Some very serious allegations have been made against the Leader of the Opposition, Adrian Delia, by his estranged wife Nicola Vella de Fremaux, in the course of court proceedings over his request to be granted access to his five children.

 In a sworn declaration to the court, Dr Vella de Fremaux has alleged that her husband has been violent towards her and towards the children. The court responded by granting Dr Delia limited access to his five children, three times a week and only at his in-laws’ house, failing an agreement between the couple on wider access arrangements.

The Times of Malta and The Sunday Times of Malta have always had a policy of utmost caution when it comes to family cases in the courts, especially when children are involved. Along the years, we have repeatedly decided not to publish names even when the court has not issued a ban on them.

We had access to the court documents from the outset in the case involving Dr Delia and Dr Vella de Fremaux but made the decision to take a prudent approach to publication given the sensitivity of the issues, our concern for the children’s well-being as well as the need for verification. Other sections of the media took the decision to publish before we did, and we do not criticise them for that.  

The thing is, this case is different: it is of high public interest. Dr Delia is a public figure and the allegations being made against him, if sustained, would constitute such a serious blot on his character that they would automatically disqualify him from holding any form of public office that requires the holder to enjoy the people’s trust, let alone as Leader of the Opposition and potential prime minister.

The allegations alone, however, even if as yet unproven, are enough to prompt serious doubts in the public mind about his suitability for office. Those doubts and misgivings should be sufficient reason for him to concede that the interests of his family, his party and his country require him to withdraw from his position as leader of the PN and of the Opposition.

First, his family: the reason this case has been made public is that he is a public figure. Withdrawing from the public domain would ensure that it returns to the private domain, where it belongs. Suspending himself – even if he feels he has been wronged – would be the right decision if he wants to protect his family and his children.

Secondly, his party: the PN cannot operate as a cohesive whole if this case, as we are reporting on the front page, is prompting deep division within the party. We’ve been here before, when Dr Delia had decided he wanted to get rid of former leader Simon Busuttil but was faced with such a strong internal backlash that he had to partly go back on his decision. He is again turning out to be a divisive figure.

Thirdly, the country: any democratic nation needs a strong Opposition, especially, in Malta’s case, to counter the gross abuses perpetrated by this government. A divided Opposition is a weak one, very far from the credible government-in-waiting demanded of it by voters. This case can hardly improve Dr Delia’s dismal standing in the polls, where he lags far behind Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in trust ratings.

Given the above, only an inappropriate preoccupation with his own personal welfare could lie behind his decision to stay on as leader in this situation – coming on top of a criminal investigation he is already facing around suspicions of money laundering (which he vehemently denies).

For his family, his party and his country, we urge him to make the right choice.

Failing that, the Nationalist Party must surely consider carefully the way forward. Prudence is certainly advisable, especially given the fact that no proof has yet emerged of the claims being made against him. Yet, the party can ill-afford to do nothing or even to be seen to be doing nothing. Members of its decision-making organs must convene at short notice to ask Dr Delia for his version of events, to weigh it carefully and objectively, and to deliberate what the next move might be in the party’s long-term interest – not in Dr Delia’s interest. So far this newspaper has no evidence of any of that happening.

We would urge the party and its Members of Parliament to make some hard, courageous decisions. One option would be to at least install an interim leader – one and the same for both the party and the House of Representatives – until they feel Dr Delia has regained their trust, or otherwise.

If the PN decides to have a new leader, he or she must also be endowed with a fair degree of courage and must not be afraid to face the future, even if the MEP elections are on the horizon. Frankly, the PN can hardly sink any lower as a viable Opposition, and there is hardly anywhere to go but up.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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