Government and Opposition are still in disagreement on a Bill which is proposing the appointment of the President with a two-thirds parliamentary majority, two days before the matter will be put to the vote.

The discord emerged on Monday, when the two sides started to debate the Bill clause by clause at committee stage.

The two sides disagree on the so-called anti-deadlock mechanism which would be triggered when a nominee for the office does not obtain a two-thirds majority after two rounds of voting in parliament.

The government is proposing that in such a scenario, the fallback position would be for the appointment to be made by an absolute majority of the members of the House.

That would mean that the government would not have to rely on the Opposition’s support and consequently would have the possibility to push the candidate of its own choice. 

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis who is piloting the Bill, said the two sides agreed in principle but not on the “detail” of the fallback position.

He said that even in case of disagreement, the fallback position would be better than the current system as the nominated candidate would still have to obtain the support of the absolute majority of 67 MPs, whereas today what is required is a simple majority of the MPs present and voting in the House.  

“This is a major constitutional breakthrough for Malta,” Zammit Lewis said.
He also pointed out that the Venice Commission (the think-tank of the Council of Europe on rule of law)  expressed no reservations on the deadlock mechanism being proposed. 

Opposition MP Chris Said said the Opposition was in favour of appointing the president by a two-thirds parliamentary majority. However, given that the head of state would be vested with new powers such, such as the appointment of the members of the judiciary, it would be very risky to leave a window open for the appointment to be made by absolute majority. 

In the past the PN had no qualms to nominate or even support a candidate hailing from the Labour Party as was the case for the last three presidents. 

“Far from being a detail, the anti-deadlock mechanism is of great concern,” he said.

The mechanism proposed by the government “defeats the whole purpose of these changes," he said. 

“As legislators we must also cater for a scenario in which the government would try to abuse of its position,” he said. 

Said pointed out that in Malta’s parliamentary reality, the government would always have an absolute majority.

He called for further talks for an alternative mechanism, such as having an acting president until an agreement was reached.  

Opposition MP Carm Mifsud Bonnici expressed concern that this anti-deadlock mechanism could discourage a genuine effort to reach agreement on a nomination.

“What is the problem with removing this fallback position, if since 2009 we have always agreed?” he asked. 

The justice minister said he would remain open for an agreement till the vote scheduled for Wednesday evening. However, if the Opposition was not on board the Bill will not go through as it required a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

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