The Malta Independent 21 April 2024, Sunday
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TMID Editorial: Who will it be?

Saturday, 2 March 2024, 10:06 Last update: about 3 months ago

March has started and it will be the last full month with George Vella as President of the Republic.

His five-year term will expire on 4 April, and in the remaining weeks the government and the opposition must find common ground on who is to replace him.

The situation is different from what it was five years ago, when Vella was appointed. That time, any nomination needed to be approved by a simple majority in the House of Representatives. This meant that the nominee needed just the support of the government to take over the reins as Head of State. Given that the person is nominated by the Prime Minister, it was a foregone conclusion that the person he chose would have been accepted, irrespective of what the opposition thought.

But things have changed. After amendments to the Constitution, a two-thirds majority approval is needed for a person to be appointed, and this means that the government must have the support of the opposition in this regard.

If no agreement is found, the incumbent could stay on in his role until a solution is found, or else an Acting President is appointed to fill in the gap in between Vella’s end of tenure and the new Head of State. For nearly the last two years, University Pro-Rector Frank Bezzina has served as Acting President each time that Vella has been away from the country.

Prime Minister Robert Abela and Opposition Leader Bernard Grech will be seeking to come to terms on the next President in the four weeks to come.

Some names have already been mentioned, from the opposition’s quarters, as possible candidates. The opposition has also made it clear that it will not accept politicians or former politicians who were part of the Joseph Muscat government, which was found collectively responsible by a public inquiry following the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017.

The public inquiry had found that the State “should shoulder responsibility” for the assassination, having also been responsible for fostering a culture of impunity. In other words, ministers who sat in Joseph Muscat’s Cabinet at the time will not be accepted by the opposition.

The Prime Minister has not been forthcoming on who, he thinks, should be made President. All we know is that he wants someone who is progressive, an adjective which has raised some alarm bells as to what the real intention is behind that statement. He also said that the person should be one who brings unity in a divided island.

Bar Sir Anthony Mamo, who was the first President of the Republic, all successive Heads of State came with a political background, and all but one – incidentally the Prime Minister’s own father George Abela – came from the political party that was in power at the time they were chosen.

A few weeks remain for the final choice to be made. No doubt there will be so much discussion, both before and after.

What we hope is that the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader come up with a name so as to avoid a constitutional crisis.

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