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Updated: Give civil society more space, President tells politicians

Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

President George Abela this morning urged political parties to include a chapter on civil society in their election manifestos.

He was speaking in the presence of Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi during the customary exchange of New Year's greetings with the country's highest authorities.

In a passionate tone Dr Abela said the country had to create "the space for civil society to work in", hinting that it should also be involved in constitutional reform.

"Civil society was mobilised during the divorce campaign, the l-Istrina fund raiser and by the political parties. Civil society is a force to be reckoned with," Dr Abela said.

In his meeting with Opposition leader Joseph Muscat, the President noted that it was unacceptable for an effluent society to have almost 70,000 people living at risk of poverty. He insisted on targeted programmes that not only helped these people live comfortably but enabled them to move up the social ladder.

When meeting Speaker Michael Frendo and MPs, the president explained the reasoning behind his protracted deliberation on the Prime Minister's request to dissolve Parliament earlier this month.

"In my limited function I felt I had to consult with the Speaker as the head of the House of Representatives. It was a small gesture that reinforced my belief in an autonomous Parliament," Dr Abela said. He also justified his meeting the Opposition leader before acceding to the Prime Minister's request.

On the eve of an election campaign, Dr Abela called on politicians to keep in mind the day after the election result is out. "At the end of it all there must only be one winner - Malta."

He said unity will be difficult to achieve if politicians sowed division during the electoral campaign.

Dr Abela met other dignitaries. The first visit he had was from the Archbishop.

What they said

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi

In a short address Dr Gonzi said it was a privilege at the start of a New Year to have led a Government that helped Malta navigate the turbulence caused by the global economic crisis.

He congratulated Dr Abela for leaving his mark on the presidency by uniting people around the core value of solidarity.

On the election, Dr Gonzi said the people will choose with "serenity and objectivity as they have always done".

"Even if we take our politics in a serious manner after the March election, the country will continue to move ahead," he said.

The Prime Minister later received greetings from the public at Castille.

Opposition leader Joseph Muscat

Reflecting on what he described as the longest electoral campaign in 25 years, Dr Muscat said it will put the onus on politicians to ensure tranquility in the country.

Dr Muscat reiterated the message he delivered on New Year's Eve, saying that the day after the election should be a day like any other. "There should be no winners and losers."

Dr Muscat said the priorities for this year were the creation of meaningful work along with economic growth that will enable the country to strengthen its welfare and health systems.

Dr Muscat later received greetings from the public at the PL headquarters.

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