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Abela welcomed as next President

Former Labour deputy Leader George Abela has been welcomed as Malta's next President by most commentators who pondered the significance of his historic nomination.

The 60-year-old lawyer, who only last June lost the race for Labour leader to Joseph Muscat, will not only become the first President to enjoy the backing of both sides of the House since Anthony Mamo in 1974, but is also the country's first nominee to come from the political camp opposing the government.

"He's an ideal choice since he can rise above party politics very easily in this country where it has been difficult to go beyond it," author Oliver Friggieri said.

One of his greatest friends Lino Spiteri, who was also said to be on the list of candidates, shared similar thoughts. "It's a good decision that shows a measure of agreement between the two sides in circumstances where there is a deep division, especially because of the closeness of the election results."

He ruled out having mixed feelings as a result of a personal ambition to take up the post himself. "I don't have mixed feelings as in my mind I was never in the running and never wanted to be."

Alternattiva Demokratika also welcomed the news on the same lines with a statement (the only issued by an official body), congratulating both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader.

While also welcoming Dr Abela's nomination, philosopher and former advisor to the outgoing President Peter Serracino Inglott said he did not view the decision to have someone from the opposing camp as an achievement.

Seeing the nomination as such would be disrespectful towards previous Presidents who, despite their affiliation with the party in government, had proven to be independent when required, he said.

Still, Dr Abela's nomination does not come without problems for both Labour and PN. PN sources said there have already been complaints about the fact that the candidate is not a moderate from the PN fold.

But perhaps the biggest challenge will come from Labour who are likely to have to deal with the protestations of the former leader and deputy leaders, Alfred Sant and George Vella, who both fell out with Dr Abela. Dr Sant would not comment when contacted yesterday, while Dr Vella could not be contacted.

The Prime Minister will be informing Cabinet officially of the decision this morning after which he will meet the parliamentary group. The Labour parliamentary group is expected to meet to discuss the nomination late this morning.

After that, the two sides are expected to release separate statements.

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