Robert Abela tells Labour supporters he wants everyone to be calm. Do not be provoked, he says. But the Labour machine is goading furiously. Consider these four big lies.

First, the Vitals inquiry magistrate, Gabriella Vella, is being smeared as a political operative. She’s blamed because dozens of corruption court cases will begin just before the June vote. What an utter lie.

The magistrate’s job was to preserve evidence and make recommendations. The attorney general, Victoria Buttigieg, was the one who decided to take the cases to court. That decision is always her call.

If she thought there wasn’t enough evidence, Buttigieg could have decided to drop the cases or instructed the police to investigate further. She’s decided not to prosecute before.

The magistrate is responsible for what’s in her report but not, ultimately, for what makes it to court. Between the inquiry report and the court case, the gods – or, the establishment, if you like – have placed the attorney general.

Abela knows all this. It’s basic procedure. Therefore, his behaviour is corrupt twice over. He is targeting autonomous institutions. And he’s wilfully targeting the wrong person.

Why is the magistrate being tarred as partisan? So that it becomes “legitimate” to attack her in the most partisan manner. Remember how Daphne Caruana Galizia was called “the real opposition”? It was so that the full force of a political party machine could be unleashed upon a journalist.

Abela says what he’s doing is no different from broadcasting film footage of the judiciary at the start of the judicial year. That’s the second big lie.

The right comparison – because it’s the identical technique – is with how political adversaries are plastered on billboards. No one can feign innocence about this. The Caruana Galizia inquiry established that such publicity, for people not in politics, puts them in harm’s way.

Such propaganda is designed to trigger people. Its effect lasts for years. It’s been half a decade since Simon Busuttil left Maltese politics but, even today, his image is being plastered on an election billboard to goad people into voting.

Abela is using weasel words when he insists on calm while commanding his party machine to stoke anger against the magistrate.

The third big lie is for Abela to tell supporters to vote ‘against the establishment’. It’s a multi-layered lie.

Through wealth, political power and family connection, he is himself part of the establishment. Yet, he’s pretending not to be.

Next, the vote should have nothing to do with the court cases. He’s lying to his supporters if he’s suggesting it does. And he’s lying about his democratic credentials, and betraying his oath of office, if he’s actually trying to make the vote affect the court cases.

Abela’s game is transparent. He wants to square the circle: anger his disaffected base into voting and, simultaneously, keep heads from getting too hot- Ranier Fsadni

He’s also lying when he suggests that the establishment – which includes all our State institutions, from the president down, including the judiciary – is conspiring against democracy.

It’s the opposite.

The judicial process is concerned with determining if a crime was committed that subverted democratic decision-making and robbed the taxpayer. Three establishment agencies – a judge, the auditor general’s office, and the Caruana Galizia public inquiry – have already suggested as much. Now it’s time to see if there’s court-grade proof.

To cover up this lie, the new Labour mantra is that there’s a double standard: Labour can’t criticise the judiciary while others can. But it’s not ‘criticism’ that has drawn widespread condemnation, including a restrained rebuke from President Myriam Spiteri Debono.

Rational criticism is completely different from relentlessly targeting a magistrate as an enemy of democracy. This turns the magistrate into a hate figure. Who has done that before? No one else. There are no double standards involved.

This brings us to the fourth big lie. Labour voters, like the rest of us, are the victims of those who perpetuated and abetted the fraud at the heart of the hospitals deal. But Labour voters are being told they are the victims of someone else: those seeking justice on their behalf and for everyone else. The defenders of public morality are accused of immorality.

It’s a lie we’ve seen before. In 2016, Joseph Muscat’s machine told Labour voters that the Panama gang was the victim of the politics of envy and hatred of Labour voters. In 2018, Caruana Galizia’s family was called an enemy of the State, including by Abela.

Fast forward a few years: Abela declares publicly he doesn’t believe Keith Schembri lost his phone. He kicks Konrad Mizzi out of Labour’s parliamentary group. And he has publicly retracted what he said about the Caruana Galizias.

How long must we wait before Abela declares that, “with hindsight”, targeting a magistrate was “unwise”? And do we need to wait for something calamitous to provoke that admission?

Abela’s game is transparent. He wants to square the circle: anger his disaffected base into voting and, simultaneously, keep heads from getting too hot. Or, at least, be covered if the worst happens.

Well, there’s no cover for what he’s doing. There is no responsible way of attacking a magistrate. You can’t target “the establishment” and expect the judiciary’s reputation to escape unscathed. You can’t goad and then take credit because you asked for calm.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.