The country’s short but intense electoral campaign is over, the people have voted, and the result will be known today. We trust it will be the usual smooth, relatively trouble-free process. We urge the winning party to be humble in victory and its supporters to celebrate in a civilised way, showing respect to those who lost. We appeal to the losing party and its supporters not to hamper this democratic exercise in any way.
The one-month-long campaign was passionate and public opinion has been sharply divided. The new Prime Minister’s duty and responsibility will be to work towards uniting the country and to end the divisions within our society. The only way for that to happen, though, is for that half of the population which has lost trust in our institutions and politicians to regain that trust.
The Times and Sunday Times of Malta have made it clear that we believe a change in government is the best outcome for the country’s widespread corruption to be tackled, for the rule of law to be strengthened and for the country’s international standing, as a place where justice prevails, to be restored. Irrespective of who wins the election, these priorities will remain the same.
The re-election of Joseph Muscat would not change the fact that two reports by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit found a reasonable suspicion of money laundering involving the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri.
Extracts of a third FIAU report, which is yet to be concluded, found that Mr Schembri and Konrad Mizzi may have received kickbacks from the LNG tanker operation, and the latter from Enemalta’s privatisation.
The fact also remains that there are three separate magisterial inquiries unfolding, one investigating Dr Muscat and his wife in connection with the ownership of a Panama company and two looking into Mr Schembri’s alleged money-laundering activities based on the FIAU reports which were presented to the court by Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil.
Dr Muscat, therefore, is bound to be faced with huge difficulties if he returns to Castille.
What will happen if, as expected, a magistrate rules that Schembri, the Prime Minister’s “best friend”, has to face criminal proceedings? Will Dr Muscat remain in office?
He has shrugged off the very serious allegations made against Schembri and Mizzi, his Minister Without Portfolio, and the police have, disgracefully, never taken any action against either of these individuals, shaming Malta’s name in the process.
This situation cannot go on indefinitely. Dr Busuttil has made the strengthening of Malta’s institutions and combatting corruption the cornerstone of his electoral platform, and if elected, we have confidence he will make every effort to carry out those pledges.
Should Dr Muscat be re-elected, he will have one more chance to live up to his responsibilities and act decisively to save Malta’s reputation before international investors start to desert the country.
To have any chance of doing that, he would first have to deny both Schembri and Mizzi their old posts and then allow the police and Attorney General to treat everyone equally before the law in investigating corruption, bribery and money laundering. He would also need to work with the Opposition to strengthen Malta’s institutions and defend the country’s financial services sector.
Of course, if a magisterial inquiry in any way implicates Dr Muscat or his wife in the ownership of a Panama company, then he will have to step down immediately, or be ousted by his own party.
So whatever happens today, it is far from over. Whichever leader is elected, his priority should be to restore our pride in being Maltese and show the world that we are a normal EU country.
No easy task, but it can be done. It must be done.