The thing with democracy is that for it to subsist, more than one thing needs to happen. It’s not enough to have ballots and the rituals of political campaigning. The spectacles of crowds waving gratefully at their great leaders is as old as the history of neolithic villages, witch doctors and brutish chiefs.

Anglo-Saxons trace the origins of democracy to very undemocratic times, the 13th century, and one commitment a tyrannical king was forced to make by the barons who defeated him in battle. For the first time, on the Magna Carta, the principle was engraved that not even the king is above the law.

That rule, far older than suffrage and free speech, is under threat, not just here. A judge of the United States Supreme Court asked an attorney for Donald Trump whether his client was proposing that a president of the United States who orders the murder of their political rival should not face criminal repercussions. The court is examining Trump’s argument that he cannot be prosecuted for attempting to subvert democracy near the end of his first term because he enjoys legal immunity from prosecution of any action he took while in office.

In Malta, the debate on Joseph Muscat’s right to immunity is not legal. There’s no legal basis to allow a former prime minister free of consequences for crimes they committed while in office. The argument for his immunity is political and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Equality before the law requires that the identity of the offender is made irrelevant. That procedures against an entirely anonymous individual should be indistinguishable, neither lighter nor heavier, than procedures against a person in, or who formerly held, political authority. In those terms, the evidence suggests that Muscat has committed some very serious crimes around the privatisation of the hospitals.

Now let’s look carefully at what that means. No one suggests that Muscat should be prosecuted because the privatisation of public health is an objectionable policy. I happen to disagree with the idea but that’s a matter for the ballot box.

No politician should be subjected to harassment after their retirement for controversy they provoked while in office. Nor does Muscat need to be prosecuted because the privatisation was, by any standard, botched, a complete and utter failure. Policy failures happen. Again, anyone who is angry at that can take up the matter in the ballot box.

To be fair, the crimes Muscat is alleged to have committed, the misguided policymaking and the devastating consequences on the provision of healthcare in this country, may all have root in a common cause. All are the product of greed, a vile conspiracy between faceless scroungers and the then prime minister and his most senior associates intended, as the evidence suggests, to siphon the cost of healthcare for vulnerable people and pump it into the pockets of the perpetrators.

It’s not just unfair that the perpetrators of these alleged crimes go unpunished, though unfairness is a serious matter. It’s also setting a standard. It’s telling people that politics is not a mission for people to make the lives of others better and healthier. Politics is a vocation for crooks looking to get rich quick, for vampires tapping the jugular of the sick and needy.

There is no way we can let that slide.

The effort not to has been a decade in the making. Daphne Caruana Galizia documented and exposed the corrupt dealings behind the privatisation of the hospitals, and her work remains the foundation of the case against Muscat and his associates.

People who openly reject Joseph Muscat’s self-proclaimed right to impunity are being rounded up and identified by Muscat and Robert Abela as ‘the establishment’- Manuel Delia

When an inquiry, appointed by Muscat, looked into the responsibility of the State in causing her death, it found that the impunity enjoyed by criminals associated with Maltese public life poisoned the air we breathe. And killed Daphne.

Daphne could only be killed once. We who remain alive must continue to breathe the poison of impunity.

Impunity. Immunity. The privilege that Muscat claims, and Robert Abela – ever his faithful attorney – argues for, which allows a former prime minister suspected of laundering proceeds of crime to be treated differently from anyone else suspected of laundering proceeds of crime. Like King John seven centuries ago, King Joseph renounces the Magna Carta and insists he is above the law.

This country’s democracy has had its fair share of tests. For the unforgivable whataboutists out there, all democratic crises of our history were brought about by generations of the Labour Party undermining democracy. Gerrymandering in 1981. Police-mandated and police-perpetrated political violence in the years before and after that.

Perverting the result of the EU referendum in 2003. Using police briefings in Castille to inform suspects on how to avoid being caught up in an investigation into the murder of a journalist. These were all very grave moments where the sustainability of our democracy was in serious crisis.

Bear with me. I sincerely fear it’s never been worse than now. Muscat claimed “institutions are working against Labourites” urging, quite literally the country’s majority, to mistrust the judgment of our courts.

Abela insisted his intimidating attacks on the magistrate who completed the inquiry and compiled the evidence against Muscat and his associates was his duty as a “check and balance over the courts”. He appropriated a power the constitution of the country is expressly designed to prevent him from having.

People who openly reject Muscat’s self-proclaimed right to impunity are being rounded up and identified by Muscat and Abela as “the establishment”. Judges, journalists, activists: they are being branded as a cabal which exists to rob the country’s electoral majority of their right to choose their government. Abela then urged his angry audience to “stay calm and resist provocation” because criminal proceedings against a suspected criminal are now a provocation which excuses retribution.

There’s a simple fact which must be remembered. The conclusion of the inquiry felt like an arrival, a culmination of 10 years’ worth of journalistic reporting, civil society activism, opposition campaigning and police work. But in our grotesquely slow judicial system, this is anything but a conclusion. Charges haven’t been issued yet and, given Victoria Buttigieg’s record, that development isn’t even likely. If it were to happen, the prosecution of money laundering in this country is notoriously long, weak and almost always unsuccessful.

Muscat and Abela are playing the intimidation game to ensure there’s never an outcome in this case. The police officers, prosecutors and judges who are yet to touch the case are warned of what may happen to them if they prove themselves half as committed to truth as Magistrate Gabriella Vella. They risk being branded established. And when that happens, there’s hell to pay.

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.