Former Labour Party deputy leader George Abela was yesterday officially nominated as Malta's eighth President, following consensus by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat.

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.

Dr Abela yesterday called on Dr Gonzi and Dr Muscat to personally thank them for the trust they had shown in him, agreeing on his nomination.

On his way out of Castille, after a 30-minute meeting with Dr Gonzi, Dr Abela told journalists he was very happy and honoured that he had been selected for the post.

The fact that both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party (PL) had agreed on his nomination showed "great political maturity" and put the national good before party interests.

Dr Abela asked journalists to cooperate and refrain from asking him for interviews and comments before the whole process was concluded and his nomination approved in Parliament. He said there was only one President, and that was Dr Fenech Adami.

From Castille, Dr Abela drove straight to the PL headquarters where he held a 20-minute meeting with Dr Muscat.

Some time earlier, the PL issued a statement saying the parliamentary group had backed the nomination of Dr Abela as President.

The PN parliamentary group also backed the nomination.

Dr Abela said he wanted to thank Dr Muscat personally and the parliamentary group for the trust they had shown in him.

Addressing a press conference, Dr Gonzi said Dr Abela was the only person considered for the role of President.

Contradicting media reports, he said he had not received any letters or recommendations on possible nominees, although the names mentioned by the media were all qualified too.

He said that, although he had no constitutional obligation to do so, he felt it was a good idea to consult with Dr Muscat on the issue in order to seek consensus.

Dr Gonzi said that on December 29 he had sent a letter to Dr Muscat suggesting Dr Abela and, during a meeting on January 9, Dr Muscat told Dr Gonzi he would accept the nomination.

Dr Gonzi said Dr Abela's appointment was one all should be proud of: "This was the ideal time to try out this new model, thanks to the maturity achieved in politics in this country".

He said that although he would have preferred the selection process to be longer and nearer to the end of the current President's term, he had to act fast due to media speculation.

Dr Abela will fill the role with prestige and dignity and, like all Presidents before him, rise above partisan politics and become a symbol of national unity. Dr Gonzi said he had known Dr Abela for a long time and his values, especially those of the family, were very similar to those he held dear.

He added this was the epitome of Together Everything Is Possible and Judge Us By What We Do, Not What We Say, two slogans used by the PN during the March general election.

However, he made it clear Dr Abela's appointment came "with no strings attached".

"Everyone knows that Dr Abela comes from a different political party to mine. But, let me make it clear, he was chosen under no conditions. No strings attached," he emphasised, while specifying that a pairing agreement had still not been reached.

In a short statement and without fielding questions from the press, Dr Muscat said Dr Abela was the natural choice for Labour as his values were also the party's values: social justice, the protection of the environment and a social state.

His nomination was an important achievement for the country because, for the first time since Sir Anthony Mamo's term as President, it enjoyed the support of both sides of the House and this was a result of "a strong political will by all those concerned".

Dr Muscat said Dr Abela was one of the people he had considered to propose to the Prime Minister so it was only natural that he reacted positively when he received the letter proposing Dr Abela.

"This is an occasion where we are showing the people that we are interested in a future that unites us more than a past which divides us. When I was elected party leader I promised a new political season with a positive party, which would help to change the way politics is done in Malta. Dr Abela was the natural choice for the Labour Party," he said.

Dr Muscat said the PL was proud Dr Abela would be the President of all Maltese and Gozitans.

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