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Joseph Muscat’s fight for survival

Protestors hold up placard with the message 'You're next, Joseph' in front of the Prime Minister's office in Valletta. Photo: Pierre Ellul.

There’s a hole in the space where Joseph Muscat’s integrity should be.

In its place, we see a massively swollen survival instinct — inflamed by the fight for his own survival, and not the survival of his Party or his government.

That’s the point we’ve now reached.

His Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, the man Muscat protected from accountability for three years, has resigned and is being questioned by police about his role in a political assassination.

But did Muscat finally fire him after three years of corruption scandals and three years of stalled inquiries? No. According to the Prime Minister, “He has now decided to move on.”

You read that right. When asked to clarify, Muscat said, “Well, it’s a conversation that we have had for some time, and he had already signalled to me that he wanted to move on, and it was a matter of time, and when he should move on.”

Minister for Shady Deals Mizzi and Cardona Prince of Brothels stepped down, too.

But Muscat isn’t going anywhere. As his closest associates fell like dominoes on Black Tuesday, and as those arrested crawled over each other to rat in exchange for possible pardons, Muscat’s criteria for resignation hit an all-time low.

At a press conference on Tuesday morning, he told reporters, “I would definitely resign if there is any sort of association between myself and the murder.”

But is he even sure about that? Every time he drew a line in the sand — for demanding the resignation of Schembri or Mizzi, for example — and his line was crossed, he rubbed it out and moved it somewhere else. ‘Schembri’s not under investigation, technically…. 17 Black is…’

But Schembri decided all by himself that it was time to go. Okay, it was hours before the police picked him up as a suspect in a murder investigation. But still, justice was served Muscat-style, delivered with a smile and a lashing of praise.

Schembri was resigning “to allow the government to continue working in a serene way”. That serenity was clearly evident on Tuesday evening outside parliament and in Castille Square.

Malta’s struggle for justice and a return to normality is far from over. It’s wise to refocus on the blinding stench at the centre of the room.

Schembri and Mizzi are tied to Yorgen Fenech through 17 Black. It’s documented. It’s public. There’s no use pretending otherwise. And Schembri has now been named by Fenech in connection with the assassination of a journalist.

Muscat is tied to Mizzi and Schembri. He extended his personal protection to the Toxic Two no matter what fresh dirt came out.

Now he’s negotiating presidential pardons with people involved in a political assassination.  That means Muscat gets to decide how much evidence Theuma or Fenech must spill in order to escape punishment. Will it be all of what they know, or only some of it?

Some very uncomfortable muttering broke out this past week as Labour MPs realised tying their own political survival to Muscat’s will very likely pull them under with his sinking ship.

Evarist Bartolo went cryptic, spouting poetry like the Delphic Oracle, and Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne made stern faces. This prompted other Labour insiders to frantically rewrite their own narrative, too, distancing themselves from that old Mizzi stench.

But when il-Kink summoned his minions to Castille, every single one of them snapped into line, ‘pledging their loyalty’ in true Stalinist fashion.

By Tuesday morning, Fearne was back to making the usual excuses. “The day before yesterday, the parliamentary group voted unanimously in support of the Prime Minister,” he said, “and after the PL executive also unanimously gave its support to the Prime Minister.” And then he waffled on about ‘serenity’ again, invoking the word this government loves so much.

Unfortunately, that word doesn’t mean what they seem to think it means. Things are far from serene, and much of the blame for it rests at the feet of the Prime Minister.

According to the Times of Malta, Muscat told insiders he intends to leave office ‘as soon as he sees justice served in the murdered journalist’s case’. Does he want to ensure the most shocking crime that occurred while he was in power is solved on his watch? Or is he desperate not to lose control of the investigation for other much more obvious reasons?

He left his Cabinet behind long ago, and is making decisions unilaterally. He described this as ‘shouldering political responsibility’. But he is making decisions that his entire Cabinet and his government will have to answer for.

He will only let go of the reigns of power once this investigation is no longer a threat to him. He has no intention of leaving — voluntary or otherwise — until he ensures his personal, not political, survival. To hell with the Party and everyone else.

But Muscat doesn’t ‘get to step down’. Not when he’s in a position to influence a police investigation into a political assassination that has now implicated his own office and his closest associates.

Despite his use of royal terminology, Prime Ministers do not ‘abdicate’ — kings do. And Malta is still a republic.

The Labour Party has a mandate to govern for the remainder of its term. No one is questioning that. But Joseph Muscat is not the Party, and ‘Prime Minister’ is just a role. They have the power to appoint someone else to fill the role of Prime Minister. So appoint someone and get on with the act of governing the country.

Muscat has dug his claws into the table and he has no intention of letting go. He said so himself.

It’s time for whatever element of this government is still functioning to step up and remove him. And that’s not enough. All those involved in taking the life of a woman so brutally – a journalist whose only crime was exposing the truth – must be held accountable.

‘Governments should be afraid of their people’

The battle for the soul of the country