Updated 8.05pm with government response

The Nationalist Party on Saturday slammed the fact that the government will still have the last word when appointing the country’s president and chief justice.

Two bills published on Friday propose that the appointment of the president and the chief justice shall be by a two thirds parliamentary majority, but only after the first or second round of voting. If no such majority is reached and the vote goes to a third round, then only a simple majority is needed.

The constitutional changes are part of the proposals to conform with the proposals by the Venice Commission to strengthen the rule of law in Malta.

Reacting to the publication of two bills amending the Constitution it described the simple majority requirement as “unacceptable” especially when the government had publicly stated that the cabinet had approved to change the method of appointment of the president to a two thirds parliamentary majority. There was also an informal agreement with the opposition on this matter.

“The opposition has always insisted that the appointment of president should be by a two thirds parliamentary majority, which is the method of apointment of the auditor general, the ombudsman and the commissioner for standards. Such appointments have always taken place under different administrations without any problems,” a statement by Chris Said, Tonio Borg and Amy Camilleri Zahra, PN members of the steering committee on constitutional reform, said.

The statement also said that the government is proposing that the two thirds parliamentary majority needed to remove a member of the judiciary from office should be removed. The opposition, it said, had not been consulted on various proposals in the bills published.

Later on Saturday, the government insisted in its own statement that it would be divesting itself of the powers to appoint the president and chief justice. 

The 'anti-deadlock mechanism' - the simple majority vote after two failed two-thirds majority - votes had been agreed upon with the Venice Commission, it said. 

"The government is nevertheless committed to reaching agreement among two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives in these appointments. This was already reached without any legal framework in the appointment of the new Chief Justice, Mark Chetcuti."

"The government will continue with these reforms as agreed with the Venice Commission, and which have drawn praise from the European Commission as they will carry us towards stronger institutions with greater respect for the rule of law and good governance."

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