The House of Representatives this evening approved a motion for George Abela to become the eighth President of Malta.

The motion was moved by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and seconded by Opposition leader Joseph Muscat.

Dr Gonzi said this was a solemn moment in Malta's history. The presidency was the highest constitutional and institutional office. Even if the President was viewed as being a figurehead, he was a crucial one. The President under his wings grouped all the people. The most important element of the presidency was that it promoted national unity.

Malta was a small country and every individual had his value and needed to be respected and allowed to contribute.

The nomination of Dr Abela was a historic moment which reflected unity and which had been greeted by most of the people. Of course, some disagreed, but clearly, this was an opportunity for the country which deserved to be grasped.

Dr Gonzi said he wished to thank all former Presidents and and those who had forged Malta's constitutional history.

He recalled how, last December 29 he wrote to the Leader of the Opposition proposing Dr Abela for the presidency. They had a meeting early in January and agreed to submit the proposal to their respective parliamentary groups. He regretted that the proposal reached the press at this early a stage, but that was now past.

Dr Gonzi said Dr Abela was being nominated for the Presidency because of his qualities and abilities for the Office. Throughout his life he had demonstrated integrity and honesty in different spheres of life. He loved his country and he loved his family, in what was a continuation of the values of the Maltese people championed by the Fenech Adami presidency.

Dr Abela also championed human dignity, solidarity, work as the ingredient which gave dignity to the human being and he also gave deserved importance to Maltese culture, young people and sport.

Of course, other people also had these qualities, including some of his closest friends, and they too would have been very suitable for the Presidency. But the country had reached a new phase in its constitutional and political development, and he was certain that the people felt that they should take a step forward. The very choice of Dr Abela marked a break from the practice where the President came from the government's political camp.

Up to some time ago, Dr Abela was one of the leading candidates for the leadership of the Labour Party. But experience showed that all those who served in the Presidency had managed, from day one, to rise above partsan politics. He was sure Dr Abela would do likewise.

Dr Abela and all politicians now had a responsibility to ensure that this political maturity was allowed to yield dividends for the country.

Opposition leader Joseph Muscat said he believed that Dr Abela would be the President of everybody from day one. He did not need to convince anyone.

When Dr Gonzi proposed Dr Abela to him, his instinctive reaction was to accept immediately, Dr Muscat said, but he obviously had to consult his colleagues.

It was good that the Presidency was again to be occupied by a person who had not served in Parliament, showing that the Office was not the monopoly of former MPs. His appointment would instil new energy into this Office. It was a powerful signal that this country needed to move forward as one. This unity needed to perculate down to all members of society, especially where the government had a say.

The three elements which were likely to define the Abela presidency were the value of work, especially in these hard times; the secular role of the state in a society of different beliefs and the philanthropic aspect of the presidency including a revamp of the community chest fund.

He was confident Dr Abela would make the country proud, Dr Muscat said.

No other speakers took part in the debate. The motion was approved unanimously.

Earlier the House approved a motion of appreciation for the work of outgoing President Eddie Fenech Adami (see separate story)

The House adjourned to Saturday at Noon for the appointment of the new President.

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