By the time you read this, Labour’s third consecutive term in office will be starting. If I’m wrong, I’ll be having for breakfast the most delicious humble pie ever. Alas, it’ll probably be just corn flakes.

These will be interesting times. Depending on the extent of Robert Abela’s victory, the dynamics within the Labour Party will be jittery.

Abela can’t run away from questions forever. His personal property dealings, his finances, his rather spectacular personal wealth will make life as a prime minister difficult. He’ll be vulnerable and exposed to blackmail by Joseph Muscat who has his own very serious concerns with the law.

As the struggle for survival between two shady characters who have led or continue to lead the Labour Party plays out, other people will fancy their chances of stepping in.

Abela has shown that taking over a government mid-stream is no barrier to re-election if the remaining conditions that give the Labour Party its advantages persist.

Like Abela with Muscat, Abela’s replacement will distance themselves from their predecessor’s wrongdoing but will embrace their predecessors’ grasp on all institutions of the state. Khrushchev denounces Stalin. Brezhnev denounces Khrushchev. But the red flag flies tall throughout the palace coups.

Depending on the extent of Bernard Grech’s defeat, the dynamics within the Nationalist Party will be jittery. Adrian Delia might think it’s already time for a comeback. He’ll find rivals with an even more cavernous moral hollowness unburdened with his clumsy braggadocio and the mid-morning slurry speech, ready to pounce to “make the PN great again”.

Grech, unless utterly humiliated by the election result, seems determined to hang on. In the brief time he’s been party leader, he recruited to his support former Adrian-Delia-or-bust types. Grech conducted a steady campaign in the stormiest imaginable seas, taking off the agenda the disease that plagued his party for years. He has silenced the civil war and presented a united front. Though the electorate hasn’t seen it yet, he’s delivered a miracle. He’ll want to stick around to give the electorate time to catch up with his ambition. It will not be an easy sell. But he might well expect the next five years to be easier than the last 18 months.

As we lose ourselves in the smoke and the dust clouds of the election result and go through another long hot summer of political recrimination optimistically labelled as soul searching, we will again ignore the big picture.

There’s no better time to talk of ‘winning again’ than when the election is five years in the misty future. Perhaps the most often repeated sigh on Facebook comments boards is that yet another scandal, yet another warped decision by the administration shows “we’ve reached rock bottom”. Rock bottom is the point where things are so bad they can only get better. And, yet, the next day we find that what we thought was rock bottom was not as deep as we’re in today.

Bernard Grech might well expect the next five years to be easier than the last 18 months- Manuel Delia

Here’s the news. We haven’t touched rock bottom. Things can and likely will get worse. The backsliding of our democracy has never, since 2013, slowed let alone reversed.

On Thursday, the Council of Europe confirmed its view that Rosianne Cutajar was a “paid advocate” for Yorgen Fenech, the (alleged) journalist killer. On Saturday, she was an election candidate. Today, she’s probably not as nervous as she should be about her prospects of re-election.

You see, Cutajar being a paid advocate for the alleged mastermind behind a journalist’s killing is bad. Cutajar being re-elected after being condemned for having been a paid advocate for the alleged mastermind behind a journalist’s killing is worse. That’s what backsliding means, going from bad to worse.

Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri caught with Panama companies in 2016 is bad. Mizzi and Schembri confirmed in office after the 2017 election is worse. Mizzi and Schembri guaranteed impunity after Abela is re-election in 2022 is worse again.

In 2021, a three-judge inquiry found the rule of law in Malta so eroded by the government’s evil work that criminals were given airs, allowed to perpetrate crimes with impunity, even murder, even the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. That’s very bad.

The judges drew up a long list of recommendations to start fixing things. The government ignored them. That’s worse. It was re-elected after a general election where the recommendations were barely mentioned at all. That’s positively catastrophic.

While the PL finds ways of surviving its coming internal turmoil, understandably confident given that they survived the crises of end-2019 and emerged stronger from an ordeal, which should have rightly devastated their political chances, and while the PN’s church walls rattle and threaten to undermine the fresh mortar of internal unity flirting with some version of the nuclear summer of 2017, the fundamental crises within Malta’s democracy remain unaddressed.

Twelve years after a national debate and a reform was promised, our constitution remains stuck in the genteel ways of colonial Kingsway. Our institutions, our police, our prosecution service, our magistrature remain unequipped, under-resourced, captured in whole or in part by the mafia that gripped Malta when Muscat was still in fashion.

There’s so much work to be done to try to save a treasure that shrinks in value every day. For another thing is near certain the morning after a general election in Malta, pluralism, public participation, genuine debate, free flowing information, administrative accountability, truth and justice, elements for a democracy to be eligible to that name, are weakening, fading, perhaps even dying.

And, as the battle gets harder and our retreats further, we have no choice but to fight harder.

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