The Malta Independent 22 July 2024, Monday
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Marie Louise Coleiro Preca's last year: Who will be the next President of Malta?

Rachel Attard Sunday, 8 April 2018, 10:45 Last update: about 7 years ago

This week President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca started her last year as President of the Republic of Malta. In the coming months, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, possibly with the assistance of his close associates, will be looking for a successor

In the past months, a number of names started doing the rounds in political circles and the corridors of Parliament and Castille. Who would be the best candidate? Should it be another woman? Should we have another politician or former politician or should there be a break with tradition and identify a non-politico? Should it be a Nationalist, in order to reciprocate the appointment of George Abela by former Nationalist Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi?

Other questions will surely pop up as the date of the appointment of the new president – 4 April 2019 – draws closer.

At this stage, who are the papabbli – the candidates for the post?

The first candidate that comes to mind is Evarist Bartolo, the current Minister for Education and Employment. Muscat would choose him because, as he did in the past five years, he would want senior ministers that have been in the party since the 80s to make way for younger blood by giving them a respectable exit. Hence the appointment of Coleiro Preca herself, Leo Brincat, who was appointed to the European Court of Auditors, and Karmenu Vella, who was sent to Brussels as one of the European Commissioners. All three were ministers in Muscat’s first Cabinet. Perhaps one reason why Bartolo will not be chosen is that as Minister for Education and Employment he has proved himself a doer. Another reason is that he is not known for holding his tongue, and diplomacy is not his forte.

Then there is Louis Grech who was always loyal to Muscat, still sits in Cabinet as an adviser and certainly has the national stature and was never a controversial figure. In other words, Muscat might offer Grech the presidency as a ‘thank you’ gift. On the minus side, there is the fact that he does not have a wife or at least an official partner – an awkward situation for a president to be in. Another concern that must prey on the Prime Minister’s mind is Grech’s health issues which might hinder him from fulfilling the role completely.

George Vella is yet another politician who the Prime Minister himself has repeatedly acknowledged as his mentor. Appointing him president would be a show of gratitude for all the work he carried out during his political carrier. Vella had supported Muscat during the PL leadership race and when the party won the general election in 2013, he appointed him Minister for Foreign Affairs.

What could work against Vella is the fact that during his four years as a senior minister Vella disagreed with Muscat on a number of issues, especially those related to civil liberties. In fact, in 2016, when Muscat had proposed that Malta should introduced gay marriage, The Malta Independent had asked Vella if he agree and without mincing his words, he said that “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 union because they [LGBTI] deserve the same rights as everybody else. The fact that their rights are recognised by law, in an institutionalised way, is important.” With Vella as president, certain upcoming liberal laws the Prime Minister wants to push through might create problems for him because of Vella’s rather conservative outlook. The clash might also create a constitutional crisis. If appointed president he will be 77, and he will be the oldest ever appointed to the post. Censu Tabone was appointed to aged 76, the oldest person to take over the Head of State position since Malta became a republic in 1974.

Would Muscat consider another female president? If so, a potential candidate might be Helena Dalli, the Minister for European Affairs and Equality. She was instrumental for this government to reach its civil liberties and liberal issues goals. Unlike Vella, having Dalli as president would make it easier for Muscat to pass laws in the future. On the other hand, appointing two women in a row might be seen as ‘a bit too much’, sexist as this might sound. Perhaps more worrying are the number of occasions in her political life where Dalli came across as being a divisive political figure, the antithesis of what a president should be. One thing is certain. If she is the chosen one, Mrs Dalli’s former title of Miss Malta will change to that of Madam President.

Would the Prime Minister consider a candidate with a Nationalist background?

Maybe he would, but he will not go through with it.

Two ideal candidates would be the former secretary general of the PN, former minister, former member of the European Court for Auditors, and former Speaker of the House Louis Galea, and former Foreign Minister and EU Commissioner Tonio Borg. Both of them, like President Emeritus George Abela, might be seen as unifying figures, respected by both parties and, as Christian Democrats, might actually help Muscat’s image. Obviously, the Nationalist Party would not oppose a blue-eyed boy occupying the presidential chair.

At the same time, however, given that this is the last term in office for Muscat, he might not wish to be remembered by his fellow Labour supporters for appointing a former Nationalist minister when there are so many Labour ones waiting in the wings.

These are the names and these are the considerations. Having said this, Muscat might surprise us all and pull a different rabbit out of his hat.

 

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