Former Labour deputy leader George Abela is to be nominated as Malta's eighth President by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi tomorrow, The Sunday Times has learnt.

Dr Abela, 60, will succeed Eddie Fenech Adami as President after his five-year term ends on April 4. He will be the second youngest president after Agatha Barbara.

It is understood that Dr Gonzi will inform Cabinet and the Nationalist Party parliamentary group tomorrow and he is expected to make an official announcement when Parliament reconvenes later in the day.

This is first time that a Maltese Prime Minister will be nominating a member of the opposing party for the Presidency.

Dr Gonzi's choice is likely to be judged as bold by political observers, though Dr Abela has wide national appeal.

It is understood that Labour leader Joseph Muscat approves of the nomination, meaning this is the first time there has been consensus over the nominee by leaders of the respective parties since Anthony Mamo became Malta's first President in 1974. Labour's parliamentary group will be meeting tomorrow to take a final decision on their support of the nomination.

The next President will be elected after a simple majority vote in Parliament. But it remains to be seen whether there will be any resistance to Dr Abela's nomination from MPs from either party.

The Prime Minister's choice comes as something of a surprise since government circles recently suggested that Speaker Louis Galea, former Finance Minister Lino Spiteri and European Commissioner Joe Borg were the front-runners.

However, Dr Abela was also being widely mentioned for the post.

The lawyer unsuccessfully contested the post of Labour leader, losing out to Dr Muscat in a fractious contest last June. However, Dr Muscat was quick to build bridges with Dr Abela and appointed him Labour's representative on the Malta-EU Steering Action Committee.

Charismatic and experienced, and known for his organisational and leadership skills, the former Malta Football Association president was thrust into the limelight when he was appointed deputy leader of the Labour Party in the 1990s. But he quit the post in 1998, shortly before the first of three successive defeats for the PL.

Despite his well-publicised falling-out with then Labour leader Alfred Sant, for the next 10 years Dr Abela kept a low profile, and suppressed his views to ensure he would cause no harm to the party he had helped revive from the ashes in the space of five years.

He was subsequently applauded by his political opponents for having the courage to acknowledge his party's mistake of opposing EU membership and the removal of VAT.

Dr Abela formed part of the Meusac core group during Malta's negotiations with the EU, after completing a course in EU law, and served in the General Workers' Union for 26 years.

In an interview with The Sunday Times last April, he said: "In politics you have to give and take. It is not a matter of appointing an individual from the Labour camp to assume the role of President to reflect the close election result - the next President should be a symbol of national unity."

Factbox on George Abela

1948: Born in Qormi, April 22.

1965: Starts reading law at the University of Malta.

1975: Graduates as a lawyer and starts acting as a legal consultant to the General Workers' Union.

1982: Appointed president of the Malta Football Association and oversees the initiation of professionalism in the sport.

1992: Resigns as MFA president and is appointed Labour Party deputy leader for party affairs.

1996: Labour Party wins general elections and Dr Abela acts as legal consultant to the then Prime Minister Alfred Sant.

1998: Resigns from deputy leader of the Labour Party, objecting to a proposal to hold a snap election, which it later lost.

2000: He severs all links with the GWU when the administration urges him to sign a declaration to abide by its directives.

2008: Contests the Labour leadership whereby he stresses the need for change and unity within the LP. He places second in spite of a 10-year absence from politics. Appointed Labour's representative to Meusac.

Dr Abela is married to Margaret née Cauchi, and has two children, Robert and Maria.

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