Cometh the hour, the most ordinary person can surprise everyone and become extraordinary and heroic. There is no reason to think that our new president of the republic, Myriam Spiteri Debono, won’t rise to the occasion if that hour comes.

But there is good reason to think that Spiteri Debono, brought out of long retirement from a brief public life, is being over-hyped by the people who chose her to be our head of state.

This is no criticism of her. On the contrary, aged 71, she has accepted the call to serve us for five years in an office that sometimes calls for long hours and provokes uneasy nights. We should be grateful.

It is, however, criticism of those congratulating themselves for their vision in choosing her. Is she qualified? Yes. But the rest of the gush says more about our representatives than it says about her.

A question for those touting her towering qualities: If her performance as Speaker, or on some other occasion, is so seared in memory and inspirational to you personally, how come did she not spring immediately and spontaneously to mind (or anyone else’s mind in the past) when it came to discussing nominees?

Why did it have to go down to the wire? We almost had the embarrassment of not meeting the deadline.

You can’t have it both ways. If she’s extraordinary, and politicians knew it, then it’s no credit to them to have overlooked her for so long. They should be slapped on the wrist for their pigheadedness and myopia.

But if she’s a compromise, why pretend it’s not? A compromise is no bad thing, although it does mean that the politicians managed no more than the bare minimum required by the constitution.

Real political maturity means recognising she’s a compromise because other, objectively better qualified, candidates, with a longer record of public service in high office, were blackballed for political reasons.

Robert Abela would only accept someone of a Labour background. It says something about the current state of the Labour Party that – once Bernard Grech insisted that no former member of Joseph Muscat’s cabinets was acceptable – Abela had to fish out someone from obscurity, who last occupied public office a quarter of a century ago.

To repeat: this is not criticism of Spiteri Debono. It’s criti­cism of others who are over-selling their decision. They are peddling an illusion.

Take the claim that the choice of the new head of state represents an unusual show of political unity. No, it doesn’t.

Abela held out for a Labourite and proposed someone who had campaigned for his father in the 2008 Labour leadership contest. Grech, and the PN, went along because Spiteri Debono is someone they can respect.

Real unity – the kind that suggests we’re turning a corner – would involve convergence from both sides. Here, instead, we had movement mostly from one side, the one with less power.

Real unity would involve convergence from both sides. Here, instead, we had movement mostly from one side, the one with less power- Ranier Fsadni

Next, take the claim that says we’re seeing a new kind of political maturity. Really? The praise showered on her shows something else – not about her but about us.

She has been extolled for her honesty – ready to refuse lucrative work if it smelled fishy. She has been praised for her calm in a crisis. Why, she’s even been said to know her constitution since she’s a public notary!

These, apparently, are our standards. We’re delighted to find an honest notary, a president who knows the constitution and a public figure who can remain collected while everyone else is losing their head.

Some mature standards! If they say anything at all, it’s about other notaries, presidents and public figures.

To be clear, in a country whose government repeatedly defends its dodges by saying they’re permitted by the letter of the law, it is indeed refreshing to find that its nominee is faithful to the law’s spirit.

We have also had presidents who were sometimes less than honest. We’ve had a president who couldn’t tell the difference between being head of state and head of society and who – to go by Paul Caruana Galizia’s memoir – behaved like a headless chicken behind closed doors after the assassination of his mother. And we have had a president who, briefly, played fast and loose with the constitution.

If we’re going to put all that behind us, it’s a good sign. But it’s a sign of meeting a minimum threshold, not a higher standard of political maturity.

The same applies to the speech for which Spiteri Debono has rightly been praised. On a State occasion, she defended journalism as a democratic pillar and recognised that Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated for performing this public service.

If stating out loud the obvious truth required courage, it’s because she declared it before a ruling political class that refused to acknowledge it.

In other words, Spiteri Debono distinguished herself, among us, by saying what should be expected of any decent public figure.

To cite this speech as a qualification for the highest office, therefore, is a sign of how far we have travelled: from demanding normal standards of decency from all occupants of high office to praising the exception who obliges.

By all means, let us thank Spiteri Debono for accepting to preside over the likes of us. Let us wish her well. And do let’s stay off the absinthe.


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