The Malta Independent 19 September 2019, Thursday

‘We are facing a total meltdown at the next general election’ – Mark Anthony Sammut

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 21 July 2019, 09:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Many PN General Council members are torn between their loyalty to the Party, and their loyalty to the Party leader, former PN Executive Committee Chairman Mark Anthony Sammut told The Malta Independent on Sunday in an interview. During the interview, he was asked about the upcoming vote and whether he believes the result will be respected. He was also asked whether many party members have issues with Delia, or whether their issues are with those who are around him

The Nationalist Party is facing a total meltdown at the next general election, according to former PN Executive Committee Chairman Mark Anthony Sammut in an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday.

The leader of the Party, Adrian Delia, has faced a new wave of criticism since the PN’s massive defeats in the MEP and Local Council elections. Disagreements within the Party have led a number of councillors to add their signatures to a call for a general council meeting to be convened and to vote on whether or not it has confidence in Delia. Sammut was one such person.

The PN General Council is due to meet on the 27th of this month to discuss the way forward, following the 25th May election results. During this meeting a vote of confidence in Leader Adrian Delia will be called. Councillors will be asked “Should the leader of the Party, Adrian Delia, remain leading the PN until the next election?”

During the interview, Sammut was asked what he thinks the PN can achieve by the time of the next general election, if Delia wins and unites the Party.

“The results of the MEP and Local Council elections speak for themselves. The writing is on the wall. We are facing a total meltdown at the next general election. With our vote on the 27th July we have a unique opportunity to stop that from happening. I believe our councillors are able to see this: we can avoid another humiliation if we do what must be done.”

Asked whether PN MPs who opposed Delia would fall in line if the vote goes in Delia’s favour, he said that there had been some “irresponsible behaviour” from some MPs on social media, but they “cannot be blamed for going public if they were not given any space internally”.

“Trust is not owed. It must be earned. You cannot force MPs to support you if you exclude them, or if your most trusted aides troll onto them on social media, in a systematic and organised manner. Some of the most competent MPs are today completely excluded.”

 

Some people also fear that the PN could split into separate parties. Given the current climate in the PN, could this materialise?

None of us want that to happen, as it would always give an advantage to the Labour Party.

 

If Delia wins, and if the Party unites, what do you honestly think the PN can achieve by the next general election? Do you think the gap can be closed or is there no chance of that with Delia at the helm?

The results of the MEP and Local Council elections speak for themselves. The writing is on the wall. We are facing a total meltdown at the next general election and with our vote on the 27th we have a unique opportunity to stop that from happening.

I believe that our councillors are able to see this and we can avoid another humiliation if we do what must be done.

 

If the Council backs Adrian Delia through the vote, will you and the others who signed the petition calling for it, accept the vote or will the vocal opposition to Delia continue? 

I am a democrat and I always respect the outcome of every vote. When Fenech Adami and Gonzi called a vote of confidence in their leadership, they garnered well over 90 per cent of the vote, even though only a two-thirds majority is required when the Leader runs uncontested. Let’s hope that Delia can bring himself to live by these standards as well. We must not forget that this is not just about the councillors. This is about whether he can enjoy the trust of the wider electorate, who are not obliged to accept anything decided by the Party: the results last May spoke volumes about that.

 

What would happen if the vote results in the councillors not backing Delia, but he does not resign?

That would be the height of irresponsibility. A Party Leader cannot lead with just half the Party backing him. Even our statute requires that if there is a sole candidate in the last round of the leadership election, he needs at least 66 per cent of the vote in order to be approved. Previous leaders had always made it clear that they would resign even if they got less than 80 per cent of the vote when running uncontested, let alone if they lost the vote, as they could not accept being a source of division within the Party.

 

There are some who argue that, while Delia is a controversial person to have leading the PN, the main issues of many are not with him, but with those around him. Is this the case? If they were removed (please specify who), would Delia see more general support from all sides?

The buck stops with the Party Leader – always. This is what we always did in our Party and this is what previous Party Leaders did. When Eddie Fenech Adami, Lawrence Gonzi and Simon Busuttil lost elections, they bit the bullet and assumed responsibility. They did not point fingers at others around them. It is a pity that Adrian Delia did not do the right thing and left us with no choice but to force the issue. So, no, ultimately the responsibility always lies with the Party Leader.

 

If Delia wins, should he keep the same people at the helm of the administration or change them? If he should replace someone, who should it be?

Changes need to happen, whichever way the vote goes. For instance, during his leadership campaign Delia promised that Assistant Secretary Generals, or appointed Directors, would be precluded from running for political office. But he failed to deliver on this, so he cannot blame anyone but himself.

 

There has been strong opposition to Delia from a number of PN MPs since the very start. Do you believe they would fall in line if the vote goes in Delia’s favour?

There has been some irresponsible behaviour from a handful of MPs, particularly on the social media. But you cannot blame them for going public if they are not given any space internally. Trust is not owed: it must be earned. You cannot force MPs to support you if you exclude them, or if your most trusted aides troll them on social media, in a systematic and organised manner. Today, some of the most competent MPs are completely excluded, and that is a terrible loss for the Party and for our democracy.

 

How do you think the vote will go?  Do you have any initial indications as to the number of councillors who do not have faith in Delia?

I will not speculate on how the vote will go. I just rely on the maturity of the councillors and their loyalty to the Party. Many are currently torn between their loyalty to the Party and their loyalty to the leader. They must now listen to their conscience and ask themselves whether Adrian Delia can win us a general election or, indeed, if he can hand a two-thirds majority to Labour. We are not electable and it is for councillors to face this reality on Saturday. It is a difficult decision, but it must be taken.

 

Delia tries to paint a picture that his door is always open to anyone. In your experience, is this the case?

It is not just about opening doors, nor is it about what you say. It is about what you do. Unfortunately, there is a wide chasm between Delia’s words and his actions. And the result is there for all to see: a dysfunctional and divided Party that is not even able to mount a serious opposition in the country.

 

You and the other petitioners originally feared that amendments to the question which was to be put to the general council would favour Delia. Originally a ‘yes’ vote would have been for Delia to resign, yet now the question has changed and a ‘yes’ vote endorses him. The Executive Committee then unanimously agreed on the question. Why did you agree to the change?

Our initial objection was not merely an issue of whether the question favours Delia or not. Ultimately, I believe Councillors are mature enough to understand what they are voting for. We objected because we felt that the Statute was not being respected. Adrian Delia had repeatedly been advised and asked to call for a vote of confidence himself, as that would have been the responsible way out of the impasse. A month was wasted during which he repeatedly refused, even when asked directly by journalists. It was at that point that more than 150 Councillors decided that, for the sake of the Party, we had to take the initiative ourselves. We are not petitioners. Petitioners are those who ask for something that is not theirs by right. We did not ask, we convened the General Council as it is our right to do so – equal to the right of the Party Leader.

But rather than respecting our statutory right to convene a General Council, the Party leadership decided to delay the decision on the date and time of the General Council and, in the meantime, promote another call by another group of Councillors. It was only then that Adrian Delia decided to call a General Council meeting himself.

The Party was therefore presented with three valid calls for a General Council meeting on the same issue – a ridiculous and divisive situation, when logic would have dictated that the original call should have been honoured. It was at this point that, out of a sense of responsibility, we decided that we would rather agree to a compromise question than allow three votes on the same issue, which would have led to chaos. It is very telling that the compromise had to come from us, not from the leadership.

 

Some people argue that it was a mistake to open up voting for a Party Leader to the all party members (tesserati). In hindsight, what is your opinion on this?

In principle, widening democracy is good, but the system might have its flaws. For instance, there was no filter or adequate due diligence on candidates. Any tesserat could contest, without any checks on his suitability and without having ever faced an election or media scrutiny.

Democracy, however, does not mean that once you are elected you have some sort of ‘security of tenure’. There are other parties in Europe and across the world where party members vote to select their leaders. But even though they are elected by this system, those leaders still have to earn the confidence of their Parliamentary Group and Party structures every single day. Just look at Theresa May.

This is not about how Delia was elected, however. He would probably have been elected even with just the General Council vote. This is about whether, given what has happened in these last two years, he can ever win us a general election.

 

What is your opinion on Louis Galea being appointed President of AZAD? Has his work already begun to be felt within the Party?

He certainly has both the experience and the ability to help the Party. But Louis Galea on his own is not enough for the Party to win back my generation. This appointment, however, gives us the serenity that if Delia loses the vote, we know that we already have someone in place to continue the necessary Party reforms over the next year. There will be no vacuum after the 27th.

The Party can find competent people to do the job: it always has.

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