Hands off ‘OUR’ President! (Because he’s OURS… not YOURS!)

A retirement home for former politicians… in a country where ‘being in politics’, also automatically means ‘being permanently at war’

Oh, don’t get me wrong: I do vaguely sympathise with former MEP Marlene Mizzi’s impassioned plea on Facebook this week: ‘HANDS OFF OUR PRESIDENT!’ (her capitals, not mine).

Nor, for that matter, do I even doubt the sincerity in her use of that all-important possessive pronoun, ‘OUR’.  If nothing else, because… well, her next sentence kind of gives the whole game away.

“Trying to taint the reputation of a respected man of integrity, will only earn you the disdain and disgust of THE NATION” (my capitals, this time).

See? ‘The nation’. That, very clearly, was what Marlene Mizzi really meant, by describing George Vella as ‘OUR’ President. And it’s only fair to add that her sentiment probably reflects both the Constitutional status of the Presidency itself – which, regardless of occupant, is all along supposed to be a ‘unifying force within the Republic of Malta’, etc. – and also, the present incumbent: who…


… OK, let’s just say that – like most, if not all, of his predecessors – George Vella has so far succeeded in parking at the door whatever political baggage he may have brought with him to that role… after literally decades of service within (in this case) Labour administrations of government.

And yes: this may well be because George Vella never really had all that much political baggage to begin with. Certainly, the former foreign minister was never regarded as being one of the ‘Panama Gang’… and nor, for that matter, was his face ever depicted ‘behind bars’ in any of those accusatory 2017 campaign billboards.

In fact, now that I think about it… I don’t actually recall any other time – in those parts of his 40+ year-political career that I do remember, at any rate – when George Vella faced any form of serious controversy of any kind whatsoever: still less, outright calls for his resignation, of the kind he is facing today.

And I find it somewhat ironic, that it is only now – i.e., that he occupies the largely ceremonial role of President of the Republic – that certain people (you’ll never guess who) are suddenly demanding his head on a plate.

Erm… for what, exactly? On what specific grounds should President George Vella actually tender his resignation (so soon into the job, too)?

Is it on the basis of something he himself has either said or done, in that role, to render himself unsuitable to occupy it? And if not: is it because of something that may have emerged regarding his own political past… some ‘scandal’ or other, that we were simply unaware of when he became President in 2019…?

No, not quite. It would appear that George Vella’s only ‘crime’ consists in his failure – back in 2016 – to actually foresee what nobody else could possibly have foreseen at the time: i.e., that a journalist would be murdered in this country the following year… and that - another four years down the line – an independent inquiry would conclude (without the benefit of any hindsight whatsoever, of course) that ‘the entire Muscat cabinet’ was ‘collectively responsible’ for ‘creating the climate of impunity’ that resulted in that particular murder… etc, etc.

Hmm. Ok, I suppose it would be easy enough to deflate the central premise of that argument…. on the basis that – let’s face it – not everyone out there automatically accepts the inquiry’s conclusions as ‘Gospel Truth’, anyway.

And not without good reason, either: after all, some of us do remember that there were actually 19 car-bomb attacks – all allegedly attributable to the same criminal gang – between 2010 and 2017: a time-span that takes us well before the Muscat administration actually came into power… and during which nobody was ever arrested or prosecuted for any of those crimes, either…

But no: the real problem is that - applied specifically to George Vella – this means that ‘OUR’ President should now resign, for no other reason than because he once voted – way back in 2016 – against a motion of no-confidence in Konrad Mizzi…

…at a time, please note, when the allegations against that minister were far from ‘proven’;

…when the motion itself had been tabled by none other than Opposition leader Simon Busuttil (who, by an extraordinary coincidence, happens to be leading the cavalry charge against George Vella today);

… when Labour politicians, in general, had good reason of their own to be (at best) ‘suspicious’ about the source of those allegations;

…and above all, when – with the country fast approaching election mode – all Maltese politicians, Labour and Nationalist alike, would no doubt have done exactly the same thing: i..e., instantly rally around their party flag, the moment their own government is under attack.

In other words: George Vella should resign today – not because of anything he ever did or said, himself – but simply because of who he was in 2016… and what he is still evidently perceived as being today (‘President of the Republic’, or no ‘President of the Republic’): a former minister in the Joseph Muscat administration, who behaved just like all other former ministers in that Cabinet….

(Or as Edward Zammit Lewis might have put it, in another ‘off-the-record’ private chat: “George Vella should resign, simply because he is a ‘Ġaħan Laburist’.” Nuff said…)

But hey, tell you what: let’s not make the mistake of getting bogged down in the actual political controversy itself (trust me, it’s never worth it in the long run). No: as far as I’m concerned, the truly interesting question is not whether George Vella should, or should not, actually resign… but rather, what it all tells us about the office of the Presidency itself.

Because if you ask me: those resignation calls – and all the reactions thereto – have already succeeded in achieving something quite important, in this young country of ours. They have finally exploded – and quite emphatically, too – that old, cherished political ‘myth’ of ours….

… you know: that the Office of the Presidency, in and of itself, as if through some kind of ‘magical power’, imbued within it by the Holy Constitution of Malta, somehow ‘absolves’ all incumbents of all the collective ‘sins’ of their former, political selves...

In other words, that we are all somehow expected to simply ‘forget’ – just like that, from one moment to the next – everything ‘OUR’ President has ever said or done, at any previous point in his or her former (invariably political) career… and, even more poignantly, anything that had ever been said or written about them by others, too.

Sorry, folks, but… it just doesn’t work that way. And to be fair to all the people concerned – men, women, Nationalist, Labour, etc. – who have ever occupied that role, since it was first founded in 1972 (all of whom, with the exception of only the first, Sir Anthony Mamo, came from positions of high political office)… it’s not exactly because the Presidents themselves have somehow ‘failed the country’, in any personal capacity of their own.

On this level, at least, there even be a small grain of truth to that old legend: for it is demonstrably true that – in their own ways; and some perhaps more effectively than others – all Maltese Presidents, past and present, have at least tried to rise above the quagmire of party-political trench-warfare… even if, until just the day before, they would all have all been bitterly engaged in that same war themselves.

This is arguably just as true of George Vella, as it was of Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca; George Abela (Malta’s only President to have ever been selected from ‘the other side’); Eddie Fenech Adami, Guido Demarco… probably all the way back to Mamo himself.

But it doesn’t change the fact that it is, at the end of the day, merely an illusion: and an illusion that is, I fear, altogether too easy to shatter.

Which brings me back to that Marlene Mizzi quote I started off with. It is one thing, I suppose, for Mizzi herself to say ‘HANDS OFF OUR PRESIDENT’ (and probably to even mean it, too). But… would Simon Busuttil say the same thing? Would Repubblika, Occupy Justice, and everyone else repeating those resignation calls – a category which, for the present, does not seem to include Opposition leader Bernard Grech – likewise identify George Vella as ‘OUR’, and therefore, also ‘THEIR’, President, too?

I somewhat slightly doubt it. And much the same, incidentally, could be said for most, if not all, of the people (238, at the time of writing) who ‘liked’, or ‘loved’, Marlene Mizzi’s post, or expressed their approval in the comments below.

Do they, too, really consider George Vella to be ‘OUR’ President, in the same way as implied by the rest of Mizzi’s comment, quoted above?

Or do they simply mean: ‘Hand off George Vella, because… he’s OUR President, damn it! Not YOURS…”?

No prizes for guessing the correct answer, of course. And if it’s any consolation to George Vella himself… it’s not exactly his own fault, that he has so manifestly failed to ‘unify the country’ (just as he had earlier failed to ‘foresee future events’; and probably quite a few other impossible things beside).

It is, quite frankly, a task far, far beyond his own capabilities, as a mere mortal… and it will remain so, too: for as long as the Office of the Presidency itself remains what it has clearly been reduced to, in the 50-odd years since Malta became a Republic.

A retirement home for former politicians… in a country where ‘being in politics’, also automatically means ‘being permanently at war’.

Honestly, though. How the heck did we even manage to mistake such a thing for a ‘unifying force’…?