“Sunday’s rally will be a milestone in building a stronger nation, defying Western criticism and destroying those behind the revolt.”
Those words were said by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in August 2016 following a military coup.
Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s words on Sunday amounted to the same rallying call to his loyalists for May Day’s mass meeting.
One million people turned up for the Democracy and Martyrs’ rally in Istanbul, cementing Erdogan’s hold on power. It led to more than 50,000 people arrested and 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in the aftermath, the BBC said.
Turkey was given the title of ‘the world’s largest jailer of journalists’ by the Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The Committee for the Protection of Journalists was among those who condemned the decision to sentence at least 22 journalists to prison on anti-State charges in March.
This is the result of Erdogan’s grip on power.
On Sunday, Malta’s Prime Minister adopted a similar tactic. He called his supporters to “send a reply” to the Daphne Project, an international team of journalists following up on the stories of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
“The best reply we can give is on 1 May, when the people will unite as one in Valletta is to convey our message,” he said. Really.
It’s a sign that he’s cornered, no matter how many people turn up.
In the six months since Caruana Galizia’s assassination, Muscat has gone from saying he will “leave no stone unturned” (the response in a democracy) to calling loyalists to “send a reply” (the response in thinly-veiled dictatorships).
The Prime Minister has asked people to take sides. This is the language of ‘you are with us, or you are against us’. It is a false dilemma that allows no alternatives.
In philosophy, ‘you’re either with us or against us’ is considered a false dichotomy. It’s a move to force people to take sides. If other alternatives exist (and they almost always do) then that statement is factually wrong.
That statement always benefits the person brandishing those forced, false choices.
Anybody critical of the government in a sea of scandals that have hit the Labour Party since it was elected to power in 2013, can never be considered to be a concerned citizen asking legitimate questions but only a tool of the Nationalist Party (PN).
It leads to the targeting of individual activists who legitimately call for change. Activist Tina Urso has had her ID number and home address splashed all over social media for exercising her democratic right to demand accountability, with others, during an event in London hosted by Henley & Partners – the private concessioniares for Malta’s cash for passport programme – on behalf of the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister’s discourse has called for division: ‘you’re either with us or against us’. It’s one of the most effective political sorters. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini relied heavily on the same line, “O con noi, o contro di noi” – one that Labour Party leader Dom Mintoff had endorsed in his prime.
Anyone neutral or indifferent, is therefore still taking a stand.
Muscat must move on. He must remember that Malta is an EU member state (despite his efforts to keep the country out) where the rule of law is not a gift by the Great Leader, Is-Salvatur (The Saviour), as Mintoff was known. Muscat tried, but he isn’t quite the thing yet.
Meanwhile, the scenario Maltese citizens are facing is the same as those in Turkey where Erdogan used his power to change the constitution and allow himself to become president with more power than the Prime Minister.
Muscat has lost his seat in Brussels because of the corrupt mess he created. He needs a lifeline. In this context, he is set to be Malta’s Erdogan.