Malta’s most trying moment, a nightmare before Christmas

The spirit of national protest must be all the more respected and protected. The people’s security has to be guaranteed.

This was not the moment for a demagogue’s last attempt at controlling the public’s perception of the situation
This was not the moment for a demagogue’s last attempt at controlling the public’s perception of the situation

It is over for Joseph Muscat.

Malta has been plunged in a state of shock that requires the intervention of whatever can hold us together now.

And justice, political reform, the removal of those at the heart of a heinous orchestration, and after seriously addressing our constitutional shortcomings, an important process of reconciliation, are urgently required.

The stage is now set for a dreadful season during which Malta will be besieged by the righteous call of protest, hounding the last days of Muscat as he stays on as prime minister up until the election of a new Labour leader in the first weeks of January 2020.

Muscat yesterday defied calls to resign and instead gave the nation a timetable for his departure. But in a televised message to the nation, the prime minister yesterday delivered more of his economic mantra, the success of Labour’s achievements in various sectors, and recalled the emancipatory policies he presided over. Much was missing in his recorded speech: what about Keith Schembri?

The next 42 days will also introduce a window in which the PM’s powers might lack the necessary scrutiny one expects in what is looking like a transitionary period, however managed by the man who should have left the stage yesterday

What about his chief of staff, his involvement in the Panama offshore saga, his intimate connection with Yorgen Fenech – the man accused of being the mastermind behind the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, what about Schembri’s knowledge of Security Service briefings that Fenech and another acquaintance, Melvin Theuma, were the main suspects in the assassination?

Muscat left the nation none the wiser, instead feeling bolstered by the knowledge of his support inside the Labour Party, intent on putting forward his programmatic achievements as his legacy.

But the nation’s biggest ever protest in Valletta yesterday spelt out the ire at the stranglehold inside Castille which harboured a conspiracy to kill. This single event has drowned out the legacy built by Muscat and the Labour government, for the assassination of a human being among us now lives on as a stain on our collective conscience, and Malta’s history.

Muscat’s performance yesterday carried the hallmarks of his rhetorical brilliance: the carefully scripted address, his gestures straight out of the political textbook he himself wrote, keen on putting across the achievements that Labour set out to write in the history books in 2013.

But this was not the moment for a demagogue’s last attempt at controlling the public’s perception of the situation. It was not the moment for hinting at the illegitimacy of the protests that are taking hold of the nation.

This was the moment for truth, about Keith Schembri, about that error in political judgement that kept Schembri by his side and the power behind the throne.

The next weeks will be Malta’s most trying, most abnormal times… with Muscat as PM after what has transpired, the Christmas season will bring a dampened mood and keeping calm at such a moment of political tension will be essential.

The next 42 days will also introduce a window in which the PM’s powers can lack the necessary scrutiny one expects in what is looking like a transitionary period, however managed by the man who should have left the stage yesterday. This is especially disconcerting in the light of the alleged culpability of Keith Schembri or involvement in the plot to kill Caruana Galizia. For Muscat to stay on at such a delicate stage of the investigations, when Schembri should now be interrogated, is unacceptable.

Now the spirit of national protest must be all the more respected and protected.

The people’s security has to be guaranteed.

The President will also be expected to take a more central role in the days to come to act as a unifying figure to remind both the government, and the people, of the need to retain a measured demeanour in such difficult days.

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Yesterday also came a warning on a crucial aspect of our lives, especially for those whose proximity to the political crisis – on whichever side – is now taking a great emotional toll.

The mental health charity Richmond Foundation warned that Malta’s current political crisis could have long-term negative impact on the nation’s mental health, and that for a sense of security and stability to be reinstated, justice should be allowed to take its course, and be seen to do so.

“Persons who believe in the separation of powers and who hold good governance to heart are experiencing deep distress,” the foundation said.

The restoration of social trust is essential to individual and relational wellbeing. “We call on all arms of politics, government, and security to ensure that a normal state of affairs is urgently restored. Politicians and public officers who are truly committed to serve the common good can stand up and make this happen now.”

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