Editorial: The next President of the Republic

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March, 2024 at 3:22 pm by Andre Camilleri

Time is running out for the two sides of the House of Representatives to reach a deal on the appointment of the new President of the Republic.

Incumbent George Vella will leave the post on 4 April, at the end of his five-year term, which cannot be renewed.

Over the next two weeks, the government and the Opposition must come to terms on his successor – unless this agreement is reached, there will be a constitutional crisis as the position cannot remain vacant.

If no agreement is reached, an acting president will have to be appointed – at present, University Pro-Rector Frank Bezzina has been serving in the role for two years – or else it will be the Speaker, Anglu Farrugia, who takes on the double role temporarily until the impasse is resolved. The latter solution is likely to be implemented.

As from this occasion, the president needs the support of both the government and the Opposition to be installed. For half a century since Malta became a republic in 1974, presidents could be appointed with a simple majority, but after the constitutional amendments of 2020, a two-thirds majority in the House is required for the nomination to pass.

It is understood that Prime Minister Robert Abela and Opposition Leader Bernard Grech have held at least one meeting on the matter. But there is a divergence of opinion on who the next president should be.

The Nationalist Party does not want anyone from the Joseph Muscat Cabinet to take on the role. The Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry found the State as being responsible for her assassination, and the PN will not be accepting anyone from that team of ministers to serve as Head of State. Names of three persons the PN had in mind had filtered through to the media a few months ago, but there was no follow-up to that situation.

The Labour Party has its own exigencies, with Abela saying that the next president should be one who is progressive but who is able to unite the people. There is a lot to read in the meaning of the word “progressive”. Abela wants to avoid a repetition of what happened on the IVF reform bill, with Vella uncomfortable with the law to such an extent that it was signed by Bezzina when Vella went abroad. What Abela has in mind when he uses the term “progressive” is open to everyone’s interpretation.

Malta has already had two instances in history when an acting president was installed. But the circumstances were different when it happened in 1981 and 1987. This time, it means that Abela and Grech cannot agree on one single name of a person who both see as a unifying figure.

Although, by and large, Malta’s president is a ceremonial figure – and we must say that all the presidents we have had, irrespective of their political background, served the country well – any vacuum in the position is certainly not a good sign.

It is a constitutional crisis that the two leaders should be doing their utmost to avoid.

- Advertisement -