As developments in the investigation of the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination continued to come at breakneck speed yesterday, something more subtle has changed within the country. The outrage long felt by a relatively small section of the population, over a government perceived to have grossly overstepped all lines of decency, is starting to make an appearance across the political divide.
What before may have been inaudible whispers of discontent, self-censored by the monolithic presence and impenetrable popularity of Joseph Muscat, are starting to find expression in Facebook posts, attendance at anti-corruption protests and as yet anonymous comments to this news outlet. There is anger in the air and it is no longer limited to the usual suspects.
Perhaps the beginning of that change can be traced back to the granting of the Qala villa permit a few weeks ago, such a visible symbol of the way business interests have gatecrashed government priorities.
Corruption is an accusation that never seems to have dented the armour of Labour and its supporters
The next brick to be dislodged from Labour’s façade was the absolute refusal of Keith Schembri – himself a man with multiple business concerns – to testify in the case he had instituted against Simon Busuttil over the claim of corruption. When he was put in a corner he dropped the case. Corruption is an accusation that never seems to have dented the armour of Labour and its supporters. The charge of cowardice is humiliating and less tolerable.
The arrest of Yorgen Fenech, the business mogul and former Electrogas director with close links to the government, as a “person of interest” in the Caruana Galizia murder, is not only bringing more and more people out on to the streets to protest. It has also provoked discord among those in Labour who care about the party’s values and about having a government that can continue to go about its day-to-day business unhindered by scandals of this magnitude. Muscat is no longer the person who can do no wrong.
To many, his actions seem outwardly to be verging on the politically bizarre: he hangs on to Schembri despite being pulled down by him; he is taking sensitive decisions without consulting Cabinet; he does not see the need to step aside from the murder investigation despite a potential conflict of interest that is clear to everyone.
Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies, independent media and civil society organisations have risen to the occasion. High praise is due to the police and security services for the apprehension of the alleged middleman and of the suspected mastermind in the Caruana Galizia murder.
It must be added, though, that the revelations of this media house have played a role in some of the events as they have so rapidly evolved over the last few days. While holding back on certain information so as not to disrupt investigations, Times of Malta has broken other stories which have had the effect of precipitating developments while also acting as a reference point for people keen to keep up to date with trustworthy news.
The growing role of NGOs in raising public awareness and galvanising right-thinking people against the excesses of this government is a factor in the country’s shifting mood, from one of general tolerance in the wake of economic progress to more open doubting and questioning.
This is no ‘revolution’ yet but the Prime Minister would be well advised to listen to the rumblings in his party – and those around him should heed the voices coming up from the streets. Muscat’s legacy may soon be damaged beyond repair but Labour may still be in time to salvage the image it wants to project: of being on the side of ordinary people, not unscrupulous moguls.