To be or not to be President

'If one were to read Muscat’s mind, he must have felt Coleiro Preca was too strong witted and opinionated to serve the reforms that need to see this country through the next decades'

Coleiro Preca was kicked upstairs by Joseph Muscat. And it was very clear from the very first days that she did not want the job
Coleiro Preca was kicked upstairs by Joseph Muscat. And it was very clear from the very first days that she did not want the job

The announcement by the President of the Republic Marie Louise Coleiro Preca to make it known that she is signing the IVF bill because she is obliged to do so as President and has little alternative but to sign, was uncalled for.

Though it has to be said that she has been a breath of fresh air and has served as a beacon for many issues which are side-tracked by the administration, there is little doubt in mind that Coleiro Preca will be remembered as someone who did not know her place.

Better still, she will be recalled as someone who overspent (I base this fair assumption on the fact that she has refused, for seven months now, to divulge the costs of her office) and for having seemingly transferred her old social policy ministry to the Presidential palace.

Coleiro Preca was kicked upstairs by Joseph Muscat. And it was very clear from the very first days that she did not want the job. But she accepted it. She is politically astute enough to have refused the request and stated that she was much happier to stay on as a Cabinet minister. But she accepted the post, aware that in many instances she would be a rubber-stamp of government policy.

She dived deep into her role, and she was not unsuited for it. I do not think that her decision to open the Presidency to a wider public was wrong. Far from it.

But when the country was dying for a discussion on a second Republic her contribution was scarce or absent. And the reason for this was rather obvious. First of all, she did not have the depth or vision for such a task, and Muscat could not really entrust her with such a reform.

Her brand of politics is a mixture of compassionate socialism and an intense dose of traditional beliefs. That kind of cacophony can make it difficult to understand where Coleiro Preca stands on certain issues.

Deep down, I do not doubt that Coleiro Preca is abundantly more well-meaning than many of her predecessors, and her energy and drive suitable not for one term but three.

Yet in the ‘Muscat equation’ of things, Coleiro Preca is not fully suited for the role. Muscat wants as his legacy more social reforms that will be the basis for an ever-changing modern society. In 2011 Coleiro Preca was one of the top members of Muscat’s shadow cabinet to openly oppose divorce. A bizarre stand, considering her personal status. If one were to read Muscat’s mind, he must have felt Coleiro Preca was too strong witted and opinionated to serve the reforms that need to see this country through the next decades.

In the early 1970s Dom Mintoff made two significant reforms which were aggressively opposed by the Church and to a lesser extent by the Nationalist Opposition. The first one was civil marriage and the other was the decriminalisation of sodomy.

Coleiro Preca then was a budding socialist, later to become one of the youngest secretary-generals of the Labour party. Outspoken, as was the norm for her, she was on the side of change and history. Today she is not.

Mintoff clearly wanted more change but he confused change with bulldozing over people.

But today’s IVF bill is not about bulldozing on people. It is about giving people a chance to have a family. There is nothing more noble and caring than helping people achieve this.

The Bill piloted in Malta is still a trimmed-down version of what is available in most other European countries. But the opponents of the Bill equate it with abortion, misleadingly and falsely.

Coleiro Preca has some strong convictions which have influenced her way of thinking. And I guess she has a right to think that way. But if she knew her place and accepted her position she would have refrained from making such a statement.

I can understand her frustration at not being able to be the person she wants to be. But like the judiciary she has a role to play and it goes beyond her personal whims and political style.

***

The decision by the European Court of Justice against a derogation allowing for the trapping of seven species of songbirds by the Maltese government was not surprising at all.

The decision makes interesting reading and raises so many issues that anyone giving advice to the Maltese government on deciding on yet another derogation on trapping should be told not to go there.

Trapping was banned in 2009 according to the Treaty of EU Accession and after Muscat was elected in 2013 he was convinced that trapping should be reintroduced. Without any electoral mandate he re-introduced it in 2014 and was landed with two infringement procedures by the European Commission.

He knew that he would lose the court case but Muscat also knew that he needed to be seen to be doing something. Without trapping he would not have won the referendum by a mere thousand votes against banning spring hunting in 2015. And the hunter’s lobby would not have made any inroads without the explicit support of Muscat’s Labour party.

I feel sorry for the hundreds of trappers who will no longer trap songbirds. I do not see them as killers or murderers but as people who spend hours in the midst of nature and think that trapping birds is a great thing to do. But times change for all of us.

European accession was never à la carte. Progress is not a pick-and-choose game. And if the trappers are being deprived of the songbirds then we can also say that we are being robbed of nature and more importantly, we are becoming witnesses to the transformation of this island into a concrete jungle.

At the end of the day, trappers and hunters have value for politicians because they are important for votes.

Life is changing and so are voters’ habits. It is time to move on and accept the fact that this battle has been lost.

This country has placed nature conservation and land use conservation way down low on its priorities. We need to bring it up a notch higher. We need to focus on the salient problem of land preservation and protection of skylines, our shoreline, valleys and agricultural stretches. This little victory shows that perseverance and the stamina of organisations such as Birdlife Malta can bring about change, and more importantly, make Malta a better place for the whole community.

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