The President should resign

President George Abela should set the record straight: if he is objecting to the civil unions law he should do so publicly and resign rather than delay the approval of a law, which forms part of the government’s electoral mandate.

The impression given by the President’s supposed reluctance to sign this law is that he does not want the law to be passed during his term of office.
The impression given by the President’s supposed reluctance to sign this law is that he does not want the law to be passed during his term of office.

If reports that George Abela does not want to sign the civil unions bill are true, his behaviour is questionable and cowardly. If these reports are not true, the President should issue an official statement. But he has not...

If Abela had moral qualms on signing this important legislation which forms part of the current government’s electoral mandate, he should have declared his intentions publicly and resigned from office to enable the government to enact the law.

The impression given by the President’s supposed reluctance to sign this law is that he does not want the law to be passed during his term of office. 

So instead of doing the honourable thing and resign, he is delaying the approval of the law so that the onus of signing it will fall on the next President.

Such behaviour is more cowardly than Lawrence Gonzi’s decision to vote against the divorce bill while ensuring a parliamentary majority for its approval. Like Abela, Gonzi was concerned with his own conscience but at least he had the decency to vote against and suffer the electoral consequences of his conservativism.

Abela’s presidency has on the whole been a good one. During the past years he expressed concern on rising anti-immigrant sentiments arguing that immigration enriches Maltese identity. He also expressed concern on the destruction of the environment. But his presidency was also marked by confessional attitude, which was more than evident in a speech he gave during Pope Benedict’s visit which was replete with references - some of them historically erroneous - to Malta’s Catholic identity. 

As someone averse to anti-clericalism, I have no objection to Catholics serving in high posts and standing for their values, most of which I share. It is also understandable that President may object to pieces of legislation on the basis of conscience.

On the other hand I personally feel very uncomfortable with the idea of a President blocking a law meant to introduce equal rights for same-sex couples, a cause which I support. 

I also cannot understand why Abela had no qualms on signing the divorce law and now seems reluctant on signing a bill allowing gays to enter civil unions and adopt children.

But I would defend the right of Presidents to object to a law on the basis of conscience. For example, it would have been understandable if Abela expressed doubts on the law through which Maltese citizenship will be sold to the global rich. Curiously, the scandalous secrecy clause in the original bill was removed hours after the President signed it.

This law did not even enjoy an electoral mandate. 

In such cases the President is entitled to express his or her reservation to the Prime Minister and solicit changes.

In Italy the President is even entitled to send back legislation to the Prime Minister. I am not against granting Presidents a similar power in Malta

President Giorgio Napolitano had used this power to prevent the quick passage of a law devised by the Berlusconi government to prevent Eluana Englaro’s family from stopping the machines, which had kept her living in a vegetative state for 18 years. 

But whenever Presidents feel the moral imperative to intervene in the legislative process, they should also face the consequences.

A President may express his reservations and ask the government to improve the text of a law but ultimately he or she has to respect the prerogatives of the elected government.  The options for a President in these cases are either to resign from office or accept the government’s mandate.

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