But who would be president?

Although the head of state does not have political power but only a limited constitutional and ceremonial role, we might eventually have to seriously consider a directly elected head of state, similar to the system in Ireland

President George Vella
President George Vella

April 4 is fast approaching, and the bets are on who will be the next president. Indeed, the leading bookmakers would have a field day in taking the odds.

Names from both PN and PL sources have long been making the rounds. The PN does not entirely exclude proposing someone who was never a politician. In fact, beside Dolores Cristina, who had served as Acting President on more than one occasion, the names of Magistrate Joseph Mifsud and Marica Cassar, from Caritas, have been touted.

On the other side of the political camp, papable names are Helena Dalli, Karmenu Vella, Evarist Bartolo and Frank Bezzina, who, like Cristina, has served as Acting President.

Almost every time there's a debate about appointing a head of state, people will say, ‘But who would be president?’ It's a strange question. The answer is obvious: Who the parliament chooses.

We can't possibly give names because we don't know who will be potential candidates at the time, and the best we could do is guess at possible individuals who stand to make it to the finish line. After that, no one has any idea who our president will be.

But that's okay. We do know it'll be who the country, nay, the House of Representatives, votes for.

Some might argue and suggest that the names mentioned above are the best the country can hope for when it comes to a head of state. The people couldn't possibly make a better choice. Or can they?

Some even argue that voters are so juvenile and silly that we'll vote for whatever celebrity is the flavour of the month. Peppi Azzopardi and Salvu Mallia have often (and unfairly?) been touted as arguments against letting the voters choose.

Such unlikely and not-to-be names apart, anyone with an average intelligence quotient can come up with a list of names of individuals suitable to occupy this prestigious, albeit ceremonial, office. I, for one, could easily recommend such likeable personalities as former judge Giovanni Bonello, former Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud, Chief Justice emeritus Vincent De Gaetano and former Malta Chamber of Commerce President David Xuereb.

There is no scarcity of suitable candidates from whom to make a sensible and worthy choice. We might even have a variety of them.

This time, the President of Malta will have to be appointed by a resolution supported by at least two-thirds of all members of the House of Representatives. The Labour government will need the Opposition’s backing.

If this two-thirds support is not achieved, the incumbent President, in this case, George Vella, shall remain in office until the resolution is validated by the necessary votes.

Until today, there has never been any particular difficulty in having both sides of the political camp choose and agree on the appointment of the president. This time around, though, the consensus required between the government and the Opposition for the appointment of the president has the potential to turn the presidential election into a complex political negotiation or another prolonged deadlock.

No news has as yet emerged as to whether the government and Opposition, and particularly Robert Abela and Bernard Grech, have been or are in contact to agree on an appointee to the role.

We’ve already seen a prolonged deadlock in connection with the appointment of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. It was nothing but a revealing indicator of how much political maturity our main parties lack.

Our Constitution does not permit the Office of the President to remain vacant at the expiration of the five-year term. So, if no agreement is reached, incumbent President George Vella can decide to continue occupying the role until a consensus is achieved. Should he decide to call it a day, an acting president will have to be temporarily appointed. By default, the Speaker of the House, Anġlu Farrugia, will temporarily have that role.

Such a scenario would surely create a constitutional crisis, the likes of which we have never experienced.

It will take an authentic level of commitment to do what’s right for the country, but it also demands the discernment and finesse to do it in such a way that it does not invalidate the prestige and importance of the role of the Head of State or diminish the sense of belonging of whoever is finally appointed.

The reality is that in a small country the size of Malta, a country awash with talent and amazing people, we will be spoiled for choice. Ireland manages to choose excellent heads of state for the same reason we can too. They take the position seriously, and there are plenty of good candidates to choose from.

Although the head of state does not have political power but only a limited constitutional and ceremonial role, we might eventually have to seriously consider a directly elected head of state, similar to the system in Ireland.

Such a president would be the choice of the voters, and it's the voters' right to choose who they think is the best candidate on offer.

Whatever. At the end of the day, one can only augur that whoever is finally chosen as our president will truly be someone who is intelligent and has knowledge of constitutional law, the ability to speak coherently and use a vocabulary that elicits respect, an even temperament and strength of character.