Updated 8pm with PN comments

Robert Abela said he was convinced he could reach a sensible agreement with the opposition if they put their heads together on the nomination of a new President of the Republic, but stopped short of saying that in case of an impasse, the government should enjoy the upper hand.

"I'm convinced I can sit down with Grech and find an agreement in good faith," the prime minister said, fielding questions from reporters on Monday. 

"Indeed, the two-thirds majority rule is now entrenched [in the constitution], but the constitutional reform must respect the equally important principle of democracy - meaning the sovereignty of the majority of the people must be respected as well.

"I'm not imposing any position. I'm absolutely not, and my message is clear. But that principle must be respected."

Video: Matthew Mirabelli

It is unclear whether Abela and Bernard Grech have begun discussing who would succeed George Vella on April 4, and on Monday Abela would not even confirm whether talks had begun.

The proposed names and the talks were to remain completely confidential, and it was wrong for any side to attempt to score political points by disclosing the details of the process, the prime minister said.

"Both Dr Grech and I are agreeing that for a mature discussion to happen, we must respect confidentiality and that nobody should capitalise off the process," he said.

"There are still some weeks to go till April 4 and I've already said what qualities I want in the next president, and I believe that if we discuss it seriously, we can reach an agreement."

Last month, Grech told Times of Malta that he was yet to hear from Abela on when they would start discussing the new contender for the country's highest role.

He would also not disclose the names the Opposition was planning on putting forward.

Following recent constitutional changes, Malta's next president will need to be appointed by a majority of at least two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives.

All previous presidents only needed to be nominated by simple majority after being proposed by the government. This will be the first time that both sides of the House have to agree on a name.

President George Vella's five-year term ends on April 1 and cannot be renewed. The government, can, however, nominate an acting president until agreement is reached on a successor.

PN reacts

Reacting to Abela's comments, the PN said in a statement that both sides of the House needed to agree on the next President of Malta. 

Neither side can dictate what will happen, arbitrarily, before discussions even kick off, the party said.

"The PN's position remains clear. The President should be a person who unites the Maltese and Gozitans, irrespective of where they come from."

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