The moment Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi broke with the practice among his colleagues of giving comments to the press about the state of the party behind the veil of anonymity, Adrian Delia’s days became numbered.
Azzopardi expressed outrage at what he described as Delia’s unfair and deceptive behaviour following the parliamentary group meeting on Wednesday.
It was a five-hour session during which, according to Azzopardi, the PN leader had indicated he would reflect on his position “and come back to us, keeping in mind the greater good of the party and the country”.
Instead, Delia told the waiting reporters right after the meeting that he still enjoyed the support of his MPs and that he would be leading the party at the next election.
His comments opened the floodgates. First, an unsigned statement was issued which the Times of Malta ascertained had the backing of the majority of Nationalist MPs. It called Delia out on his claim that he enjoyed their support and urged him to reconsider.
Then MPs started coming out one by one endorsing the statement publicly. The news of Robert Arrigo’s intention to resign as deputy leader, followed by Kristy Debono as president of the general council, showed it was not business as usual for the PN.
The decision for former party stalwart Louis Galea to call for a new party leadership was the final nail in Delia’s coffin.
Matters were brought to this juncture after a Malta Today poll carried out over the weekend put Delia trailing behind Robert Abela by the widest margin ever registered between the leaders of the main political parties.
The PN has proved largely ineffectual and close to irrelevant, as Delia not only failed to take advantage of the political turmoil brought about by the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder probe but Abela is now bleeding it of its own voters.
Whether it was the lack of progressive change in the party, the constant infighting or the leader’s lack of charisma, something had to give.
Delia, having long failed to unite the party behind him, is now facing an open revolt. Even his staunchest supporters need to acknowledge that if the PN is to make any electoral inroads, Delia cannot be the man to lead it, even if he won the party councillors’ trust last summer.
As a leader, if you can no longer inspire your own people, it is time to step aside and let someone else take the lead.
The most concerning element in all this is that a properly functioning democracy, in which the government should be kept constantly accountable, requires an opposition party that presents a threat to its electoral popularity.
The PN is not that party. Delia has lost his legitimacy and needs to be replaced as soon as possible, in the interests of both party and country.
It is now a possibility that the President will be constrained to use his constitutional powers to remove the Opposition leader.
A messy transition period would be the last thing the party needs as it attempts to rebuild itself as a viable government-in-waiting.
Time, though, is of the essence. Abela may be tempted to call an early election in the wake of favourable opinion polls. Another landslide Labour victory is almost a foregone conclusion as thousands of former PN supporters continue feeling politically orphaned.
Whatever happens next, the first step is for Delia to bow his head to the inevitable and allow his party to start picking up the pieces of its shattered credibility.