Briefly, Joseph Muscat’s grip on the country loosened at the end of 2019. The convulsions after the arrest of Yorgen Fenech shook the leadership of the Labour Party. Keith Schembri was arrested, briefly. Chris Cardona “suspended himself”, briefly. Konrad Mizzi moved from a minister’s office to a better paid government consultancy job. He held on to that job briefly.
It looked like Joseph Muscat, and Schembri, Cardona, and Mizzi had been irrevocably culled from politics. Close associates of theirs got the boot as well: Rosianne Cutajar, Justyne Caruana, Neville Gafà, and others.
Three years later the decks are being cleared for Joseph Muscat to come back. His associates are re-emerging. And all they need to complete their victory is the reversal of the arrest that threw them out and kept them out for three years.
Outside of politics, Joseph Muscat had been vulnerable to any impartial application of the law by the state’s institutions. When he resigned, he had expected to avoid prosecution by the proxy efforts of the prime minister he left in his place. Robert Abela dithered. Joseph Muscat got nervous.
If you want to make sure something is done, you’d better do it yourself, he reasoned.
The legal immunity from prosecution of an MEP in office is, in my opinion, a detail. After all that immunity can be reversed if a face value case is made to MEPs that Muscat is in Parliament merely to avoid prosecution.
Joseph Muscat wants something a little more permanent. He is after effective political immunity from prosecution which is not legal but protects him much better. In the June elections, he will acquire a massive result, probably a concentration of votes never before held by any single candidate in any election in Malta before.
His candidature will give an opportunity to tens of thousands of voters to abandon all nagging doubts they may have had, not so much about Joseph Muscat, but more about themselves. For they had supported Joseph Muscat in the past before all the stories of the bribes and the money laundering. If those stories were true it would have been a reflection on them too: they chose a crook to run the country.
The opportunity to vote for Joseph Muscat again is not just an absolution for Muscat, then. It’s an absolution for his voters too.
It’s also an act of intimidation against any police officers, prosecutors, or magistrates who, while Muscat was out of politics, might have briefly considered applying the law on him as they would on any other criminal. That’s all gone. And Robert Abela is making sure we understand that.
Consider Abela’s remarks yesterday. They echo what Joseph Muscat had been saying but this time it’s the country’s prime minister saying them.
Firstly, he discredits the inquiry into Joseph Muscat because it’s been going on for over four years, when, he reminded, inquiries should last no more than 6 months.
We’d all love for inquiries to be shorter. But what is the prime minister saying here? Is he saying that anyone investigated by an inquiry that lasts longer than 6 months can now ignore it because the inquiry has no value? Is any inquiry wrapped up inside of 6 months? Or is this implicit immunity because of delays in the judicial process a privilege reserved for Joseph Muscat?
Secondly, Robert Abela also discredits the inquiry because two relatives of the inquiring magistrate expressed opinions that appeared sympathetic to Repubblika. If her relatives support Repubblika than surely she’s too biased to give Joseph Muscat fair treatment.
For crying out loud, Joseph Muscat appointed a former deputy leader of the Labour Party to the bench. He appointed a former International Secretary of the Labour Party. He promoted a sister of a Labour Party Minister in office. He appointed the daughter of a former Deputy Leader and Speaker in office. He appointed the daughter of a former Labour Party minister. He appointed a former Labour Party mayor. He appointed the daughter in law of his, and the Labour Party’s, lawyer who had participated as a speaker in Labour Party events. He appointed a former senior political advisor of a Labour Party minister. He appointed a former Labour Party election candidate. He appointed the former editor of the Labour Party newspaper. He appointed a former Labour Party MP and ideologue, and when he retired he made him a serial re-appointee to administrative inquiries. He appointed another retiree who is married to a former Labour Party MEP as Law Commissioner. He promoted a former Labour Party election candidate to chief justice.
These are all people whose sympathy for the Labour Party was not in doubt because there’s a record of their opinions, never mind their relatives’. And yet we are expected to take their judgement on trust because we are asked to presume they are all capable of separating their personal opinions and former partisan loyalties from a diligent and impartial application of the law. And often, though not always, indeed all these judges and magistrates of the Labour persuasion proved impeccably impartial. But even if they didn’t, they’re there and we must all submit to their judgement.
But Joseph Muscat is exempt. He must not submit to the judgement of a magistrate whose relatives – not herself mind you – expressed an opinion that Joseph Muscat is displeased with. Can we all walk away from the judgement of judges and magistrates whose political baggage we dislike?
Thirdly, Robert Abela sought to discredit the inquiry by saying that the timing of its conclusion appears to him to be intended to cause the most harm to the Labour Party on the eve of June’s European elections. Are we then only to obey court orders when they are handed down at a time which is convenient to us? Can a listed business refuse to comply with a court order if it is handed down during stock trading hours? Can a convicted felon refuse to serve a prison term if it coincides with some relative’s pregnancy?
Or is this immunity from inconveniently timed legal consequence only reserved for Joseph Muscat and the Labour Party?
The point I’m trying to make is that Robert Abela and Joseph Muscat are consciously unambiguous about the motivation for this second coming. Abela says that the inquiry into Joseph Muscat is no reason to stop Muscat from running because the inquiry has no merit. But that’s a reversal of the logic they are looking to impose. Muscat is running in order to show that, as they see it, the inquiry has no merit. That’s how they blast the inquiry, by ignoring it and saying that they can.
In a country where the rule of law prevails no one gets to decide for themselves if a criminal investigation into their conduct can be ignored with contempt. Joseph Muscat does not accept that. He did not accept it when he was prime minister and he will not accept it now. He is recapturing the state, holding the entire country hostage. He has a gun held to our collective head and will shoot if anyone dangles hand cuffs in his face.
There may have been a time when Robert Abela thought he could avoid this, when he could leave Joseph Muscat to his fate. But Joseph Muscat’s gun is pointed to Robert Abela’s head as it is to anyone’s. All Joseph Muscat needs to do to return to politics is merely to say he wants to. He will have to his name more votes than Robert Abela could count.
Now that Robert Abela has surrendered to Joseph Muscat, it should surprise no one that Robert Abela openly states that he expects the judiciary to do the same.
This method is not without precedent. Silvio Berlusconi captured and perverted Italian democracy and held institutions hostage until the day he died on his feet, still a politician. Donald Trump’s way out of his ruinous personal legal disasters, is the White House and once he gets back in there, he’ll never want to come back out.
What we are experiencing in Malta is not unique but it’s no less painful for that. Maybe one day this will turn out to be a morality play, good prevails, and we all live happily ever after. But right now, the Empire is striking back.