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Five Down. How Many More To Go, To Fix Malta’s Reputation?

It’s been almost three years since it became clear that five men who were dominating Maltese politics had to go.

The careers of Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi, Chris Cardona and Adrian Delia all went up in smoke the second Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered.

In the months leading up to her death, these men vilified Caruana Galizia as a liar, a traitor, a hypocrite, a gossip-monger and a defender of the ‘evil’ PN establishment.

But when she was blown up in broad daylight for the whole world to watch, something became clear: She wasn’t killed for being a bitch. She was assassinated for sniffing too close to the truth.

And anybody who clearly stood in the way of that truth – whatever it was – had to first and foremost be removed from office.

Yesterday, that objective was finally achieved.

Delia, who spent three years trying to force his party into submission despite so many invitations to leave on his own terms, was ousted quite brutally by the PN members as soon as they got their chance.

Now that the five politicians ruined by Caruana Galizia’s assassination are no longer in power (even though some are still hanging to their parliamentary seats), Malta can begin a new phase in its pursuit of truth, justice and redemption.

In this phase, all eyes are on Prime Minister Robert Abela and newly-elected PN leader Bernard Grech.

Of the two, it is Abela who is on the thinnest ice, despite his buoyancy at the polls.

To remain in power, Abela must show that he is not a hurdle but a net contributor to Malta’s pursuit for truth, justice and redemption.

So far, there have been some positive signs. In a few months, he has changed the Justice Minister, the Home Affairs Minister, the Police Commissioner, the head of the Economic Crimes Unit, the Attorney General and the State Advocate. He also brought an end to the outrageous regular sweeping of Caruana Galizia’s memorial site outside the law courts. And it seems we’re already seeing the wheels of justice begin to turn, with the recent arrest of Schembri and the questioning of Muscat – even though both have yet to be charged. 

But Abela has not yet earned everyone’s trust and there is good reason for that. He is a sly political operator, who was very close to Muscat and who defended government’s actions for years. He was Cabinet’s legal advisor at a time when much of what Cabinet was doing was illegal. And his wife Lydia Abela was the executive secretary of the Labour Party, working closely with Muscat and Schembri since 2010.

Many were not surprised when Abela rose to challenge Chris Fearne for leadership. The immensely popular, well-experienced and straight-as-an-arrow Deputy Prime Minister was perceived as the only real threat to Muscat and Schembri. And by challenging Fearne’s leadership bid and winning, many believe Abela did them a favour.

Abela’s legacy is still in the balance – and it’s a tricky balance if ever there was one.

To help rebuild Malta’s hard-hit economy, even amidst a pandemic, he must start to fix our dire international reputation. But proving that justice is served in Malta requires a process of more dirt being uncovered every day, as we’re seeing in the court. And each day this dirt gets closer to the men he worked closely to and defended in Cabinet.

And at the same time he must retain the support of his party which was brainwashed to see these men as gods and nothing they do as wrong.

Meanwhile, the Nationalist Party has finally decided to stop racing with its worst foot forward.

Bernard Grech is far from perfect – as he said himself in his victory speech. But apart from his pathetic and embarrassing tax-dodging antics, he has none of the baggage of Delia or Abela.

From day one, he has supported Malta’s fight for truth, justice and redemption. He certainly cannot ever be accused of being an obstacle or an accomplice.

This is why the Labour Party should take a considerable step back before pouncing on Grech for an old comment he made about being embarrassed to be Maltese when travelling.

While it was inelegantly put and an awkward thing to say for a future Opposition leader, those leading the Labour Party should be the last people to mock somebody for saying they were ashamed to be Maltese.

Instead, they should be looking inward to see what they could have done differently to make sure nobody was ever made to feel that way and more importantly what they can do now to make sure Malta’s reputation goes back to what it was before the Labour Party ran riot.

It took three years for the country to oust five men from office. But things won’t take that long in the future. Now that our economy is in the balance and we understand the impact our reputation can have on our daily income, our appetite for bullshit is wearing thin.

Abela better act fast to prove he is Malta’s man, not Muscat’s. He needs to rid himself of the baggage around him. And with a tranche of leaked messages about to be presented in court, he might soon have a perfect opportunity. If he doesn’t, the village lawyer from Birżebbuġa could surprise him.

Maybe Malta wants to have a Prime Minister who understands what it’s like to feel ashamed of coming from an island known for corruption, money-laundering and murdering journalists.

Grech would also do well to remain humble. He may have successfully elbowed out more experienced candidates like Roberta Metsola to become leader, but he has not yet proven that he was right to do so.

His first step needs to be ensuring he surrounds himself by the right people who can guide him on how best to transform Malta’s decades-old corrupt political system and win back the tens of thousands of voters who began leaving the party since before 2008. With an election increasingly expected next year, Grech doesn’t have much time to prove himself and articulate a real vision that can inspire a country.

Malta changed three years ago. We lost our innocence when we realised our political class could get so close to murder. Politicians will get away with much less moving forward. And it’s about time too.

READ NEXT: Who Is Bernard Grech, The New Nationalist Party Leader?

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