How much will Joseph Muscat take down with him?

MaltaToday supports the national protest in Valletta. Because this newspaper fully endorses the spirit and justified anger of the people against this heinous conspiracy, against the murderous collusion of big business and political power

Joseph Muscat during a 2019 European election rally
Joseph Muscat during a 2019 European election rally

There is chaos under heaven. The situation? Abnormal, even dangerous.

Joseph Muscat’s government is not the first in Maltese history to have been abortively cut short; but it is the first time that a government has self-combusted for judicial reasons rather than political ones.

Now in a state of suspended animation until the election of a new leader on January 12, the Maltese government remains in power while Muscat himself has not yet vacated his position to pave way to the transition of power.

Inside Labour, the removal of Muscat’s binding gel is already proving problematic: heir apparent Chris Fearne, the current deputy prime minister, would have forged a ‘diabolical pact’ with the young, imperious roads ministers Ian Borg – according to another pretender, Labour MP Robert Abela, the son of Muscat’s one-time leadership rival whom he co-opted as his consultant on the Cabinet.

Outside the doors of Castille, the protest of justified anger grows and grows. And the question on everybody’s lips is: why has Keith Schembri not being questioned by police? Why has the police not launched a serious investigation into obstruction of justice, now that Schembri has been alleged in court of having passed on information to Yorgen Fenech from the Security Service briefings he had and even prior knowledge of the raid on the Marsa den where the Daphne Caruana Galizia executioners held court?

That is why today MaltaToday supports the national protest in Valletta. Because this newspaper fully endorses the spirit and justified anger of the people against this heinous conspiracy, against the murderous collusion of big business and political power. Because, as things stand now, Schembri must be investigated instantly.

We demand a swift and satisfactory resolution of the Caruana Galizia case, accompanied by a wider probe on the Panama scandal; as well as on other major scandals such as the sale of public hospitals to a shell company.

But Malta also needs – short of a general election that can level out the current democratic impasse – a new Labour government’s ability to restore, as best it can, the country’s lost reputation and credibility. Muscat’s determination to linger until January lessens both those probabilities: indeed, it raises questions as to whether his intention is really to influence the choice of next party leader; which in turn has implications for his own future.

Either way, there is a silver lining: Muscat’s peremptory fall from grace has now exposed the intersections between politics, big business and organised crime.

But does his demise also spell the end of the ultra-successful political movement that he brought together, from segments of big business, to floating voters aspiring for a better country and campaigners for civil liberties, together with Labour’s working-class core?

Can the new prime minister – Fearne is already accumulating Cabinet support – make the next two years of Labour government a truly revolutionary reawakening for Constitutional renewal and justice in the anti-corruption fight?

Would he be ready to change the modus operandi of the fastest-growing economy in Europe, and answer to citizens’ righteous demands to stop the sack of their villages by construction developers and property magnates? This will be a major test for any Labour leader, as it has created the first cracks pitting residents, including floaters and even traditional Labourites, against Labour’s new allies in business.

The new prime minister will also face the loss of trust among an entire generation of activists and intellectuals, who now view Labour’s credentials as a harbinger of equality, minority rights and social justice as being indelibly blotted by the Caruana Galizia assassination. It will be hard for Labour to take credit for its achievements unless the new prime minister steers the country into normality with zeal. Regaining the trust of this sector –  i.e., those who still cherish the progressive, moderate thrust that characterised Muscat’s early years, but are too repulsed by the current saga to identify with the movement anymore – will surely be the biggest challenge.

And there will be the need to enforce major reforms across so many sectors, most especially the police, the new financial crimes agency, and the judiciary, if the new PM makes it their legacy to rebuild the people’s trust in their institutions.

Let’s not hurt each other

The former Nationalist candidate and entrepreneur Ivan Bartolo wrote in The Times of having had ‘daggers’ thrown at him by acquaintances who spotted him chatting with PN leader Adrian Delia during last Sunday’s protest.

The air is heavy with a desire for ‘retribution’: for those who gave Muscat the benefit of the doubt, those who support Adrian Delia, those who did not worship at the altar of Daphne Caruana Galizia, no matter how controversial part of her journalism was.

The writer Immanuel Mifsud invited us to reflect on the situation of a country that has been pillaged by a toxic division, partisan servility, and a lack of critical self-awareness. Those of us who stop reflecting on the times we are living in, those of us who throw humility out of the window once they have the imprimatur they want, will only further the hurt.