Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando has been quoted by Malta today saying that “the President of the Republic would be justified in calling the Prime Minister to see if he has a majority after Franco Debono’s comments.” (see also on Maltastar). Well he wouldn’t. The President of the Republic need not take any such initiative because it is not up to him to do so. Our Constitution (God Bless the Paper it is written on) is quite clear about when the President may intervene with regards to the Prime Minister (and the leader of the opposition).
Everybody knows that the President appoints the member of the House who in his (the President’s) judgement is best able to command a majority of the members of that house. That situation arises “Whenever there shall be an occasion for the appointment of a Prime Minister” (article 80). On the other hand the Constitution is quite clear about the removal of the Prime Minister (article 81) and it that case it specifies quite clearly that this occurs: “If the House of Representatives passes a resolution, supported by the votes of a majority of all the members thereof, that it has no confidence in the Government, the President may remove the Prime Minister from office“.
You see Jeffrey. It is not up to the President to decide whether the PM still enjoys the support of the majority of members of the House. It is up to the House voting on a clear no confidence motion to do so. Had the drafters of our Constitution wanted to give the President the power to constantly use his own judgement – and not that of the House – in order to assess whether the PM commands a majority then we would have had an article similar to article 90(4):
90 (4) If, in the judgement 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 Government, the President shall revoke the appointment of the Leader of the Opposition.
The constitutional provisions have already been ignored once in the Richard Cachia Caruana motion and procedures (article 111 in particular). We cannot afford to have politicians continue to ride roughshod on the constitution, observing only the parts of the law that are convenient to them. Abela’s mission in Peru is safe for now.
I am led to believe that some observes sill imagine an extension of the life of this government beyond the reopening of parliament after recess ends. I disagree. The summer break is a reprieve and a chance for the PN to put its house in order. An election cannot be too long in the waiting once the summer break ends – if only for the simple obvious reason that one of either JPO and Debono will be prepared to vote against the government in a crucial confidence motion.
Whether Lawrence Gonzi is prepared to call their bluff – if only to let the blame of the end of government to fall squarely on their shoulders – is a matter of electoral brinkmanship. What we can say for certain is that this kind of midsummer rumbling is a prelude to the silence before the storm. Expect that silence to occur mid-August and the storm to hit you with a vengeance around September (if you’re still around and haven’t melted in the heat).