Updated Wednesday 2.55am
Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia lost a vote of confidence within the party’s executive committee early on Wednesday morning, just one week after he lost the trust of the majority of the party’s MPs.
Forty-seven members voted against Delia, 35 voted for him and one person abstained in the secret vote, held following a marathon six-hour meeting.
The 84 members present were asked to vote on the question "Do you have confidence in Adrian Delia as leader of the Nationalist Party?"
'This vote has no consequence'
Speaking shortly after the vote, Delia indicated he had no intention of quitting despite its outcome.
"This vote has no consequence", he said.
"I've said it once, twice, three times. I will remain [as party leader] for as long as our people, which means our members, want me to."
Delia said those who opposed him had pushed for the vote because they knew that the PN's general council - the party's highest organ - could not, under the terms of its new statute, hold another vote of confidence in his leadership.
He also waved off suggestions that he should submit himself to a new party leadership contest open to party members, saying "ironically, members have made no such request".
Among those to have called for a new leadership race is former party leader Lawrence Gonzi, who reiterated that request during Tuesday night's meeting.
Delia said the next step would be to "ensure that party members' wishes are respected by all the party's structures".
"I just hope that all those who are saying they have the Nationalist Party at heart or the country at heart work at least a quarter of how much I work".
Resistance during meeting
The vote against Delia was sparked by a motion presented by former PN MP Michael Asciak. Delia strongly resisted that request, arguing that the vote was not on the agenda and that the party rule book did not allow it.
But as the night wore on, party grandees such as Lawrence Gonzi and Tonio Borg urged Delia to put his leadership to the test and the motion was pushed through.
The vote was held shortly after 1.15am and executive committee members were seen exiting the PN headquarters at around 1.45am, declining to comment as they did so.
The executive committee is the PN's political body and is the organ responsible for deciding on the party's political direction, its electoral candidates and decisions on disciplinary sanctions concerning party members. It can also refer proposals to the PN’s general council.
Apart from discussing and voting on Delia's leadership, during Tuesday's meeting the party executive also unanimously approved the appointments of a new electoral, data and records commission, ethics and discipline commission and social media team for the party.
Pressure from grandees
During the meeting, Delia came under pressure from senior figures within the party to loosen his grip on the party leadership.
Gonzi, who led the PN until 2013 and earlier on Tuesday urged Delia to hold an "open and fair" leadership contest as a way of settling the ongoing dispute, reiterated that message on Tuesday night.
"What is going to happen of the Nationalist Party? This isn't the party I know"- Executive committee member
Sources told Times of Malta that Gonzi spoke harshly about the way in which the party dispute had been handled and pushed Delia to allow a leadership vote. His call was met by applause and banging on desks by a number of those present.
Fellow PN grandee Tonio Borg told Delia during the executive committee meeting that he had three options: run a leadership race, allow another vote of confidence within the PN general council, or resign.
Tempers appeared to flare just before 1am, when journalists outside the building heard yelling inside the top floor meeting room.
"What is going to happen of the Nationalist Party? This isn't the party I know," a woman could be heard shouting.
Earlier in the meeting, some party executives challenged Delia to deny that he had communicated with business tycoon and murder suspect Yorgen Fenech in 2019, after Times of Malta published chats he had with Fenech that year.
Three separate people at Tuesday's meeting told Times of Malta that Delia avoided answering that question.
MPs largely silent
Around two dozen party activists gathered outside the party's Pietà headquarters on Tuesday evening ahead of the meeting.
Most of the party's MPs kept their thoughts to themselves as they entered the building. One member of the party executive, Andre Grech, spoke more freely.
Grech said he expected rebel MPs who moved against Delia to be disciplined, recalling how then-MP Franco Debono had been barred from contesting the 2013 general election as a PN candidate when he had gone against the party.
"I expect things to be equal for everyone," he said.
Back then, the PN had also barred Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Jesmond Mugliett and Hermann Schiavone from running on the party's ticket.
Internal tensions and reshuffle plans
Delia is the first PN leader in its history to have been elected to the post by the party's paid-up members, following a rule change introduced by his predecessor Simon Busuttil.
He has faced internal challenges and dissent from the outset of his leadership in 2017 and last week lost a vote of confidence among his parliamentary group last week, with 19 votes against him and 11 in his favour. But Delia refused to back down, insisting that he had been elected party leader by party members, not MPs.
The faction opposing Delia has nominated MP Therese Comodini Cachia to take his place as opposition leader but President George Vella on Monday said that he would not be replacing Delia in that role.
On Monday, Delia pledged to take immediate action, making changes to his shadow cabinet, and even singling out four MPs - Comodini Cachia, David Thake, Chris Said and Claudette Buttigieg - saying he could never have confidence in them.
The four have been the only MPs to publicly admit they were among the 19 who voted against Delia in last week's secret vote of confidence.
And while Comodini Cachia has accepted her fellow MPs' decision to take over as opposition leader in Delia's place, she told Times of Malta ahead of the meeting she has no intention of splitting the party.
"We didn't start this to split the party," she said.