President has the power to remove Opposition Leader

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The President of the Republic has the power to remove the Opposition Leader according to the Constitution. Speaking to Newsbook.com.mt, both Judge Emeritus Giovanni Bonello and lawyer Franco Debono said that if in the judgement of the President, the Leader of the Opposition has ceased to command the support of the largest single group of MPs in Opposition, then the President shall revoke the appointment.

On Thursday morning, during an event at the University of Malta, Newsbook.com.mt asked President George Vella to give his comments about the matter. President Vella said it is not the time and place to reply to our questions and asked this newsroom to send questions to his spokesperson.

Speaking to Newsbook.com.mt, former Judge of the European Court of Human Rights Giovanni Bonello said that the Constitution leaves it up to the President’s judgement if the person chosen as Opposition Leader has ceased to command the support of the largest single group of MPs in Opposition.

Judge Emeritus Bonello said that the Constitution did not place a limit on how the President shall reach such conclusion, however, if a formal confidence vote is taken this would make his life easier. In the absence of a formal vote, the President may still reach a conclusion based on information. He added that the President can act on personal initiative in this case, however, the President is not obliged to do so either, by the Constitution.

The President has more leeway’

Lawyer and former PN MP Franco Debono said that in the case of the removal of the Opposition Leader, the President has more leeway and can take an active role. Dr Debono referred to Article 90(4) of the Constitution, which states that:

If, in the judgment of the President, a member of the House of Representatives other than the Leader of the Opposition, has become the Leader in the House of the opposition party having the greatest numerical strength in the House or, as the case may be, the Leader of the Opposition has ceased to command the support of the largest single group of members in opposition to the Government, the President shall revoke the appointment of the Leader of the Opposition.

Dr Debono said that this means that the President has the power and the discretion to remove the Opposition Leader without the need of having a formal vote. He remarked that this is subjective.

“It is one of the few instances where the President has power to maneuver without requiring the advice of the Prime Minister. In such situations, the President has an active role rather than a passive one,” Dr Debono told Newsbook.com.mt.

He added that the President has an obligation to act. “He needs to see whether the Opposition Leader commands the support of the MPs,” Dr Debono remarked. He pointed out that a number of MPs made a public statement on the situation.