In one of Malta’s darkest weeks, as Europe (and let’s face it most of the world) held its breath, Joseph Muscat dragged his feet and clung on to the seat of power. The spin from part of his Party machinery emphasised the consistent majority he enjoys at the polls.
Even as more information brought to light the twisted web that had reached into the Prime Minister’s Office, Muscat and his movement refuse to acknowledge that his remaining in Office a minute longer goes against all the basic principles of a functioning democracy.
I waited for the outcome of the Girgenti meeting on Sunday before writing this article. The news at the end of that meeting was not comforting. Muscat stays on till the Epiphany. Chris Cardona, the man who illegally suspended himself from a ministerial position and later wrote to the Speaker of the House for protection against presumably whoever in Labour was framing him, has been reinstated. To the Cabinet. To his ministry. It’s going to be a long, dark Christmas.
The tensions within the Cabinet from the ill-fated Thursday night marathon have now been reported in various sections of the international press – there is not so much unanimity as was initially announced to a throng of journalists imprisoned in Castille.
A mass meeting scheduled for Sunday – a show of force by the die-hard ‘Laburisti sal-Mewt’ – was cancelled. In its stead we have a hastily assembled survey published on (the labour controlled paper) It-Torca that played on a number of plebiscites that apparently Muscat still enjoys.
The polls are in line with the general narrative that has been pushed ever since this scandal has hit top gear. Until two weeks ago, the official line had been content with the mantra that “the institutions are working”, that the “rule of law” is in place. The evidence was heavily stacked against this lie yet it was not a simple message to get across.
Public confusion about inquiries and their outcomes, over the lack of accountability for government dealings, over the erosion of institutional balance and the slide towards a tyrannical hegemony by the Executive – all that was silenced by a combination of false economic confidence and the voice of the plebiscite.
Then the dog sniffed the money (or it didn’t, but it’s a good place to start). After Melvin Theuma, it started to move rather rapidly as it seemed that things were not going exactly to plan. Honour among thieves, as we know, does not come so thick and fast, so panic set in. This time, the eyes of the world were on the ball – there would be no easy way out.
The magician on the throne
The first glitches surfaced when we were faced with a Prime Minister who also took on the role of Police Commissioner giving press briefings on what was supposed to be the work of a separate arm of the State.
As the hours unravelled more mind-boggling information, everything took a turn for the worse. It became increasingly evident that the Office of the Prime Minister (running on steroids with the carte-blanche given by Cabinet to decide on pardons) was deeply embroiled in more than one facet of the affair.
The magician, in a wonderful act of panicked prestidigitation, got us to focus on the murder. Justice, he would say, is taking its course. Look at the progress of stones being turned on my watch.
To be fair we knew that keeping suspect shady characters close to his office was one way of Muscat’s dealing with justice – just ask Nexia BT, ask Neville Gafa. Even as he visibly shrunk in stature Muscat was determined to call the shots. By getting the world to focus on the murder we would be distracted from the long list of deteriorations in the rule of law caused by institutional abuse.
The Karin Grech and Raymond Caruana murders, as well as the cleansing effect of a landslide victory in 2017, were combined into a macabre gut-wrenching argument that took the idea of the rule of law and stood it on its head. The failure to apprehend whoever killed the first two is somehow transformed into a feather in the cap of this government who is seeing that justice is done.
At no point is anyone alleging that Muscat had a direct hand in the murder of a journalist. What we do know is that the network of criminal lowlifes that are being tied to the murder reaches all the way into the corridors of power.
Seen in that light, every minute, every second, that Muscat stays in Office is a direct challenge to the normal laws of the State with the risk of abuse of office and obstruction of justice increasing exponentially.
‘Tagħna Lkoll’ movement to the rescue
I cannot dwell on any supposed misgivings that exist within Muscat’s closed circles in Cabinet and parliamentary group although it is evident that the glue that holds them together is fear and not conviction.
Some timid sorties on social media reflect that. The soldiers on the street are another thing though. They are also responsible for perpetuating the idea that the rule of law is safe so long as most of the people are duped to accept the lies.
Muscat’s government, we are told, is the one that has brought much good to the people, with a mandate to govern for another two years. The moment of truth has come for all those Cabinet members.
It came on Thursday night when they could have stood firmly on the side of whatever good remains and forced Muscat to resign. They did not. They chose to participate in the charade of unanimous support.
Again, on Sunday, they were called to do their duty. Again, they did not. They allowed Muscat to stay in office till the Epiphany. One more month in his conflicting role of chief investigator and Prime Minister.
At this stage, the whole work of this government is compromised. At a political level, the responsibility that had to be shouldered first by the Prime Minister and then by his Cabinet means that the mandate to govern is seriously prejudiced.
In a few days, the last remnants of hope that a cleaner side of the Labour party in government would take the lead in the cleansing of the Republic have faded to nothing.
A new republic
It has been said time and time again that this is no longer a partisan battle but one between those who have the fate of the country to heart and those who will do anything to get into power.
The encouraging signs of the thousands of protestors on Sunday afternoon in Valletta are a good counter to the polls and spin being sold by government propaganda. It is not about numbers though. It is about justice. It is about the rule of law.
Justice must be done and be seen to be done. It should begin with a resignation of the Prime Minister – for every day he stays in office he risks obstructing justice. It should continue with the removal of every member of the Cabinet involved in scandals and under investigation.
We need to move to a caretaker technical government that prepares the way for a constitutional convention and a grassroots reform for a new politics in a new republic. The old political class must go. In the name of the people. Only then can we really begin to reclaim our country.