacy would never end and this would become something like the War of the Roses, without the benefit of Shakespearean flourish.
Although technically still a possibility, Adrian Delia’s proposal for a plebiscite by the card-carrying members to say yay or nay on his confirmation was not approved by the executive committee. Instead the decision was shifted to the general council that was given the choice between doing Adrian Delia’s bidding and have him confirmed by the party’s members or the alternative option of removing Adrian Delia’s right to lead the party and open the process of a new election in which the incumbent would have to face others in an open competition for the top job.
What does this mean exactly? The general council will now vote on a confidence motion in the leader in all but name. If they vote for a confirmatory plebiscite they would effectively be endorsing Adrian Delia and recommending him to the party members. If they vote for a fresh election they would effectively be declaring they have no confidence in Adrian Delia and want instead to consider new options for his replacement.
Because understand that if they choose a fresh election, then the method of choosing the new leader will be identical to the method that chose Adrian Delia. Yes, in the end it will need the vote of card-carrying members but there’s a stage before that. It is the general council that hands over to the party members the identity of the two candidates from which they are to choose the one to win.
That means that if Adrian Delia decided to run again for the post he’s in now, he would need to be at least the general council’s second favourite choice if the party members are even to get a chance to consider retaining him.
It’s not game over by any means. The bullying from Adrian Delia and his henchmen (and women) is like nothing ever seen before within the walls of the Nationalist Party. Right up to yesterday’s executive committee meeting, intransigence, threats, banging, shouting, swearing and screaming have become the order of the day. Adrian Delia himself happily and repeatedly misquoted the party’s statute in defence of his interests and against the interests of the party itself. Perhaps it is the willingness to twist the rules that his campaign meant with the saintly title ‘avukat ta’ klassi’.
People who have since left the party after years of service, recall with horror the intimidation and the corrupt practices of the leadership election of June to September 2017. A fresh leadership campaign now is bound to be worse with key Adrian Delia allies occupying the party’s media, buildings, offices, organs and resources. A siege on the party with Adrian Delia’s hordes on the outside was an ugly affair. A siege with Adrian Delia’s last remaining desperados on the inside is not going to be prettier.
The so-called rebels have not won the battle for their party. They have merely managed to force Adrian Delia to their battle field. But though the lines are drawn, these armies are still covered in mist. No one knows the scale of support Adrian Delia enjoys in the Nationalist Party membership. The indicators from the general population are likely misleading. Card-carrying members are not a representative sample of people who typically vote for the Nationalist Party. The divorce between the frames of mind of the two sets of people cannot be underestimated.
And fear cannot be underestimated either. The worst-case scenarios for the PN cannot be ruled out yet. Voter manipulation, weaknesses in the process, control of the party media, good old-fashioned intimidation and unregulated funding including from corrupt sources can still win the day for Adrian Delia. They can even scare off contenders who decide to pass on the opportunity to run in an open contest for fear of running in an unfair race.
Such is the state of this party: where the mania for political survival has driven out decency, fairness and a shared understanding of the rules and a commitment to play by them.
Yesterday’s executive committee resolution brings the party the closest it’s been since September 2017 to opening its eyes and waking from this lucid nightmare. But it’s also the closest the PN has been to its final dénouement, the last fire that would confine it to history.
Once again it is the members of the party that will have to choose. Will it be the blue pill this time?