For the first time in 40 years, Eddie Fenech Adami can claim this afternoon that he is a private citizen.

The end of his five year term as President at noon today brought to a close a remarkable career which started when Prime Minister George Borg Olivier picked the lawyer from Birkirkara for co-option to Parliament in 1969.

Of course, his political life started earlier. He contested but failed to get elected at the 1962 and 1966 general elections, but was very active within the Nationalist Party and served as the editor of its newspaper Il-Poplu and then president of its administrative council.

His election to the helm of the Nationalist Party in 1977 saw the party machine speed up a process of modernisation while the party’s policies moved closer to the centre.

One of Fenech Adami’s earliest, and biggest, tests came on October 15, 1979 when thugs attacked and ransacked his home and assaulted his wife. Several PN clubs were also set on fire, as were the offices of The Times.

Dr Fenech Adami displayed the character that was to be a distinguishing factor of his leadership by appealing for calm, nipping in the bud a situation which could have spiralled out of control. It was a characteristic which he was to show in other defining moments – notably following the murder of Raymond Caruana in 1986.

It was also in 1979 that Fenech Adami set the Nationalist Party formally on the road to membership of the European Union, a goal he was to achieve in 2004 in what will forever be remembered as the highlight of his political career.

But much had to happen before that.

In 1981, his first general election as party leader, the PN won an absolute majority of votes but not enough seats to form a government. Gerrymandering of electoral boundaries was blamed, and Nationalist MPs boycotted Parliament until Dom Mintoff committed himself to amend the constitution to avoid a repetition. That amendment was only made in the eleventh hour of the administration, in 1987.

And while political divisions sharpened, Fenech Adami introduced new words to the Maltese political dictionary – djalogu (dialogue) and rikonciljazzjoni nazzjonali (national reconciliation).

Reconciliation – both local and with the Western democracies - became one of the priorities of his government, elected in 1987. He also set about modernising the economy and updating the infrastructure, reducing the presence of government in business and launching a process of liberalisation.

As Prime Minister, Fenech Adami welcomed, among others, the Pope, Presidents Bush and Gorbachev and Queen Elizabeth II to Malta.

In 1992 he won a second term with an increased majority but lost to new Labour leader Alfred Sant in the 1996 election, held in the wake of the introduction of VAT.

The stint in Opposition was to last for only 22 months before early elections returned Fenech Adami to Castille. His new term was characterised by the final sprint for Malta to join the EU and ended with a referendum which approved EU membership in 2003. As the results were announced and in the context of an Opposition declaration that it would only recognise the people’s decision on EU membership if given at a general election, Dr Fenech Adami called a general election.

It was held just days before the instruments of accession were due to be signed in Athens.

Fenech Adami triumphed once more, and was off to Athens within hours of the result becoming known.

EU accession was the highlight as well as the conclusion of his years as Prime Minister. He announced a few months later that he was stepping down as leader of the Nationalist Party and Prime Minister.

The handing over took place in March 2004, with one of the first decisions taken by new Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi being to nominate Dr Fenech Adami to the Presidency. His decision did not meet universal approval, since Dr Fenech Adami had been the leader of a political party and was therefore viewed by some quarters as being a divisive figure.

But five years on, praise for the Fenech Adami presidency found no political divide, with Opposition leader Joseph Muscat seconding a parliamentary motion by Dr Gonzi to thank Dr Fenech Adami for his service as President.

Dr Fenech Adami has said he intends to enjoy the freedom of not being restricted by a diary of official duties and he intends to spend as much time as possible with his grandchildren, one of whom is just two weeks old.

See also Fr Joe Borg’s blog: In praise of a great man:

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