raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo

If you want to ‘Occupy Castille’... win an election

Taken literally, 'Occupy Castille' is a rallying cry to overthrow a legitimate, democratically-elected government. Do some people really mean it in that sense?

raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo
31 October 2017, 7:17am
It might have nothing to do with the ongoing protest outside Castille Palace, but whoever came up with the hashtag ‘Occupy Castille’ (and all the corresponding headlines) should really stop and think.

For one thing, the actual name of the event is ‘Occupy Justice’. And yes, I know... it models itself on the 2011 ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, which involved the symbolic reclamation of a physical space to make a purely political point. In this case, the physical space happens to be named ‘Castille Square’. So why not just condense that into ‘Occupy Castille’, and get it over with?

Erm... things aren’t quite that simple, I’m afraid. ‘Castille’ is not just a physical space. It is also the seat of government in this country: the local equivalent of the White House, 10 Downing Street or the Bundeskanzleramt. Occupying that sort of space is hardly the same thing as ‘Occupying Wall Street’. In fact, had the eponymous American movement chosen the seat of US government for its occupation, instead of New York’s financial district... well, I shudder to imagine the consequences. It would rightly have to be considered an attempted coup d’etat... 

But if that example is too transatlantic for you, there are also correlations right here is Europe. In 2006, protesters against the Iraq War staged a similar camp-out on Parliament Square in front of the UK’s House of Parliament. It was a peaceful and perfectly legitimate protest... but unlike Malta (where the rule of law has apparently broken down completely) they were chased out by the police, and their tents all forcibly removed. Some stoically resisted, but eventually – after lengthy court battles, etc –  the last tent was cleared away by 2011. New by-laws have meanwhile made it illegal to try that stunt again.

Strangely, however, I don’t seem to recall the European Parliament debating ‘the collapse of rule of law’ in the United Kingdom, when that country was busy mobilising its police force to suppress freedom of expression in the heart of its capital city. Ah well, that was then. Perhaps now, after Brexit, they’d react differently...

But anyway: those protesters did not threaten to ‘Occupy 10 Downing Street’. They only protested against what was, after all, an illegal war. And just look how they were treated.

How would the government of Britain have reacted had they chosen the ‘Occupy 10 Downing Street’ approach? I wonder. How does any government – ‘free’, ‘unfree’, ‘democratic’, ‘undemocratic’, etc. – deal with what would no doubt be perceived as a threat to its own legitimacy?

I’d rather not guess, to be honest. My point is that the message imparted by the ‘Occupy Castille’ hashtag – which I now see everywhere on the Internet – is not in any shape of form akin to the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ campaign that so evidently inspired its creators. Nor does it reflect the actual aims and intentions of the people camping on the steps of Castille... whose demands are quite reasonable, as far as I can see. 

Taken literally, ‘Occupy Castille’ is a rallying cry to overthrow a legitimate, democratically-elected government. And yes, I know most people out there don’t take it quite so literally; perhaps they’d be justified in accusing me of exaggeration. But I am beginning to suspect that some people really do mean it in that sense. 

There is, after all, a perfectly legitimate way to ‘Occupy Castille’, for those who wish to do so. It’s called ‘democracy’; and while our own electoral system may be complicated in the detail, on the surface it’s fairly straightforward. If you want to occupy the seat of government... you form a party, contest an election, and win.

I thought I’d just point that out, even if it applies only to the unfortunate choice of slogan (and not to the protest itself, which clearly doesn’t fit the ‘regime change’ description), because it is becoming increasingly clear that some have forgotten this basic principle. 

And there is an irony to this: if there is one thing everyone has so far agreed upon, it is that Daphne’s murder constituted a barbaric act of terrorism aimed at (apart from killing an innocent victim) stifling freedom of expression: one of the core principles of democracy.

Surely, it cannot be rational to respond by undermining a second, equally pivotal core principle of democracy: election by popular vote. 

Love it or hate it, the present government has a mandate to govern until 2022. Calls for it to simply ‘resign’, on the basis of popular suspicion – which in turn (as we all know) is fuelled by an astonishing degree of political prejudice in this country – are actually just attempts to short-circuit the entire democratic system, and secure a political outcome by other means. 

The situation would, of course, be considerably different if there was indeed convincing evidence that the present government had had a direct hand in commissioning the crime. Under those circumstances, no government could possibly cling to power on the basis of an electoral victory alone. Not, at least, if it wants to keep being considered ‘democratic’.

Have we come to that point while I wasn’t looking? Not that I can see myself. But that’s just me. If you go on the opinion of others – including quite a few MEPs, it seems - the FBI and their Dutch counterparts could just as well pack their bags and leave on the next flight. 

In just 11 days, and in the absence of any proof (or even any investigation)... the case has already been solved. As MEP Monica Macovei put it in the European Parliament this week (and several others worded the same conclusion differently), Daphne “died because she exposed corruption in Malta, such as money which had been sent from Azerbaijan [a reference to the Egrant allegations]. Who will investigate the Prime Minister? Was Daphne killed because she had made Joseph Muscat’s position uncomfortable? I think the Prime Minister and his entire government should resign after this.” 

Now: I’ll admit I don’t know what methodology the European Parliament uses to investigate murders... in fact, I had no idea anything like that even fell into its remit...  but aren’t we jumping to a few conclusions here?

Even people who have spent entire lifetimes immersed in the deep, dark underbelly of Malta’s political and criminal circuits... like former Police Commissioner John Rizzo, whom many want to take over the investigation... have been ultra cautious not to needlessly speculate. 

They intuitively know the complexity of the landscape involved in this case... enough to also know that their own private hunches, no matter how well-founded, are actually worthless. 

Just imagine, then, the worth of an unfounded suspicion by someone who only just started looking less than two weeks ago...

"If you go on the opinion of others - including quite a few MEPs, it seems - the FBI and their Dutch counterparts could just as well pack their bags and leave on the next flight"
But unhappily, conjecture begets conjecture.... if only because it comes from a hugely influential international source, and therefore cannot be lightly dismissed. 

Let’s see how Macovei’s questions work out if you turn them on their head. What if – for argument’s sake – “Joseph Muscat and his entire government” do precisely as she suggests, and resign en masse... and later, it transpires that the murder had absolutely nothing to do with the Egrant allegations, or indeed anything that can be traced to Joseph Muscat or his government? What would happen then?

I find it strange to have to even ask these questions... not just because they are, in themselves, rather glaringly obvious; but especially because the actual investigation itself appears to be taking on a completely different shape.

According to widespread international news coverage (and I stress that this may all be completely off the mark), the main avenue pursued by investigators concerns “Maltese links to a Libya-Italy diesel smuggling racket”. 

Other cited possibilities include Daphne’s recent investigations into local and international drug trafficking rings... not to mention her exposure of a London-based (with Malta connections) prostitution/money-laundering racket. 

If the latter suspicion proves true, it would not only clear Muscat of suspicion, but point the fingers of criminal culpability in the clean opposite political direction. But still: “Joseph Muscat and his entire government” would have already resigned by then... to be replaced, presumably, by...

Oh well, you can work out the rest for yourselves. Ironies within ironies...

But there is (as always) a flipside to all this. Having posed the above hypothetical scenario, I feel it’s only fair to provide the counter argument. After all, this works both ways. 

If it is unwise to pole-vault to conclusions, then it is equally unwise to discard possibilities. For this reason alone, Joseph Muscat (still less his ‘entire government’) cannot be eliminated from the suspect-list at this stage.  

So let us say - equally for the sake of argument - that... yes, actually. It really was Joseph Muscat who personally commissioned the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Here’s the proof. (Note: imagine you are confronted with definitive evidence, of the most foolproof and undeniable variety known to man, that Macovei’s suspicions are entirely correct.). And then, let us also imagine that ‘Joseph Muscat and his entire government’ refuse to step down, citing the election result as proof of his legitimacy.

Now THAT is a scenario where I would agree entirely that the rule of law had completely broken down. Under those circumstances, the ‘Occupy Castille’ hashtag would be completely justified, even in its most literal sense. 

Again, however, I don’t see that we’ve reached that situation yet. But here, the waters do become a little murkier. 

I left out the rather important second half of that question: what would happen in a situation like that, anyway? Are our national institutions strong enough to handle a complete usurpation of the State by the executive arm? Do we even have institutions that are legally empowered to delineate clear limits to the government’s power (and abuse thereof)? 

The short answer, I regret to say, is no. 

Even in other, much less extreme scenarios, we have seen little but failure when it comes to institutions ever keeping governments in check. 

Quite the other way round, as it happens. It is government that invariably clips all other institutions’ wings, and sets limits to whether (and to what extent) it can be investigated by anyone.

So I’ll salvage a small part of Macovei’s outburst, irrational though the rest may be. 

The question of ‘who investigates the Prime Minister’ does indeed have a place in this discussion.  

But I seriously doubt it can ever be answered by simply bypassing the democratic process, and ousting the legitimate government of an EU member state.