The President of the Republic: a flicker of hope

The term of office of current President of the Republic George Vella will expire in the first days of April. His successor, the new President, will, for the first time require the consent of a two-thirds majority of the House of Representatives in order to be elected. This, in practice, means that both Government and Opposition must be in agreement for such an appointment to be approved.

Talks between government and opposition are known to have commenced. They are confidential in nature and as such little is known as to how they have proceeded to date. All that is known is that the Opposition Parliamentary group has drawn a significant red line: it will not support any candidate for the Presidency of the Republic if such candidate was a member of the Cabinet of Ministers led by Joseph Muscat and censored by the public inquiry into the circumstances leading to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The red line drawn by the Opposition is significant. It is not known how government ranks have reacted to it, as, so far, no public statement has been made on the manner in which the talks between the Labour led government and the PN Opposition are progressing. 

The veil of confidentiality is reasonable, but at some point, it must and will inevitably be lifted in order to enable the public debate on the Presidency to proceed.

At the time of writing Prime Minister Robert Abela is being quoted as emphasizing that he is “hopeful” that an agreement will be arrived at, even at this late hour. It is being stated that ongoing talks are constructive, this giving rise to a possibly positive outcome by the early April deadline. The first indication of the name of a possible agreed nominee is also available at the time of writing.

The two-thirds hurdle which must be overcome in order to elect a President of the Republic, once every five years, has a specific aim: that of ensuring that the selected person has as wide an acceptance as possible. He or she must be able to bridge the political divide. This must be done on a continuous basis.

There have been a countless number of instances in the past when the political parties in Parliament have succeeded in overcoming partisan squabbling and reached agreement on many a sensitive matter. Including the appointment of a Head of State. Then it was good politics to do so. Now it is also a must!

The art of compromise is good politics which, unfortunately, is not sufficiently mastered by many in the political world. It does not mean giving up any of your views, values or beliefs. It rather signifies that you also see the good in what others do and factor it in what you do or say. It is a point that is often sadly missed in this polarized society which we call home!

I still fail to understand why, for example, the Opposition in Parliament failed to accept former Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi as Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. I had then stated that the Opposition had the right to block the proposed appointment, but it also had the duty to give reasonable explanations for doing so. It failed to give reasonable explanations, because none, in my view, existed. Playing party politics with our institutions is not on.

The rest is now history, except, that, in my opinion, Joseph Azzopardi has proven himself to be a good choice as Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Both PN and Labour, unfortunately, acted irrationally in this matter. The PN was intransigent while Labour over-reacted.

It is appropriate that both Government and Opposition learn lessons from their past mistakes. It is in the interest of the country that they do this the soonest possible.

The fact that talks are proceeding constructively, maybe, is an indicator that, possibly, there is still some flickering hope for this country. We can only wait and hold our breath: possibly for not too long!

Carmel Cacopardo
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 24 March 2024