The Malta Independent 21 March 2019, Thursday

George Vella favourite to be appointed the next President of Malta

Rachel Attard Sunday, 6 January 2019, 11:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Former Labour Foreign Minister George Vella is the favourite to become the next President of Malta, The Malta Independent on Sunday has learnt.

Senior government sources said that Vella is being mentioned as the preferred candidate to replace President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca when her term expires in April.

Vella is one of a number of politicians to whom Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has referred as his mentors. Sources told this newsroom that by appointing Vella as President, Muscat would be showing his gratitude for all the work the former minister carried out during his political career. Vella had supported Muscat during the PL leadership race and when the PL won the general election in 2013, Muscat appointed him Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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What could work against Vella is the fact that, during his four years as a senior minister, he disagreed with Muscat on a number of issues, especially those related to civil liberties. In fact, in 2016, when Muscat proposed that Malta should introduced gay marriage, The Malta Independent on Sunday had asked Vella if he agreed and, not mincing his words, Vella had replied: “I am for civil unions but I do not agree with gay marriage. Marriage is between a man and a woman. I agree with civil unions because they [LGBTI persons] deserve the same rights as everybody else. The fact that their rights are recognised by law, in an institutionalised way, is important.” 

Vella also expressed his disagreement when the Embryo Protection Act was being discussed in Parliament last May. In an interview with this newsroom, he said that on the subject of the amendments to the 2012 law on embryo protection, he would have “definitely” voted against the bill, had he still been a Member of Parliament.

Certain liberal laws that the Prime Minister wants to push through might create problems for Vella as President, because of his rather conservative outlook. The clash might also create a constitutional crisis.

One of the issues that Vella might be facing will be the eventual introduction of surrogacy. Originally proposed to be part of the IVF bill, the clause about surrogacy was eventually removed, with the government saying it will be presented by the government as a separate bill. If Vella becomes the next President of Malta, he will be required to sign this bill.

Vella had already expressed his views on this matter last year.  He said he believes that the Government is getting into difficult terrain, mentioning that surrogacy is banned throughout Europe except in the UK. He said that the problem is that the Government was trying to soften hearts and make it seem that, with altruistic surrogacy, we are being charitable. “But everybody knows what happens: it becomes commercialised, it is commodification and it is only in the interests of the eventual couple and not of the embryo itself.”

Another bill that Vella might be asked to sign could be that on abortion. Labour did not include it in the 2017 election manifesto, and has said that it does not have a mandate to introduce abortion during this legislature. But if it were to include it in the manifesto for the next general election, it would come midway through the next President’s term.

The Prime Minister himself has given various assurances that abortion is not on Labour’s agenda, but anything can happen in five years. Former PN Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi never expected divorce to become a national issue that was eventually decided via a referendum.

With a number of pressure groups advocating the right for women to abort, the possibility that this will end up in the government’s lap in the same way that divorce ended on Gonzi’s plate cannot be excluded. Vella himself has said on a number of occasions that he is against abortion. 

If appointed the next President, Vella, now 77, would be the oldest person ever appointed to the post. Censu Tabone was appointed at the age of 76, the oldest person to take over the Head of State position since Malta became a republic in 1974.

In the past months, a number of names have begun doing the rounds in political circles and the corridors of Parliament and Castille. Recently, the Nationalist media said that Education Minister Evarist Bartolo is being earmarked as President, with Bartolo himself downplaying it as ‘mere speculation’.

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