Parliament debates Constitutional changes to have next president elected by two-thirds majority

Debate on Constitutional changes which will see next president appointed and removed by two-thirds majority starts in Parliament

Parliament has started debating a Bill which will change the way the President is appointed (Photo: DOI)
Parliament has started debating a Bill which will change the way the President is appointed (Photo: DOI)

Parliament has started debating a Constitution change which will see the next president elected by a two-thirds majority in the House. 

The Constitutional change will come as part of the institutional reform exercise suggested by the Venice Commission.

The debate also comes as the country's focus is on President George Vella, who is expected to make a decision which will resolve  a constitutional crisis prompted by a no-confidence vote by Nationalist Party MPs against leader Adrian Delia. Despite meeting with Delia and the majority of PN MPs last week, Vella has yet to make an official declaration.

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis remarked in Parliament on Monday that the changes to the way the President is appointed showed the government “good intentions” in leeting go of its prerogative in appointing Malta’s head of state.

A two-thirds parliamentary majority will also be needed to remove the President.

Zammit Lewis said that the two-thirds majority system had always been successful when applied to the appointment certain roles.

“The two-thirds majority is a process which we don’t want to simply see as a vote in Parliament. When such a process has been applied previously, the government and Opposition always sat down and agreed on the person to nominate,” the minister said.

“The intention of the legislator and of myself, as minister is that it leads to the two sides reaching an agreement [on which president to elect]. When such circumstances came about in the past, both sides rose to the occasion.”

“…We must appreciate the government’s good intentions here - it accepted to let go of its prerogative in appointing the president.”

Zammit Lewis remarked that, right as the debate is taking place in Parliament, the current President is being faced with the rare situation when needs to make use of his reserve powers.

“As we speak, we have a situation where the President is faced with members from the Opposition - who till now seem to be in the majority, according to media reports - who have asked the President to make a decision ont he removal and appointment of an Opposition leader,” he said.

“We could not have a better context [for the debate] that the situation we are currently living.”

The minister said that he hoped that in the coming hours, the President would make a free judgment on the matter. He added that he had hoped that the Opposition would have been able to solve the situation internally, without needing to fall onto the President’s reserve powers.

PN MP Chris Said remarked that the legal changes were needed specifically because of the Labour government’s behaviour since being elected in 2013.

“We need to make these Constitutional changes specifically because of what happened in Malta in the past seven years. The Venice Commission had issued a damning report… ”

Said highlighted that, once the change is in place for the president to be elected and removed only by a two-thirds majority, the head of state can be given more powers. “There will be peace of mind that more powers can be entrusted to him.”

PN MP Jason Azzopardi underlined that the proposal for the president to be appointed by a two-thirds majority had been made by then Opposition leader Simon Busuttil in December 2015. Had the government implemented such a change at the time, it would have avoided Malta risking being grey-listed by the Financial Action Task Force, Azzopardi said.

Referring to Zammit Lewis’ comments that posts requiring a two-thirds majority had always been a success, Azzopardi said “the Justice Minister’s statement is the biggest bill of indictment that the governments [past] criticisms of the PN’s proposals to introduce two-thirds majority requirement for certain positions were disloyal and dishonest.”

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