Updated at 8.10pm
Adrian Delia saw off an internal Nationalist Party challenge and will continue on as PN leader after 67 per cent of party councillors voted in his favour during a confidence vote on Saturday.
The almost 1,500 councillors had been asked on the ballot sheet “Do you want Adrian Delia to lead the PN until the next general election?”
920 councillors voted in favour of Dr Delia, with 438 against. Twenty-two votes were invalid, the PN’s electoral commission president Francis Zammit Dimech said.
In total, Dr Delia won 67 per cent of the vote. In a statement announcing the result, the PN said that Dr Delia had "increased his share of the vote by 50 per cent" when compared to his election as party leader in September 2017.
Speaking to councillors after the vote, Dr Delia pledged to listen to the concerns of those who had voted against him.
“I will not interpret this yes vote as a sign that there’s nothing to fix,” he said, before inviting his naysayers to stand alongside him.
“You also want a strong party,” he told them.
“Have faith in our party and play a part from the inside rather than out. Be at the forefront of change”.
Councillors were summoned to cast their vote after a group of PN members dissatisfied with Dr Delia’s leadership had presented a petition calling on the party leader to submit himself to a confidence vote.
Following weeks of infighting and arguing over procedural issues, the vote was held on Saturday during an extraordinary general council session.
Roughly one in three councillors had already cast their vote earlier in the week, taking advantage of an early voting provision the party had introduced.
By the time the ballot boxes were sealed shut at 6pm on Saturday, 92 per cent - 1,380 - of eligible councillors had had their say.
Questions about the PN and Dr Delia’s control of it resurfaced last month after the party suffered the worst electoral drubbing in its history during European Parliament and local council elections.
Nevertheless, Dr Delia has repeatedly said that his internal critics are in a minority and do not represent broader sentiment about his leadership.
He drove home that point on Saturday morning, when he warned PN councillors of a 'pseudo-democracy' taking hold of the party. In the weeks prior to the vote, he had slammed “certain MPs”, “pseudo-bloggers and pseudo-NGOs”, which he said were scheming to oust him.
The challenge to Dr Delia was fronted by a group led by entrepreneur, party member and former electoral candidate Ivan Bartolo and four other PN members.
Speaking earlier on Saturday, Mr Bartolo indicated that he would fall into line if the vote went Dr Delia’s way.
“We will back the the leader, or back off,” he had said to applause from councillors.
In a statement issued shortly after the result was announced, the group of five PN members led by Mr Bartolo said that the result was further proof that a substantial share of voters – both within the PN and the broader electorate - were alienated by the party’s current leadership.
Dr Delia would now have to make the changes and decisions needed to win them over, they said.
“We will continue to contribute, as we have done over these years for the good of the Nationalist Party,” they said.
First confidence vote in seven years
It was the first time in more than seven years that PN councillors had been called upon to cast a vote in favour or against their party leader.
The last time a PN leader was subjected to a confidence vote was in February 2012, when then-Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, beset by problems within his parliamentary group, asked PN councillors to state whether they wanted him to remain.
Dr Gonzi won a 96.5 per cent majority during that vote and would continue on as PN leader until after the 2013 general election loss to Joseph Muscat's Labour Party.