Ge­orge Vella favourite to be ap­pointed the next Pres­i­dent of Malta

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Rachel At­tard

For­mer Labour For­eign Min­is­ter Ge­orge Vella is the favourite to be­come the next Pres­i­dent of Malta, The Malta In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day has learnt.

Se­nior gov­ern­ment sources said that Vella is be­ing men­tioned as the pre­ferred can­di­date to re­place Pres­i­dent Marie Louise Coleiro Preca when her term ex­pires in April.

Vella is one of a num­ber of politi­cians to whom Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat has re­ferred as his men­tors. Sources told this news­room that by ap­point­ing Vella as Pres­i­dent, Mus­cat would be show­ing his grat­i­tude for all the work the for­mer min­is­ter car­ried out dur­ing his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. Vella had sup­ported Mus­cat

dur­ing the PL lead­er­ship race and when the PL won the gen­eral elec­tion in 2013, Mus­cat ap­pointed him Min­is­ter for For­eign Af­fairs.

What could work against Vella is the fact that, dur­ing his four years as a se­nior min­is­ter, he dis­agreed with Mus­cat on a num­ber of is­sues, es­pe­cially those re­lated to civil lib­er­ties. In fact, in 2016, when Mus­cat pro­posed that Malta should in­tro­duced gay mar­riage, The Malta In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day had asked Vella if he agreed and, not minc­ing his words, Vella had replied: “I am for civil unions but I do not agree with gay mar­riage. Mar­riage is be­tween a man and a woman. I agree with civil unions be­cause they [LGBTI per­sons] de­serve the same rights as ev­ery­body else. The fact that their rights are recog­nised by law, in an in­sti­tu­tion­alised way, is im­por­tant.”

Vella also ex­pressed his dis­agree­ment when the Em­bryo Pro­tec­tion Act was be­ing dis­cussed in Par­lia­ment last May. In an in­ter­view with this news­room, he said that on the sub­ject of the amend­ments to the 2012 law on em­bryo pro­tec­tion, he would have “def­i­nitely” voted against the bill, had he still been a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment.

Cer­tain lib­eral laws that the Prime Min­is­ter wants to push through might cre­ate prob­lems for Vella as Pres­i­dent, be­cause of his rather con­ser­va­tive out­look. The clash might also cre­ate a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis.

One of the is­sues that Vella might be fac­ing will be the even­tual in­tro­duc­tion of sur­ro­gacy. Orig­i­nally pro­posed to be part of the IVF bill, the clause about sur­ro­gacy was even­tu­ally re­moved, with the gov­ern­ment say­ing it will be pre­sented by the gov­ern­ment as a sep­a­rate bill. If Vella be­comes the next Pres­i­dent of Malta, he will be re­quired to sign this bill.

Vella had al­ready ex­pressed his views on this mat­ter last year. He said he be­lieves that the Gov­ern­ment is get­ting into dif­fi­cult ter­rain, men­tion­ing that sur­ro­gacy is banned through­out Europe ex­cept in the UK. He said that the prob­lem is that the Gov­ern­ment was try­ing to soften hearts and make it seem that, with al­tru­is­tic sur­ro­gacy, we are be­ing char­i­ta­ble. “But ev­ery­body knows what hap­pens: it be­comes com­mer­cialised, it is com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and it is only in the in­ter­ests of the even­tual cou­ple and not of the em­bryo it­self.”

An­other bill that Vella might be asked to sign could be that on abor­tion. Labour did not in­clude it in the 2017 elec­tion man­i­festo, and has said that it does not have a man­date to in­tro­duce abor­tion dur­ing this leg­is­la­ture. But if it were to in­clude it in the man­i­festo for the next gen­eral elec­tion, it would come mid­way through the next Pres­i­dent’s term.

The Prime Min­is­ter him­self has given var­i­ous as­sur­ances that abor­tion is not on Labour’s agenda, but any­thing can hap­pen in five years. For­mer PN Prime Min­is­ter Lawrence Gonzi never ex­pected di­vorce to be­come a na­tional is­sue that was even­tu­ally de­cided via a ref­er­en­dum.

With a num­ber of pres­sure groups ad­vo­cat­ing the right for women to abort, the pos­si­bil­ity that this will end up in the gov­ern­ment’s lap in the same way that di­vorce ended on Gonzi’s plate can­not be ex­cluded. Vella him­self has said on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions that he is against abor- tion.

If ap­pointed the next Pres­i­dent, Vella, now 77, would be the old­est per­son ever ap­pointed to the post. Censu Tabone was ap­pointed at the age of 76, the old­est per­son to take over the Head of State po­si­tion since Malta be­came a repub­lic in 1974.

In the past months, a num­ber of names have be­gun do­ing the rounds in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles and the cor­ri­dors of Par­lia­ment and Castille. Re­cently, the Na­tion­al­ist me­dia said that Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Evarist Bar­tolo is be­ing ear­marked as Pres­i­dent, with Bar­tolo him­self down­play­ing it as ‘mere spec­u­la­tion’.

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