The Malta Independent 30 May 2024, Thursday
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TMIS Editorial: The President’s advantage

Sunday, 7 April 2024, 10:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

President Myriam Spiteri Debono has an advantage over her predecessors.

Since serving as Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 1996-1998 Labour government, she has not held any public appointment for a long 26 years. She has been cut off from the nitty-gritty of politics too, having last contested an election for the Labour Party in 1996.

She has not served as a minister, as most of her predecessors did. Neither was she a prime minister or deputy leader of a party.

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In other words, although she has a political background and comes from the party that is at present Malta’s largest, she does not have a baggage. This is probably why there was consensus on her appointment, not an insignificant achievement, especially given that she needed the support of the Opposition to be given the title following the constitutional amendments that were enacted in 2020.

Although all previous presidents who served as heads of state after an eventful political career lifted themselves away from partisan politics in their five-year stint, it was hard to disassociate them from their past, and many could not identify them as a figure of unity, given that they had been seen as political adversaries for so many years.

Spiteri Debono does not have such a burden.

So she starts her five-year term as President of Malta with a clean slate, and this gives her an edge over all those who preceded her.

Spiteri Debono should be using this advantage to make her presidency even more significant than what we have been accustomed to in half a century. She can be bolder in her approach, can speak her mind more freely, and can lead the way towards bringing more unity in a country that has been so afflicted by division. The public’s expectations of her tenure are higher than they were for those who preceded her.

Judging by the way she spoke last Thursday, she intends to walk down this particular road with determination.

For one thing, she did not shy away from mentioning three political murders which have taken place since Malta became a Republic – three killings which were serious blows to our democracy, and from which the country has not healed.

“The wound generated by the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia,” she said last Thursday, “is still wide open and bleeding. Healing is a must in order that this horrendous episode be wound up. Once and for all. Otherwise, we cannot move forward. Otherwise, its fallout shall continue to haunt us.”

She went on to address the two other murders that had rocked the country in 1977 and 1986. “Although a considerable period of time has elapsed since the deaths of Karin Grech and Raymond Caruana, these two episodes never had closure, and, as a consequence of this, their wounds are still seeping,” she said.

Spiteri Debono went further than this, making a reference to public inquiries which should lead to change. “If the recommendations of public inquiries are not implemented, public inquiries become a useless exercise. It appears that, with regards to the public inquiry in the death of the youth Jean Paul Sofia, the political will to incorporate these recommendations into the law exists. However, a lot still needs to be done in the implementation of the recommendations made by the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.”

This was a direct message to the government and Prime Minister Robert Abela in particular. The President has made it clear that she thinks that the government has not shown enough willingness to rectify all the wrong that was indicated in this public inquiry report. Whether the government listens to her remains to be seen, but we’re not holding our breath.

Her speech also contained precious suggestions on how the people’s voices should be heard – and this included better representation in our parliamentary system, the “correct” use of social media, the (traditional) media serving as the “voice of the people” and “the messenger of people’s sentiments” and giving greater attention when “people gather in the streets and squares in order to be heard”.

Spiteri Debono admonished politicians – and their actions – for being the reason why people are being pushed away from politics. She is concerned about the indifference and apathy being shown towards politics, and also made it a point to highlight the “affliction” of “financial greed”, which she described as the “relentless pursuit of riches” which “more often than not translates itself into various forms of corruption.”

That also is a direct message to the government, given the list of scandals it has been involved in, and also to the people in general, to make them think on who to elect as their representatives.

After all, as the President said, nobody and nothing is bigger than the country.

 

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