Nationalist Party MPs on Thursday found themselves between a rock and a hard place, with many of them wanting to make a move to remove party leader Adrian Delia, but fearing the criticism of running roughshod over party members who elected him.
Tensions increased within the party over the past weeks as it gained no traction among the people despite the problems in the government which led to Joseph Muscat’s resignation.
Labour’s smooth transition to a new leader, and a newspaper opinion poll showing Delia’s rating continuing to slide, compounded the problem.
MPs piled pressure on Delia to resign at a parliamentary group meeting on Wednesday. Informed sources said only two people backed the PN leader.
MPs want Delia to jump, rather than be pushed
“It was a respectful meeting, the mood was one where the majority of MPs wanted Delia to go, but they did not wish to humiliate him. They wanted him to jump rather than be pushed,” an MP said.
But the mood changed to anger in the hours after the meeting. During the meeting, Dr Delia told the MPs that he would consider the way forward in view of what they had told him, but then he told waiting reporters that he would stay on as party leader until the next election.
Former minister Jason Azzopardi in an angry Facebook post on Thursday morning said he was “very upset, deceived and honestly, flabbergasted” by Dr Delia’s comments.
“He should have been man enough to tell us that he had already decided, and that no matter what the absolute majority of the MPs told him bluntly today, he was going to simply ride roughshod over our positions and what the absolute majority of the electorate feels about him,” Dr Azzopardi said.
The key to Dr Azzopardi’s remarks was his reference to "the absolute majority of the MPs".
Dr Delia now finds himself in the same position that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had been in December.
At the time, Dr Delia himself had been calling on the President to exercise his constitutional role by replacing Dr Muscat.
Dr Delia quoted an article in the constitution which says that: “the President shall appoint as Prime Minister the member of the House of Representatives who, in his judgment, is best able to command the support of a majority of the members of that House.”
The problem for Dr Delia is that the constitution also provides that the President may remove the leader of the opposition if he no longer commands the support of the majority of Opposition MPs.
Article 90 (4) of the Constitution says that: “If in the judgement of the President, a member of the House of Representatives other than the Leader of the Opposition, has become the leader in the House of the opposition party having the greatest numerical strength in the House or, as the case may be, the Leader of the Opposition has ceased to command the support of the largest single group of members in opposition to the government, the President shall revoke the appointment of the Leader of the Opposition.”
“The President can act on his own initiative. He can call in the Opposition MPs individually to ask them if they support Dr Delia. If not, he may proceed to appoint somebody else,” an MP observed.
The issue is whether the President views the current situation as an internal PN issue, or whether it impacts wider democracy since the leader of the opposition is a Constitutional post.
Another MP said the President would have to act if even one Opposition MP called at his office saying the leader of the opposition had no majority.
The Nationalist MPs, however, are reluctant to push the President’s hand with a motion of no confidence within the parliamentary group.
They also do not wish to call another vote in the general council, just six months after Dr Delia obtaining 68% in a similar vote.
“Should we push the PN through another trauma? But can we stay as we are?” an MP said.