President George Vella has told MPs that it is constitutionally unclear whether he can appoint a new Opposition leader who isn’t also leader of the Nationalist Party.
The leadership crisis that has gripped the PN is unprecedented in recent Maltese history and Vella is expected to establish constitutional case law when he announces his decision.
PN sources quoted Vella as saying that while the Constitution clearly empowers him to remove Adrian Delia as Opposition leader if he doesn’t enjoy the trust of the majority of his MPs, it is unclear on whether it empowers him to appoint another MP in his stead.
The Constitution states that the leader of the largest party in opposition should be Opposition Leader, but that the President should revoke his appointment if another MP gains the support of the majority of Opposition MPs.
Therese Comodini Cachia has gained the support of 17 PN MPs, the majority of PN MPs, as well as its two MEPs.
However, the Constitution doesn’t specifically state whether the President should follow up the removal of the Opposition leader by appointing that second MP to the role.
Pictured below: The two clauses of the Constitution that will determine Adrian Delia’s fate
Seventeen rebel PN MPs (the majority of Opposition MPs) and two MEPs have published legal advice by constitutional experts Austin Bencini, Kevin Aquilina and Giovanni Bonello which state that the second MP should indeed be appointed Opposition leader.
“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,” Aquilina wrote.
The President’s decision could well determine the fate of the Nationalist Party and MPs are unsurprisingly on edge. Delia has refused to resign before the next general election, arguing that he feels a sense of loyalty towards the party members who had voted him in three years ago. However, Comodini Cachia’s appointment as Opposition leader would be a political game-changer and would likely force Delia to take drastic action.