Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia on Monday did not call an urgent meeting of his parliamentary group, fearing a backlash over his decision to call for his predecessor Simon Busuttil to step down soon after a similar request from the Prime Minister.

PN sources confirmed that a number of MPs on Monday officially asked Dr Delia to call an urgent meeting during which his “rushed” decision to call for Dr Busuttil to step down would be discussed by the group.

By late that day Dr Delia had not called the meeting, with party sources suggesting that the PN leader was being advised not to opt for it, as he might be close to losing his grip on the Opposition benches.

“It is clear that Dr Delia’s decision was rushed, politically naive and motivated by reasons that are not necessarily in the general interest of the party. The backlash against Dr Delia, particularly from the grassroots, has been tremendous and this was publicly exposed by many MPs on the social media,” a member of the PN executive told Times of Malta.

“It is unprecedented in the PN to make a ‘scapegoat’ out of a popular former leader, especially when it looks to be coming directly from the rival Labour Party. The leader was definitely ill-advised, and this is now risking a big divide and a possible split in the PN,” another member of the executive said.

Dr Delia severed all communication lines with independent media on Monday, and the PN’s spokesman failed to reply to questions despite promising to do so.

The spokesman was asked for a reaction to indications in the social media of discontent among MPs and party supporters.

Whirlwind of comments among party grassroots

The PN also did not reply on who Dr Delia had consulted before coming out with Sunday’s “surprise” announcement that he wanted Dr Busuttil to take responsibility for the Egrant allegations and step aside.

MPs share #notinmyname hashtag 

In what is being described as a possible “rebellion” on the PN’s parliamentary benches, it was former deputy leader Mario de Marco who sparked resistance against Dr Delia’s announcement, posting a call for unity and an indirect message of support for his former boss.

His ‘read between the lines’ #notinmyname #strongertogether message was immediately liked and endorsed by other MPs, among them some of the heavyweights and those most experienced in the PN.

These included the other former deputy leader, Beppe Fenech Adami, Jason Azzopardi, Claudio Grech, Claudette Buttigieg, Therese Comodini Cachia, Karol Aquilina and Karl Gouder.

Others refrained from copying the message exactly but sent out clear messages of solidarity with Dr Busuttil. These included Ryan Callus, Marthese Portelli and MEPs David Casa and Roberta Metsola.

On the other hand, some MPs considered to be in Dr Delia’s inner circle, such as Hermann Schiavone, Kristy Debono and secretary general Clyde Puli, expressed their support for him.

Dr Delia’s decision caused a whirlwind of comments, for and against, among the party grassroots, with former top officials of the PN including Anne Fenech, Paula Mifsud Bonnici and Rosette Thake openly calling Dr Delia’s move a bad decision.

On the other hand, party stalwart Richard Muscat backed Dr Delia openly.

On Sunday night, after Dr Busuttil said he had no intention of standing down, Dr Delia called an urgent meeting of the party’s administrative council to gather support for his decision.

While the members of the party administration endorsed Dr Delia’s statement and asked Dr Busuttil to consider his position, the council stopped short of kick-starting a procedure to suspend him from the party.

So far, the PN has failed to call a meeting of the executive committee, which is normally convened to endorse a decision taken by the administrative council.

The Times of Malta is informed that Dr Delia made his call for Dr Busuttil to step down only after discussing the issue with a small group of advisers including Clyde Puli and Pierre Portelli – chairman of the PN’s media group, who was also one of the main figures mentioned in the Egrant inquiry.

“If there is someone who needs to go, using Dr Delia’s logic, it's Pierre Portelli, as he was the only person who presented the magistrate with the documents that turned out to be falsified,” an MP told Times of Malta.

“How can he advise the leader to sack Dr Busuttil while saving his own head?” the MP argued.

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