When outgoing President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca told Times Talk a few weeks ago her performance should be judged by the people, it is unlikely she was making a legal or constitutional point. Nor that she considers such high office as some popular contest.

Ms Coleiro Preca spoke that way because she happens to be a people’s person. Not in the sense of being populist or merely seeking the limelight. She is a person who cannot see people suffer and would go out of her way to help those in need. Not in search of votes or popularity but because that was the way she was brought up.

And that, to a large extent, was her biggest failure throughout the past five years. Her ‘obsession’ to be of service to anybody who needed help, of whatever type as long as it was legitimate, blinded her to the fact that she was no longer a politician taking constant calls for help or a Cabinet minister promoting and implementing the best social and welfare services a country could afford. Her role as President was way beyond that.

The occupier of the Grand Master’s Palace is, according to the Constitution, vested with the executive authority of Malta. The President is also the guardian of the Constitution, even if we often say the Office is a ceremonial one.

In her genuine desire to serve, Ms Coleiro Preca often appeared and acted as the CEO of a charity institution rather than the Head of State. But if she failed, she certainly did so because she pursued noble causes.

Her successor is no less genuine. George Vella is widely known to be a person for whom white is white and black is black. You know exactly where you stand with him and he speaks his mind.

He is likely to want to continue doing the good work his predecessors started but, no doubt, he will strive to ensure the Presidency will look and operate the way it should, as the office of the Head of State.

Reports he insisted he should chair the constitutional reform steering committee are a clear indication of his intentions. This is quite an arduous task, also because of the growing pressures on the government to brush up its act in terms of the rule of law. Dr Vella’s stature and the fact that no MP voted against his appointment will prove to be a determining factor in ensuring that all necessary changes are made for the good of Malta and its people.

The Venice Commission feels that strengthening the Presidency and increasing its independence of the government could be a way of improving checks and balances. It suggests that the President should be granted more powers of appointment without the intervention of the Prime Minister, especially when appointing judges and magistrates. The Council of Europe’s constitutional experts also recommend that the Head of State is elected with a qualified majority and, likewise, can be removed only by a qualified majority of the House of Representatives.

Dr Vella enjoys respect across the political divide and his stand on very delicate issues within the Labour Party in which he was so active for so long are open secrets. The country puts its whole trust in him.

Long live the President.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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