The Malta Independent 13 December 2019, Friday

They changed Pjazza Helsien into a denial of freedom

Noel Grima Sunday, 1 December 2019, 08:49 Last update: about 11 days ago

I am writing this article, exceptionally, on Wednesday night, having seen countless videos – thanks to today’s smartphones, everyone has become a reporter – of the shenanigans outside Parliament.

After the fracas of the past few days, the trapping of Minister Owen Bonnici in his car and the pummelling, spitting and scratching of ministerial cars on subsequent days, Speaker Anglu Farrugia drew on his past experience as a police inspector and instituted a protective barrier around Parliament.

In the process, the free space in Pjazza Helsien was removed by barriers that allowed a very narrow passage-way on the side of the shopping arcade. In doing so, perhaps inadvertently, Pjazza Helsien became Pjazza Nuqqas ta’ Helsien.

And still the people came, drawn by the calls from Occupy Justice and Repubblika. No barriers were overturned – this is not the Paris of Gilets Jaune nor the Barcelona of the Catalan rebellion.

Then people seem to have made their way to the War Memorial and tried to go up to Castille, but were stopped by the police.

There, as far as I know, the matter ended. But there is no doubt that the protesters will return time and time again and that they will become more creative in expressing their protests. A certain manic determination has taken hold of these mostly middle-aged protesters, with their banging on pots, their repeated slogans and their incessant whistles.

This is the tail-end of what is going on in Malta. At the other end, there is the still-developing story of the police investigations, the unsuspected links that are being discovered between various people under investigation and the links which point at the conspiracy that killed Daphne.

Again, thanks to many intrepid and courageous journalists, the story is being developed so that today we can say we have a broad idea of the storyline. Obviously, most of the details verge on the speculative and there have been some mistakes along the way, but there is no doubt that things will become clearer and clearer and when matters come to court, the perpetrators will get their punishment.

It is when we come to the political level that things get sticky, because police investigations are one thing but pinning down a politician’s share in the crime is very difficult. Prime Minister Muscat keeps saying that if there is a shadow of doubt on his actions, he will resign, knowing full well that such a link – if it exists – will never surface.

To reinforce his position, then, he goes in for secret votes of confidence that turn out in unanimity, even though Ministers and MPs have been less than complimentary in remarks to the media. It’s like beating a dog to death many times over.

This is all defensive play on the part of the PM. My impression is that he has ceased to think in any other way. Ever since CHOGM and Malta’s rotating presidency and his missing out on an EU appointment in the recent reshuffle, his engine has been running on one cylinder: defence. The Daphne investigation is absorbing all his efforts.

Now this is terribly unfair on one party alone – the Labour Party. There are valid and worthy people in the Party but they somehow seem to have been sidelined in this whole saga.

There are valid and worthy people in the Nationalist Party as well, to be sure, and there are also worthy and valid people in the intervening area of society. But here and there you get situations where the good and the worthy are sidelined and kept out of the key, core, areas.

Now – in the coming days or weeks – we risk a terrible confrontation either outside Parliament or in the squares and highways of the country. The risk is there and tempers are being inflamed – sometimes by deliberate fake news. The behaviour of both parties lies along the route to confrontation, when one would have expected an effort at conciliation, dialogue and compromise.

The Prime Minister of Malta is the elected monarch of this small country – everything depends on him, everyone hangs on his words. There are no independent foci that lie beyond his grasp.

But the irony of it all is that the way to reform Malta lies through removing such power. He is the bottleneck of the Maltese system and when he becomes the stress point of the whole island he will succumb under the pressure. A wiser man would have left some slack, some escape routes, some vents on the side. But not Muscat – he just cannot allow such freedom: hence the path to absolutism on the one hand and total revolution on the other.

We will get the results of all this in future weeks or months. Until then, ‘si sauve qui peut’.

 

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