Deadlock mechanism on President’s election still gives power to State, NGO says

NGO Repubblika says Bills introduced by government are hasty and lack of consultation and expert insight could result in hatchet job

MPs will have to vote to approve legislation on how they will elect the next President of the Republic
MPs will have to vote to approve legislation on how they will elect the next President of the Republic

The Maltese government wants to legislate a deadlock mechanism that will allow it to approve its choice of President of the Republic, if after two rounds of votes the Parliament does not approve its candidate by a two-thirds majority.

Civil society group Repubblika have called out government’s judicial reform, insisting it will be introducing new dangers rather than strengthening democracy.

“We are concerned that the haste, the lack of consultation and the lack of expert insight into the drawing up of these Bills will result in yet another botched job,” they said in a statement.

Last week, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis presented the First Reading in parliament of 10 Bills dealing with reforms in line with recommendations made by the Venice Commission.

But the proposal has been dubbed “a sick joke” by civil society NGO Repubblika, which has actively petitioned the State and the Council of Europe on these constitutional changes. “The Opposition would have two opportunities to agree and support the choice. If the Opposition doesn’t agree, Robert Abela can appoint [anyone] as President of Malta anyway,” Repubblika said.

The NGO said that government cannot claim to have reformed the system of appointing the President, saying it had retained its authority over who to choose.

Repubblika said this has become a larger issue due to the government’s proposal in assigning executive and autonomous authority to the President. “And yet there has been no public discussion or consultation on this matter whatsoever,” the NGO said.

It also cited its concern over the procedure proposed for the choosing of the Chief Justice, saying she should be appointed by the judiciary, or by the judicial appointments committee. “An alternative could be an election from among and by judges and magistrates,” they said.

But the NGO disagreed in having parliament involved in the nomination of Chief Justice as a case of political intrusion. “While cross-party consensus is not a guarantee of judicial independence, it may reduce the nomination of the Chief Justice to a back-room deal between the two main political leaders,” the NGO said.

Repubblika also said government was ignoring the Venice Commission’s invitation to run the legislative bills by the NGO, as well as not calling a constitutional Convention before making vital changes to the way the country is run. “Only Parliament can stop this Constitutional hatchet job in its tracks, and we urge MPs to send the government back to the drawing board and insist on proper consultation before implementing these important measures.”

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