Britain’s chaotic exit from the EU. Putin’s war in Ukraine. Four years of Donald Trump.
Malta, the brutal assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, allegedly on the orders of a man so close to the prime minister, he attended his private birthday party, travelled with him for a wedding, shared a WhatsApp chat group and showered him with lavish gifts.
The middleman who recruited the hitmen was welcomed at Castille by the prime minister’s right-hand man, who secured him a fake job to pay him through taxpayers’ money for his service.
Democracy is under pressure. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index fell year on year since 2014. According to Freedom House, more countries saw declines than advances in freedom since 2006.
Malta is one of those countries. Under Labour, the Economist relegated Malta from full democracy to flawed democracy. The country dropped six points in the Freedom in the World Index in only four years.
No matter how rosy our government paints a €9 billion debt burden. No matter its boasts about inflation being only 6.1% (it was 0.3% in July 2021). No matter the claims of a record low unemployment rate. Our democracy has deteriorated substantially.
Sadly a significant minority, 42% according to the latest Malta Today survey, are happy to trade democracy for fake economic stability – driven by increased government spending, mounting debts and massive expansion of the public payroll. Labour is wrecking the economy and destroying democracy to maintain power.
The OSCE openly condemned the obscene buying of votes with cheques on the eve of general elections. Sooner or later, like Sri Lanka, Malta will realise it’s lost both its democracy and its economy.
Joseph Muscat aspired to create a new Dubai in the Mediterranean. He’s succeeded. Malta traded its full democracy for Labour’s manufactured illusion of prosperity.
After the painful wrenching of power from Labour in 1987, we assumed our democracy was solid. Liberalisation of the media, the return to the rule of law and EU membership lulled us into complacency. That democracy is now on life support.
PBS illegally refuses to comply with court orders. The Office of the Prime Minister claims that vital documents don’t exist – Muscat’s termination package. Others were lost – then found. Labour’s ministers defy the Auditor General and refuse to even meet him, let alone testify.
The prime minister’s earnings are concealed from the public. Rulings by the information commissioner are defied and challenged in court to protect Saviour Balzan and his multiple government contracts from scrutiny.
Media organisations are excluded from government press conferences because of their criticism. More pliable and compliant media houses benefit from lavish government funding through advertising revenue.
The prime minister fails to consult the Opposition leader to appoint the Standards Commissioner and Ombudsman, as he is legally obliged, leaving those posts vacant for months.
Through gross distortion of media coverage, use of taxpayers’ money to flood social media, unethical abuse of public funds for self-promotion, countless direct orders and cheques delivered during an election campaign, Labour rendered elections unfair and unfree – a pseudo-election.
An election that apes democracy to do away with it. What we’re left with is an odd pantomime of democracy where, as the courts put it, ‘winner takes all’.
Labour employs pseudo-law, writing legislation designed to look and feel like the rule of law but isn’t. Regulations that ostensibly apply to everyone are introduced but, in practice, apply only to political adversaries.
Witness the total impunity for Anton Refalo’s Victorian-era artefact, Rosianne Cutajar’s bags of cash, Evarist Bartolo’s failure to report his canvasser, or Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and Joseph Muscat.
Labour has stealthily but steadily controlled information. PBS is Labour’s mouthpiece. Saviour Balzan is a paid mercenary. Independent media are controlled by the strategic release of funds. We are left with a pseudo-press with all outward trappings of journalism but none of its content.
Pseudo-elections, pseudo-law and pseudo-press are the recipe for a pseudo-democracy – a democracy only in name, a country which retains only the semblance of a democracy.
Labour’s techniques are not new. But they’re frighteningly effective because Malta lacks proper checks and balances.
The prime minister has practically absolute power, and Labour exploited that. What institutions existed have been dismantled – the FIAU was stuffed with Silvio Valletta, the husband of a sitting cabinet minister and an intimate friend of a suspected money launderer and murder mastermind.
The Economic Crimes Unit was led by Ian Abdilla, the Commissioner of Police was Lawrence Cutajar, and the Speaker who chairs the Parliamentary Standards Committee is still Anġlu Farrugia. The Attorney General is still Victoria Buttigieg.
Moisés Naím, in his book ‘The Revenge of Power’, listed the techniques used by autocrats to gain and consolidate power: populism, polarisation and post-truth. Labour adopted all three.
Its populist message is simple – the arrogant PN establishment robbed the people through corruption, and only Labour can save you. Labour’s media machine heightened political tensions and turned every issue into one referendum question – are you with us or the rotten PN? And the ultimate is Labour’s mastery of post-truth.
Labour distorted the public sphere so severely that truth can no longer be distinguished from lies. Labour uses what Naím referred to as “the firehose of falsehood” – where lies and distractions come so thick and fast that nobody can keep up.
Populism, polarisation and post-truth – the formula worked well around the world. But nowhere as well as Malta. Almost a decade after grasping power, Labour has wrecked our democracy and consolidated its power.
Never in recent history has the trust gap between leaders of the two parties been so wide. Never has the Opposition been so distant from any realistic possibility of challenging the incumbent.
Naím noted that “the hardest part about chronicling stealthy authoritarianism has been convincing people how serious the threat is”. That statement couldn’t be truer for Malta.