Malta’s former presidents have urged the new president “to be yourself”, to uphold the constitution and to strive to unite the country on matters of national importance.

As 71-year-old Myriam Spiteri Debono prepares to be sworn in as Malta’s new president this morning, Times of Malta asked the men and woman who held the country’s highest office in the past to offer her some advice as she takes on the role.

“Just to be her natural self,” former president George Abela said.

It was a piece of advice echoed almost identically by Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, who also urged her to make the long-promised constitutional reform “an urgent priority”.

“Among pressing issues to be put under national reflection, for the necessary constitutional reform, our constitution should safeguard our environment, national heritage and should entrench children’s rights and the integration of our society,” she said in a reply to Times of Malta questions.

“Work at national unity is also a matter of importance.”

Ugo Mifsud Bonnici served as president between 1994 and 1999. Photo: DOIUgo Mifsud Bonnici served as president between 1994 and 1999. Photo: DOI

Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, 91, who served as president between 1994 and 1999, congratulated Spiteri Debono for accepting to serve in the role and recommended “she holds high our democratic constitution and that she does everything in her power to uphold it”.

“Secondly, that she should always follow her conscience in fulfilment of her duties,” he said.

“I would also add that she holds dear our motherland and our identity in the spirit of the verses of our national anthem, which has always bound us as a nation.”

Mifsud Bonnici, who is the oldest living former president, said Spiteri Debono should continue to prioritise “the peace and unity of the nation” and the spread of education as well as “a sense of duty of care at all levels of society, thus ensuring peace and stability for all”.

President George Vella, who leaves office today, was also asked for comment and to offer his advice but questions sent to his office remained unanswered.

A ceremonial morning

Vella was the 10th president in Malta’s 50-year history as a republic and today he walks into Valletta’s Grand Master’s Palace as the president for the last time and exits as another citizen, after a tumultuous five years of controversy, characterised by a once-in-a-century deadly pandemic, civil unrest, hotly debated laws, a fallen prime minister and an opposition in turmoil.

The ceremonial and protocol-filled morning will begin at 10am at St John’s Co-Cathedral, where the country’s leaders, MPs and other dignitaries join Archbishop Charles Scicluna in a “solemn mass for our country”.

Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca served as president between 2014 and 2019. File photo: Times of MaltaMarie-Louise Coleiro Preca served as president between 2014 and 2019. File photo: Times of Malta

At the end of the mass, President Vella, Speaker Anġlu Farrugia, Prime Minister Robert Abela and President-elect Myriam Spiteri Debono and her family walk to the Palace in St George’s Square.

Shortly afterwards, a guard of honour of the Armed Forces of Malta marches from Freedom Square, in front of parliament, to St George’s Square, where the prime minister is accorded a national salute and the national anthem is played.

All dignitaries are expected to proceed to the Palace’s throne room at noon, when the speaker will commence a parliamentary sitting.

Spiteri Debono takes the oath of office as president at around 12.15pm.

She will then deliver her inaugural address and proceed to greet people from the palace’s balcony, as is the tradition.

The ceremony ends in St George’s Square, where the national anthem is played and the newly appointed president inspects the AFM guard of honour and the army’s air squadron performs a flypast.

Dignitaries will then proceed to the war memorial, in Floriana where they will lay a wreath at the foot of the monument before the new president and her husband are then escorted to their new home – San Anton Palace, in Attard – where they will be welcomed by palace staff.

The prime minister and his wife and the Opposition Leader Bernard Grech and his wife are expected to pay her a visit at the palace in the afternoon.

George Abela served as president between 2009 and 2014. Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiGeorge Abela served as president between 2009 and 2014. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Third Gozitan, third woman 

Spiteri Debono was born in Victoria, Gozo, in 1952. However, she lived in Birkirkara for most of her life, during which she was actively involved in the Labour Party.

She will be the third woman president after Coleiro Preca and Agata Barbara and the third Gozitan president, after Ċensu Tabone and Anton Buttigieg.

Spiteri Debono contested four successive general elections on the Labour Party ticket – in 1981, 1987, 1992 and 1996 – but was never elected. After her 1996 run, newly elected prime minister Alfred Sant appointed her the first female speaker of the house – a position she held for almost two years.

It was a short but remarkably turbulent political period, during which former prime minister Dom Mintoff eventually brought down his own government, forcing Sant’s one-seat-majority administration to call an election, which Labour lost.

Spiteri Debono was seldom seen in public fora in recent years, until she delivered a Victory Day address on September 8, 2021.

She paid tribute to assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, calling on the nation to “redeem ourselves anew” and commit to the necessary reforms in the wake of the murder.

Following changes to the constitution in 2020, Spiteri Debono was the first president to require a majority of at least two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives. The president of Malta is a largely ceremonial role. But a president’s signature is the final step in the legislative process and no law can come into force without it.

She was unanimously approved in parliament as Malta’s next president last week, following a brief period of negotiations between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.

Spiteri Debono is married to notary Anthony Spiteri Debono and they have three children.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.