The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

TMIS Editorial: Of acts of defiance and stubborn former leaders

Sunday, 26 September 2021, 10:30 Last update: about 28 days ago

Opposition Leader Bernard Grech delivered a rousing speech at the Granaries on Monday evening, but the PN’s Independence Day activity was marred by an unfortunate incident involving his predecessor, Adrian Delia.

While many were congratulating Grech for his inspiring rally cry, photos of a black-clad ‘Team Adrian Delia’ soon started doing the rounds on social media.

All of a sudden, the PN’s recently closed wound had been opened again.

Delia was criticised by many over the stunt … not only did his people show up in uniform printed with his name, as if to say that they still saw him as the party leader, but he also posed for photos with them.

Speaking to journalists later in the week, Grech said that these kinds of shenanigans are ‘unacceptable’, and he is right. The PN cannot afford – especially so close to an election – to look divided again.

We had been led to believe that the wound had healed, that all the factions involved in the bitter struggle for power over the past couple of years had reconciled, but what happened on Monday showed that, for some, this is far from the case.

It is clear that Delia’s people are still bitter about their man’s deposition, that they still regard him as being the true party leader. Which means that they do not recognise Grech as the leader of the party.

Now, one might argue that it is normal practice for general election candidates to show up at the Independence Day activities accompanied by their canvassers. People will tell you that this has been standard practice for ages … that it is quite normal for people to go to the Granaries wearing T-shirts with slogans urging people to vote for a specific candidate.

But the circumstances here are totally different. Delia is no average election candidate.

We are speaking here about someone who, rather than resigning upon seeing that he had lost the backing of the parliamentary group and the main party organs, insisted on staying on, with the PN going through a prolonged and painful crisis as a result.

Delia and his people should have been well aware that this charade would be picked up by the Labour and Labour-friendly media houses, and that they would make a big show of it, as in fact happened. Which could lead one to believe that this was deliberate.

The fact that it happened during the PN’s Independence Day eve mass meeting – it’s most ‘sacred’ political event of the year – made it much, much worse.

Now, what’s done is done, one might say, and the past cannot be changed. But what happened Monday further raises the question as to whether former party leaders should stick around under new leadership.

The truth is that, whenever someone steps down as leader but remains in the parliamentary group, they will almost certainly be seen as a threat to the new leadership. To say that old and new leaders can work in harmony is simply idealistic, and delusional.

New leaders will always find it hard to function as they should if their predecessors decide to hang around, particularly if they had occupied high positions of office.

And the opposing party media will always try to give the impression that the old leader is undermining the new one, even if this is not really the case.

This certainly was the case when Simon Busuttil stepped down as party leader but stayed on as an MP under Delia. One News blabs on about ‘Simon’s klikka’ to this very day.

The Nationalist media did the same thing when Mintoff stayed on as an MP under Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici and later under Alfred Sant. It said the same when Sant stayed on as an MP under Joseph Muscat. And it said the same when Muscat was an MP, for a few months, under incumbent party leader and Prime Minister Robert Abela.

Imagine what the PN media would be saying if Muscat was still an MP now.

On the other hand, Lawrence Gonzi had resigned his Parliamentary seat soon after Simon Busuttil became PN leader. Gonzi understood that it would do Busuttil no good for him to stick around. He knew that his presence would be seen as a challenge to his successor’s authority. He did the right thing, and every former leader should follow in his footsteps.

Leaders always enjoy huge popularity and, in some cases, a cult status. It simply does not work for them to stay there under a new leader.

If they do, the loyalties of the party members will remain divided. This is something the PN cannot afford at this stage.

The party has already lost a lot of credibility after its leadership struggle last year and, despite its new faces and fresh proposals is still lagging behind at the polls.

The last thing the PN needs right now is to become bogged down again in internal tribal warfare.

The right thing for Delia to do, for any former leader really, is to leave once and for all and give the incumbent leadership the working room it needs to unite the party under a single banner and mount the strongest possible challenge to the government.

 

 

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