Sunday 25 September 2022

A private battle under public scrutiny

This article first appeared in Malta Today

Malta has spent the last days of 2018 and the first few days of 2019 discussing the marital troubles of PN Opposition Leader Adrian Delia, and his estranged wife Nickie Vella de Fremeaux who has now accused him of domestic violence as well as cruelty towards their children.  Because they have become public knowledge, everyone feels that they are entitled to openly discuss the allegations online as they would some turgid TV melodrama, little caring whether by doing so the five children in the middle of all this have had their lives forever ruined by becoming the subject of national gossip.

It’s purely because of the children that I find it extremely callous and heartless that all the details have now spilled over into the public arena.  Should this private battle have been thrust into the public domain for everyone to scrutinize?  Separation proceedings which turn ugly as this one seems to be doing are notorious for ending up becoming a no-holds-barred brawl where nothing is off limits. However, ever since this story broke, media outlets are insisting that the public has a right to know, even though a large percentage of the comments underneath the articles are telling them otherwise.  

On the other hand, because of Adrian Delia’s position, the wider political implications of what has been happening cannot be ignored. 

The acrimonious marital separation has split public opinion on what should happen next. There are those who feel Delia should immediately resign because the allegations must be true; and yes, in normal circumstances, domestic violence is a serious enough accusation to merit automatic resignation. 

Alternatively, some say that even if the allegations are false, he should step aside until he clears his name and because he cannot possibly fulfill his public role properly under this intense media glare and family turmoil.  This line of thought, however, fails to take into account that if the allegations are unsubstantiated, his political career and his reputation will never recover (even though they are probably beyond repair already).  Stepping down in some people’s eyes is tantamount to an admission of guilt, and he will forever be disgraced. 

Still another point of view is that the timing of the allegations is part of a smear campaign which is not so much a custody battle as it is a plot to bring him down politically, so they are urging Delia to stick to his guns and stay put.   

There is also another aspect to consider: following the leaked recordings of family arguments, there has been an unexpected outpouring of public sympathy towards Delia which is coming from all quarters by those who feel this is an orchestrated character assassination, which might even bolster his ratings rather than finish him off.  This is also understandable.  After all, all those raising teenagers who have never had a screaming argument with them, raise your hand. Now imagine someone recorded and leaked that argument selectively and how it would make you look. So it might just be the case that whoever is behind the leaks has overplayed their hand and all of this will backfire. 

I mentioned ‘normal’ circumstances earlier because in this case, the circumstances are anything but. Adrian Delia is not just any politician, he is the leader of the Opposition elected by card-carrying party members, who from the get-go has been beset by internal strife by those within the party who have never accepted him because of his dubious business dealings and only needed one more reason to hate him.  Of course, it also goes without saying that he needs to lead by example and absolutely cannot be at the helm of a party if what he is being accused of is true. In the highly charged atmosphere of a society where domestic violence is often not taken seriously, the fact that he is being accused of possibly one of the worst accusations that can be thrown at a man has further exacerbated the whole issue.  Personally, I am reserving my judgement, because I am of the opinion that only those inside the marriage itself can ever truly know what goes on behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, every one of us who writes about current events has to take careful responsibility for the way this story is handled – the breakdown of a marriage is such an intimate, fragile thing and anyone who has experienced it (which is roughly one third of the country), can and should put themselves in the shoes of this couple and especially that of their children, and imagine how they would feel if their own break up and family squabbles were being discussed in such minute detail and with such reckless abandon.   

Maybe the best solution at this point would be for the party to hold a vote of no confidence and take it from there. Of course, this presupposes that there is someone ready and willing to take over the role of leader who can try to bring some semblance of unity within this bedraggled party.  


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