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If Muscat won’t bail out, he must be pushed

After a tumultuous week, it is evident that Joseph Muscat is disgraced. Evident to anyone, that is, with two brain cells to rub together and the backbone to speak one’s mind – with due allowances for those to whom the dawning truth is so hurtful that they need to shield their eyes.

The issue still to be determined is the nature of Muscat’s culpability in leading the country into the present deep crisis. Is it purely political? Or is he a crook or worse?

It is not for us to decide if he’s a crook. That’s police work, in the first instance. But the police can only work properly if he cannot impede them. So it comes back to politics, in the broadest, most public-spirited sense. If he will not jump, he must be pushed. Now.

Some say – and not all of them are craven apologists – that he should stay till mid-January. Yet not a single reason given stands up to scrutiny.

A popularity survey, conducted last week, published today, says that Muscat by far outstrips the Leader of the Opposition. So what? It wouldn’t make the slightest difference if Adrian Delia by far outstripped Muscat.

The issue here is fitness for office. Muscat is demonstrably unfit. The kindest interpretation of why we’re in this mess is that he was oblivious to all the signs of what was going on around him, despite all the national and international warnings. He was out of his depth.

The issue is also authority. Muscat is now a figure of fun. In a sense, the anger at the public protests is misleading. Even more telling are the jokes and memes exchanged on phones and at the workplace.

The issue is not a choice between Muscat and Delia. It is between Muscat and another Labour leader. Another month of protest and mockery will end up eroding respect for the very office, not merely his successor.

Then there is the other key argument being given for Muscat to stay for another month: the country needs a smooth transition.

It certainly does. But who in his right mind can say that the current transition is smooth? Leading voices in industry, commerce and financial services have said the current situation is damaging the country.

Over the past week, the crisis has deepened. Not simply because of the revelations of what led to the assassination. Muscat’s behaviour since the crisis broke has been appalling.

He has been publicly called out by a retired most senior police officer and a former Chief Justice. He has publicly thanked Keith Schembri and not distanced himself one inch from him, even after Schembri’s arrest and details of his intrigues have emerged.

He held an international press conference to assure the world that the rule of law reigns in Malta – only to wreck that argument himself up by illegally ordering the detention of the journalists he had just assured.

That’s right, Muscat broke the law in full sight of the world. He does not even answer questions on the matter. He behaves with impunity.

The result has been condemnation by Europe’s top media organisations. The near irreparable damage of the assassination has become worse. The Times of Malta is right to insist that his behaviour ought to be investigated.

Is this someone who can represent the country? Even for another month? Try imagining Republic Day with him laying the flowers at the monument and a sea of people in the vicinity demanding that the Prime Minister leaves.

Have a serious go at imagining the nation’s official Christmas festivities, and Muscat mouthing platitudes about peace to all humanity. Will he be saying this behind barricades to keep the masses of protestors at bay?

Envision the grotesque sight of Muscat, on New Year’s Eve, addressing the nation from his office, wishing us a serene 2020 – even as his behaviour wrecks the season’s spirits.

It is clear this charade is unsustainable even for four weeks. Muscat is keeping out of sight because he knows the very sight of him undermines him further. Yet December is the month that demands visibility from the Prime Minister.

He will either need to provoke the crowds further or else delegate others to appear for him. In that case, what is the point of him remaining?

The effect will be only to create a bigger mess for his successor. Labour should do the right thing for the right reasons. But, at this stage, even purely partisan considerations will do. Labour’s self-interest and the common good converge. Muscat must go. Now.

Will the public mood bring down Labour?

The Council of Europe's Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt

‘The Maltese can get through this stronger, prouder than before’ – Omtzigt