It was not what Joseph Muscat had been planning all along.
It was not the way that he intended to leave the premiership. It’s true that he has always said that he believes a Prime Minister should serve no more than two terms, but it is one thing leaving for a lucrative post in Brussels – which he craved, but never got – and it’s another leaving under the weight of an assassination of a journalist.
Two legislatures, he says. But the first one was cut short, down from five to four years, because the dark clouds of corruption were already on the horizon, and the second one ended midway for him, after just two and a half years. So, in actual fact, Muscat has served only two thirds of two legislatures, and he is not leaving in a good way.
The pressure of ever-growing crowds demanding his departure from the position of most power in the country, after the linking of the 16 October 2017 car bomb which killed Daphne Caruana Galizia to his office, has taken its toll. This pressure will not stop now that he has announced he will go – because he should not go in January; he should go now.
Day after day, ever since an alleged middleman offered to spill the beans on the heinous crime, Muscat grew weaker and weaker. And, as more and more information leaked from the investigation, including the mentioning of his right hand man Keith Schembri in connection with the killing, Muscat’s position became more and more untenable.
The smiling, made-up face of the Prime Minister as he appeared on national television on Sunday to announce his resignation in January could not hide the fact that Muscat will be leaving his office with his name associated with the most brutal of murders.
He escaped unscathed, but tearful, from the Egrant saga, although we are still waiting for the publication of the whole magisterial report which he promised but never delivered.
But, this time, it was not to be. This time the power of the people had the better of him. And in spite of all the lovely words of unity and statements describing unanimous support from within his own fold, it is a known fact that Muscat’s Cabinet was split on his future. Muscat was forced to leave because of dissent towards him – in the streets of Valletta, and around the Cabinet table.
Muscat used up most of his 13-minute address on Sunday to speak about his achievements, but his legacy will not be the good results in employment and the budgetary surplus. Neither will it be the social reforms and economic prosperity. Yes, there were good results in various fields under his tenure. But the heavy weight of Daphne’s assassination and the rotten smell of corruption and nepotism will also remain tied to his name.
Joseph Muscat must regret the day he decided to stand by Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi when the Panama Papers were revealed. He probably thought the story would go away quickly, and the comfortable electoral majority he enjoyed made him think he was invincible. But the story kept on growing, and intertwined as it became with Daphne’s murder, it finally caused his downfall.
Muscat said he is stepping down in January. But it is more of a dismissal than a resignation. When Education Minister Evarist Bartolo wrote, some days ago, that Schembri and Mizzi should resign to save the Labour Party, maybe he had another name in mind.
It is only with Muscat’s departure that the country can hope to regenerate itself.
It is only with him gone that we can hope to turn a new leaf, one which restores Malta’s reputation which has been greatly damaged – irreparably, it is said, by top Labour exponents.
It is only with his moving out – not in January, but today – that the country can return to some form of normalcy, if that’s possible.
Original article found on The Malta Independent