It should be the cause of unease and unhappiness to witness Joseph Muscat’s conduct in court and outside it. It’s not like he invented the mobilisation of public anger against courts that did not operate at a popular political leader’s pleasure. But it’s not like we’re the first country to prosecute a former leader for abuse of power and corruption either.

We should learn from how others have done it, how South Africa dealt with Jacob Zuma, how Malaysia dealt with Najib Razak, France with Nicolas Sarkozy, Israel with Ehud Olmert and Croatia with Ivo Sanader, to name a few recent examples. It is, no doubt, traumatic for a country to try, and if the evidence so requires, convict its former leader. It is painful for the electorate to confront the fact that it has made the wrong choice, that the illusion of success caused such collective blindness that they gave a crook the keys to their home.

Yet, it must be done because the alternative is much worse. To endow politicians with the privilege of existing above and beyond the law, to create ranks separating the masses who must obey and the bosses who are licensed to exploit them, is not merely an erosion of democratic life. It is a reversal to absolutism, a mass renunciation of rights, and the dissolution of the basic protections for the weakest among us.

Consider how Muscat is bleating repeatedly that his human rights are under threat, how he is being treated differently and how he will go to any length to defend himself. He was reacting last week to the umpteenth rejection of his fancy pleas to the constitutional court where he is pursuing a case claiming that it is his right to choose the magistrate who would investigate him for his involvement in the scheme of grand corruption that saw three public hospitals abandoned to profiteers.

Those profiteers were at the very least his personal and professional clients. The magistrate is investigating whether they were, in fact, one end of a corruption and bribery scheme while Muscat, then prime minister, was the other.

Incidentally, Muscat has no right to choose the magistrate compiling the evidence and determining whether a crime subsists and who might be responsible for it. Nobody has the privilege of choosing the identity of investigators into their conduct.

Muscat thought he could saunter into a courtroom and get a judge to relieve the magistrate investigating him because he didn’t like the look of her. His case is not over yet. But his repeated attempts at shifting the goal posts in a game he’s realising he has no right to win is finding exactly the sort of response from the court that it deserves.

If his claims have no basis in law, there is no way they can be accepted just because he is the one asking for them. The courtroom is not the cabinet table, and the judge is not one of Muscat’s ministers.

The courtroom is not the cabinet table, and the judge is not one of Joseph Muscat’s ministers

There’s something else Muscat tries to ignore. He speaks of himself as a victim of violations of human rights as if he was some political prisoner, or some stateless migrant forgotten in Ħal Safi. He sues the Maltese State because the State is investigating him about crimes. The irony that he suppresses is that what the State is investigating here are crimes he is alleged to have committed as prime minister when he was prime minister. Muscat is no victim of the State. He is the State.

He says it is not right that he is treated differently, alleging that he is being victimised because of who he is. But he has made no attempt to demonstrate that, in similar circumstances, anyone else got a different decision from the courts. And even if he was able to show that, he’ll be one of many that are perplexed by some disappointing or mildly inconsistent decision of the courts, which is merely the product of the fact that the courts are manned by humans, not because anyone is out to get him.

Let it be clear that there is no suggestion that the rejections he has got from the court are in any way inconsistent with what should be expected to happen when unreasonable requests like his are made.

This is what is really happening. Muscat is finding that the courts are not treating him differently from anyone else, and he expects, by some princely notion of excep­tiona­lism, to be treated differently. He expects to be exempted from the application of the law.

First, he bullied the magistrate investigating him publicly. When that didn’t intimidate her, he got the prime minister to bully her. That didn’t work either. So,  Muscat opened a constitutional case.

It’s not going grand for him, so now he’s going to the crowds, warning both the magistrate and the judge who might remove her that the crowds still support him.

Consider how Muscat unleashed his stooges last week. Jason Micallef, a government official, posted that it is time for the crowds of supporters of Muscat to show their strength in reaction to Muscat’s court losses. It was nothing short of Jean Paul Marat rhetoric, arguing for the rule of law and institutions to be short-circuited by the wilful expressions of anger of Muscat’s supporters, in the streets, maybe even inside the courtroom as well. Micallef said that “we will defend Muscat by any means possible, including by force, and the support of the people outside the courts, or wherever necessary”.

We have rapidly tumbled from “let the institutions work” to mob rule.

This is the sadness of what’s happening. Muscat is forcing judges to think about how the crowds might react to their decisions. He is blackmailing them. Having tried and failed, as prime minister, to take over the judiciary with systematic partisan appointments, he is seeking to capture the State again by force.

Consider something else Micallef wrote in reaction to the most recent court ruling against Muscat: “Now is the time. Muscat will defeat the PN and the extreme faction running it once again. They never forgave him for defeating them 10 out of 10 times, and soon they’ll make it 11.”

This is no ordinary bluster. Muscat’s message is simple. For refusing to do his bidding, the courts are being branded PN, nay, an extreme faction therefrom even. They are not institutions; they are figures of hate. In this logic, such as it is, defeating the courts is equivalent to winning an election.

In order to dodge prison, Muscat is threatening to bring the house down, to undermine democratic institutions to the point that he can replace the rule of law, if such a thing can still be said to be clinging to life, with the rule of popular opinion of him.

We should be getting seriously uncomfortable by now.

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