Ten green bottles

So, the mystery behind Farrugia’s dismissal will not be easily solved

Ten green bottles hanging on the wall,

And if one green bottle should accidentally fall,

There'll be nine green bottles hanging on the wall.

The Cabinet reshuffle announced last Saturday by the Prime Minister was no great shakes – except for one fact: Aaron Farrugia was given the order of the boot from a minister to a backbencher. And nobody knows why.

The Prime Minister’s statement that he wanted to rejuvenate the Cabinet as the reason of Farrugia’s dismissal does not wash. Owen Bonnici has been a Cabinet Minister since the first Joseph Muscat Cabinet but the rejuvenation exercise does not apply to him. I am not rooting for the demotion of Bonnici, but I am just saying that the Prime Minister’s official reason simply does not make sense.

Similar decisions in the past have been very rare. I remember, some four decades ago, Reno Calleja losing his Cabinet post, apparently because Dom Mintoff found him wanting, although no reason – official or otherwise - was ever given for this decision of his. This is, of course irrelevant to present day circumstances.

Other Ministers lost their post because of doing something that their Prime Minister considered problematic or inappropriate, but that is understandable in a democracy.

On the other hand, there have been cases of ministers – from both parties – who lost their Cabinet post after an election in which they were returned to the House… just to go back to the backbench.

But Aaron Farrugia’s demotion is different. And it is unexplained.

Aaron Farrugia, was first elected as an MP in 2017 when he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for European Funds and Social Dialogue. He was later appointed Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Planning, with his last portfolio being Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects.

Barring his asking to be relieved of the post for personal reasons such as having health problems, which is not the case, it is possible that Farrugia found his job too overwhelming. In such a case a PM would normally assign him to a less onerous ministry, rather than abruptly boot him out of Cabinet. There could only be one reason for such a demotion: The minister made some blunder that irked the Prime Minister.

It is true that Transport Malta, one of the main and important components of Aaron Farrugia’s portfolio, has recently been in the news for the wrong reasons: the driving test scandal, the impossible traffic jams, the mismanagement of road works.

In fact, scandals within entities covered by his portfolio were never lacking but, somehow – and strangely – the minister never got the wrong end of the stick, at least in the media and in popular hearsay.

At the end of the day, Aaron Farrugia’s responsibilities over the years covered many areas where abuses were rife, although his possible personal involvement was never in the news.

I find it rather curious how nobody in the media has tried to uncover, or at least push to uncover, the real reason for this unexplained demotion.

In a normal democracy – as many like saying – there would be questions in the media. The media that supports the current administration hardly referred to Aaron Farrugia’s fate. But I expected the media that continuously berates the government’s antics to start querying the reason why. Instead many seem to be happy with attacking the administration and querying the reasons behind Aaron Farrugia’s dismissal is apparently considered as flogging a dead horse!

So, the mystery behind Farrugia’s dismissal will not be easily solved.

Like what happens when one green bottle accidentally falls.

A test for democracy

A recent article in The Economist reported that more than half the people in the world live in countries that will hold nationwide elections this year, with 2024 becoming the first year with so many elections all over the world. 2024 will be the biggest election year in history.

Based on recent patterns of voter turnout, close to two billion people in more than 70 countries will head to the polls.

These countries make up over 60% of the world's economic output and more than half of its population hold elections this year.

From Russia, Taiwan and the United Kingdom to India, El Salvador and South Africa, the presidential and legislative contests have huge implications for human rights, economics, international relations and prospects for peace in a unstable world.

Yet what sounds like a possible triumphant year for democracy could well turn out to be the opposite. In many countries, persecution of opposition candidates, weary electorates and potential for manipulation and disinformation have made the fate of democracy an important  campaign issue

This year will test even the most robust democracies and will also strengthen the hands of leaders with authoritarian leanings. In some countries, the balloting will be neither free nor fair. Democracy is a paradox: While more people in 2024 will be exercising the most fundamental act in a democracy - voting - democracy itself has rarely felt more vulnerable. As the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and investigative journalist Maria Ressa said recently: ‘We will know whether democracy lives or dies by the end of 2024.’

An autocratic crackdown in Bangladesh led to the opposition boycotting the election held this week, leading to a hollow victory for the current Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina Wazed.

Observers have concluded Bangladesh has practically become a one-party state.

A possible rematch between President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump in the US looms large in the election calendar. A Trump victory in November is perhaps the greatest global wildcard.

Taiwan’s elections for president and the 113-member legislature took place on Saturday under intense pressure from China, which makes the outcome important to much of the Asia-Pacific region, as well as to the U.S.

Voters in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest democracy, are choosing a successor to President Joko Widodo on 14 February.

Mexico is poised to elect its first female president on June 2 - either former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, a protégé of the current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or a former opposition senator, Xóchitl Gálvez. The winner will govern a country with a scary never-ending drug-related violence.

Following what is happening in our planet, will, perhaps, help us to take a break from what is happening in our little island.

Never a dull moment!