Opposition accuses Prime Minister of tactics that pose ‘serious threat to democracy’

The Opposition says Prime Minister Robert Abela’s insistence to change the rules to get his standards commissioner nomination through is 'anti-democratic and irresponsible'

Former chief justice Joseph Azzopardi has been nominated by the Prime Minister to fill the role of standards commissioner but the Opposition is against
Former chief justice Joseph Azzopardi has been nominated by the Prime Minister to fill the role of standards commissioner but the Opposition is against

Robert Abela’s insistence to introduce an anti-deadlock mechanism to overcome the impasse over the nomination for standards commissioner is a “serious threat” to democracy, the Opposition said.

The post requires a two-thirds majority in parliament to be filled and the Opposition has said it will not back the Prime Minister’s nominee, former chief justice Joseph Azzopardi.

Abela has filed two motions proposing Azzopardi for the role of standards commissioner and retired judge Joseph Zammit McKeon for the role of ombudsman.

The PN is supporting Zammit McKeon’s nomination but not Azzopardi’s. Zammit McKeon had been proposed by Bernard Grech but the PN has so far not made its reasons for opposing Azzopardi public.

The Prime Minister has said he is willing to propose legal changes to ensure an anti-deadlock mechanism is inserted into the law to overcome the impasse if the two-thirds majority cannot be achieved.

However, on Monday, the PN accused the Prime Minister of wanting to change the rules of democracy to suit his agenda.

“The PN considers the Prime Minister’s comments that he wants to change the law regulating how the standards commissioner is appointed as anti-democratic and irresponsible and only intended to destroy the institution of the standards commissioner,” the PN said. “What Robert Abela wants to do is a serious threat to democracy and goes against the rule of law.”

The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission had proposed the introduction of an anti-deadlock mechanism to avoid institutional paralysis for those roles that require a two-thirds majority in parliament. However, Abela’s decision to change the law comes at a moment of impasse.

The standards commissioner is tasked with investigating claims of ethical breaches by MPs and ministers. Previous investigations by George Hyzler led to the resignations of former education minister Justyne Caruana and former parliamentary secretary Rosianne Cutajar.
The PN said Abela wants to unilaterally decide who the person with the ability to investigate him and his MPs will be.

“The PN believes there are various people known for their integrity and with a sense of initiative and who possess the skills to investigate cases, which are the characteristics needed by someone tasked to serve as standards commissioner,” the PN said, adding that Opposition leader Bernard Grech will remain open to discuss the names of other people with the Prime Minister.

The Labour Party has accused Grech of initially consenting to Azzopardi’s nomination, only to change tack after internal opposition within the PN parliamentary group.

The PL accused the Opposition of anti-democratic behaviour when it insists on “having it the minority’s way or no nothing”.