Updated 7.50pm

Government and Opposition have finally agreed on a host of Constitutional amendments which will give greater powers to the President and change the method of appointment of the head of state, sources said on Tuesday. 

They added that the government had agreed to drop its proposal for a so-called anti-deadlock mechanism which had been the main stumbling block in these reforms.

The amendments provide that the President will be nominated by two-thirds of the members of parliament instead of a simple majority, as at present. 

But the government had also proposed that when a nominee twice fails to obtain the support of two-thirds of MPs, the threshold would be lowered to an absolute majority in the third round of voting.

Such a mechanism was also proposed for the nomination of the Ombudsman, the Auditor General, the head of the Permanent Commission Against Corruption and the Chief Justice.

The Opposition objected, arguing that the mechanism would defeat the whole purpose of the reforms since such sensitive positions could end up being occupied by people who did not enjoy the confidence of the opposition.

The breakthrough was made around 7pm on Tuesday when the House was due to take a series of votes on various clauses of a series of Bills amending the constitution. Contrary to what was expected, the Opposition did not vote against despite calling for a division on these clauses.

No details have yet emerged on what alternative will be proposed as a fallback position. Opposition MP Chris Said said that the government would be tabling amendments on Wednesday, which he said would make it possible for the Opposition to support the reforms.

One possibility could be that in case of disagreement, an acting President would remain in office until Government and Opposition agreed on a nominee.  

The opposition's backing is essential for the reforms to be passed since such amendments to the Constitution require a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

Signs that the deadlock could be broken started emerging on Monday when  "modest progress" was registered in a fresh round to talks held at the margins of the plenary parliamentary sitting. These talks were held between Prime Minister Robert Abela and Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis on one side, and Opposition leader Adrian Delia and MP Chris Said on the other.

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Hours before Monday's talks, the Justice Minister said the government would remain open to a solution until 7pm on Wednesday, when the constitutional amendments would be put to the vote.

These changes are in line with recommendations made by the group of experts on the rule of law from the Council of Europe, known as the Venice Commission.

Among the changes, the president will have stronger involvement in the appointment of the members of the judiciary. 

 

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