Malta’s constitutional experts have rubbished assertions by embattled PN Leader Adrian Delia that the constitution and party statute insist that the roles of Opposition Leader and Party Leader cannot be split in his bid to keep control of the PN leadership.
In three separate opinions, constitutional experts Judge Giovanni Bonello, lawyer Austin Bencini, and Profs Kevin Aquilina all agreed that Delia was playing fast and loose with constitutional interpretation.
Delia might be correct that Article 90(2) of the Constitution provides that the Opposition Leader must be the Leader of the party that has the biggest representation in the House of Representatives. However, Bonello, Bencini, and Aquilina all agree that Article 90(4), which details how an Opposition Leader would be removed by the President, render the previous article irrelevant.
The article, they say, allows the President to revoke the appointment of the Opposition Leader once they have lost the support of the largest opposition group.
“[Article 90(4] contemplates the appointment of a Leader of the Opposition DURING the course of a legislature when, in the President’s judgement, the Leader of the opposition has ceased to command the support of the largest single group of members in opposition to the government.”
“In these circumstances, the mechanism established by sub-article 4 comes into effect, and the provisions of sub-article 2 are wholly irrelevant,” Bonello explained.
“The most important difference from the appointment of the Leader of Opposition is that now the qualification of “Leader of the Party” is substituted by “a member of the House of Representatives,” Bencini added.
Aquilina agreed saying:
“Although not spelt out black on white, sub-article (4) by necessary intendment is stating that the MP who now enjoys the majority support of PN MPs over the incumbent Leader of the Opposition is to be appointed as the new Leader of the Opposition instead of the incumbent Leader of the Opposition who has during the legislature’s lifespan lost majority support of PN MPs.”
“This is why the incumbent Leader of the Opposition is being removed to be substituted by another MP as aforesaid.”
However, constitutional expert Franco Debono warned that removing the Opposition Leader could result in a months-long battle to find a new Party Leader.
A constitutional crisis has erupted in Malta after Delia refused to step down after losing a confidence vote in the PN’s parliamentary group by 19 votes to 11.
Delia has vowed to stay on as PN Leader until the end of the legislature, insisting that the PN’s paid-up members had elected him to the role of leader. He also said the constitution and party statute prohibit him from stepping down.
If the President intervenes, Therese Comodini Cachia is likely to be appointed to Opposition Leader.
Should Delia stay on, the PN could end up in the anomalous situation of having a separate Party Leader and an Opposition Leader.
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