PN leader Adrian Delia got into hot water with a section of the party grassroots over David Agius and Clyde Puli’s presence at his first meeting with the Prime Minister, Times of Malta has learnt.
Party sources said the presence of the two MPs was felt to be completely out of place, because it seemed to convey a very strong message they were Dr Delia’s two “anointed” deputy leaders.
Mr Agius, who is also the party whip, has already declared his intention to seek election as deputy leader for parliamentary affairs. Mr Puli, who is very close to Dr Delia, is being touted as a possible deputy leader for party affairs.
Robert Arrigo is also expected to throw his name in the hat, and both Kristy Debono and Chris Said have not excluded joining the race. The elections are set to take place by the end of the year.
The sources pointed out that outgoing deputies Mario de Marco and Beppe Fenech Adami were not asked to attend Tuesday’s meeting with Joseph Muscat at Labour headquarters in Ħamrun.
Asked about it immediately after the meeting, Dr Delia said Mr Puli and Mr Agius had accompanied him on his instructions. He insisted there was “no political” reason behind their presence and it was not meant to exclude anybody else.
Still, his decision gave rise to criticism within the party.
“The presence of the two MPs has been perceived as a strong message if not an endorsement by Dr Delia of his two preferred candidates for the deputy leadership,” said a party official, who insisted on anonymity.
“It is quite ironic, if not unfair, that, having complained that the party establishment was against him, the newly elected PN leader should act in such manner,” he added.
Party activists who spoke with this newspaper but preferred to remain anonymous expressed concern that Dr Delia’s decision about Mr Puli and Mr Agius could cause further rifts within the party following the bitter leadership campaign.
When asked about the matter, a PN spokesman yesterday said both MPs had been asked to accompany the leader in their respective capacities as whip and MP who had also advised Dr Delia in the past months.
“As already stated by the leader elsewhere, in the coming days and weeks, different MPs will be assigned different tasks and involved in different activities as is the prerogative of the leader and surely in the best interests of party and the country,” the spokesman said.
Mr Puli is one of the few remaining MPs who was part of the last PN government, led by Lawrence Gonzi between 2008 and 2003. He served as parliamentary secretary for youth and sport.
Mr Agius has been uninterruptedly elected to Parliament since 2003 and has been the Nationalist Party’s parliamentary group whip since 2008.