Joseph Muscat had a chance to take Malta away from the precipice yesterday. He didn’t grasp it. He is still in place for another month, with the powder keg of a situation getting worse by the day. Every day he stays on is a day too long.
Five weeks until the Labour Party sets in motion the process for a new leader may not be long in the eyes of many. But in these extraordinary circumstances they give too much time for the Prime Minister and his cronies to hide any incriminating evidence.
Anger is rightly verging on rage among the growing ranks of activists and protesters. The expressions of disgust and outrage during yesterday’s protest already reached a new level of justified stridency.
Shock and confusion also characterise the reactions of many in the Labour camp, from top to bottom, in the wake of the developments in connection with the gangland murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia two years ago and the mafia-style goings-on of the last few days.
The person now charged with conspiracy in the murder, Yorgen Fenech, has implicated the Prime Minister’s closest aide, Keith Schembri, in the crime, and evidence has emerged of the former chief of staff’s attempts to pervert justice. Yet, Schembri is still a free man and trust in the police has plunged to a new low as a result.
These developments have engendered a sense of fear and foreboding everywhere, from homes and streets to newsrooms to Cabinet meetings. Although history does not repeat itself precisely, Malta has been through this dark chapter before. This is not about the connections between politics and business anymore – that’s tame stuff. This is now about the links between politicians and criminals.
Given these circumstances, Muscat’s decision to drag out his stay is an extraordinarily irresponsible and self-serving one. Muscat has persisted in rejecting the calls to step down from all sections of society and from across the political spectrum, indeed even from those within his own party who put the country’s interest first. Although his hardcore supporters would not have been happy – and there are many thousands of them – most others would agree that the Prime Minister needed to step down straight away to defuse the dangerously rising tensions and confirm he has nothing to hide.
Muscat’s decision to drag out his stay is an extraordinarily irresponsible and self-serving one
The Prime Minister is being accused of having blood on his hands. He stands charged with permitting a culture of impunity that led to Caruana Galizia’s assassination, because his actions and inactions fostered a tolerance of financial crime and corruption instead of reining it in. If blood is shed again as a result of yesterday’s decision, it will be on his conscience.
The parliamentary group that cravenly gave Muscat its unanimous backing yesterday has one last chance to set things right when the murder comes up for discussion in the House over the next few days. They have the power to vote him out of office and purge the party and country of the poison that the man has become.
What a pity. Muscat could have claimed economic prosperity and social and liberal progress among his lasting legacies, but he will now be remembered at least in equal measure for the way he allowed his office to be associated with wrongdoing. History does not forget or forgive.
The protests must go on. One can only hope and pray that the next few weeks will not witness civil strife as a result of Muscat’s blindness.