The Malta Independent 15 August 2020, Saturday

Updated: President confirms numbers exist for removal of Opposition Leader, hits legal snag

Neil Camilleri Saturday, 11 July 2020, 09:40 Last update: about 2 months ago

President George Vella has confirmed there are the required numbers for the removal of Adrian Delia as Opposition Leader but has been given legal advice that says he should re-appoint the embattled PN Leader to the role, sources told The Malta Independent.

Vella has spoken to all 17 MPs who voted against Delia in a vote of confidence on Tuesday.

The group has nominated Therese Comodini Cachia as new Opposition Leader.

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The Constitution says that an Opposition Leader can be removed by the President if he loses the trust of the majority of Opposition MPs. There are 28 Nationalist MPs, plus three independent MPs sitting on the opposition benches.

The law, however, is unclear on the procedure that should be adopted when appointing a replacement. And some Constitutional experts, including one who is advising the President, have said that the President would have to act according to the article in the Constitution that deals with the appointment of an Opposition Leader.

Article 90(2) says that the Leader of the Opposition should be the leader of the biggest party in the opposition group.

A number of legal experts have said that this article only applies to the appointment of an Opposition Leader at the start of a new legislature – after a general election – and that it would make no sense for the President to reappoint the same person he would have just removed from the role.

President Vella has spoken to the anti-Delia MPs about this issue. The MPs have urged him to follow the advice given by Giovanni Bonello, Austin Bencini and Kevin Aquilina.

Bonello said it is a basic principle of interpretation of the Constitution that articles cannot be interpreted in such a way that one contradicts the other.

“Though both Sub-articles (2) and (4) regulate the appointment of the Leader of the Opposition by the President, they stipulate different mechanisms. It is manifest that they refer (to) different scenarios. The first contemplates the appointment of the Leader of the Opposition at the BEGINNING OF THE LEGISLATURE, just after a general election,” Bonello said.

Kevin Aquilina argues that, “no reference is made in article 90 (or in any other provision of the Constitution) to the Leader of a Political Party. That is normally regulated by the political party’s statute. Who is appointed Leader of the Party is not the President’s business as this office is not a constitutional office.”

Bencini said the President is “constitutionally bound to ascertain as a fact that another MP other than the sitting Leader of the Opposition enjoys the majority of the largest party within the House In Opposition to the Government to appoint such other MP as the new Leader of the Opposition and of revoking the mandate of the MP originally appointed to that position.”

PN MP Chris Said said it was strange that the constitutional experts advising the President had remained anonymous. 

“Let’s not forget that the Labour Party has every interest to retain Adrian Delia as Opposition Leader. The Labour media has been strongly defending Delia,” he pointed out. “One might ask, are these anonymous experts pushing the Labour agenda? Are they doing it so that the Opposition remains weak and broken?”

 

The Opposition can only get stronger if it overcomes this hurdle, he said.

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