He led Malta through a historic period of economic growth but was also named man of the year in corruption. He gave the island one of the most LGBT+ friendly regimes but also saw his closest friends implicated in the assassination of a journalist. He is adored by his fans and despised by his critics and he will deliver his final speech as Prime Minister of Malta tonight.
Here’s a quick recap of the seven years with Joseph Muscat in charge of the country.
Joseph Muscat soars to power, crushing the Nationalist Party by a historic margin on the back of a campaign to end tribalism, reduce electricity bills, create a new middle-class and introduce a wave of progressive policies.
A few months into his new role, Muscat challenges the EU by refusing to allow a boat of migrants to enter the island, arguing they should be returned to Libya instead. The migrants are eventually accepted by Italy.
Muscat also launches the Individual Investment Programme to sell Maltese citizenship to wealthy foreigners. The scheme boosts the economy and allows the government to invest millions in a national development fund, but is constantly dogged by controversy locally and overseas.
Muscat starts putting his stamp on Malta’s legislation, particularly by legalising civil unions and adoptions by same-sex couples, a remarkably progressive feat for a country which had until recently been one of the only countries in the world that didn’t even allow divorce.
The Labour government also introduces some of its more popular economic schemes, such as reducing electricity tariffs, introducing a first-time buyers’ scheme and granting free universal childcare, a measure later credited for freeing several women up to find a job.
Muscat leads the Labour Party to a commanding victory over the PN at the European Parliament elections, defying expectations for ruling parties to suffer at midterm elections.
Muscat faces his first serious political test when the chauffeur of Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia is caught shooting at a moving vehicle. The Prime Minister responds to the incident by sacking Mallia on the grounds that he should shoulder political responsibility.
Citizens force through a referendum on spring hunting and Muscat throws his support behind the hunting lobby. The referendum is lost by a slender margin and Muscat is widely credited as giving the hunters the boost they needed to triumph, cementing his reputation as an electoral force of nature.
Muscat presides over a golden period in his political career when Malta hosts two summits in quick succession – the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and the Valletta Summit which brought together leaders from Europe and Africa. The summits see Muscat rub shoulders with some of the world’s most powerful politicians and allow the Maltese Prime Minister to present himself as a statesman with serious international clout.
Muscat continues to preside over significant economic growth, with the country managing to achieve its first surplus in 35 years.
However, the headlines are dominated by the Panama Papers, a scandal which would keep on raising its head in the following years. Daphne Caruana Galizia reveals that Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi and Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri own offshore Panamanian companies but Muscat refuses to sack them from office.
The scandal invigorates the Nationalist Party but Muscat manages to avoid it causing visible rifts within his own party.
The LNG power station, one of Labour’s landmark projects, is concluded and Muscat gets another perfect chance at international statesmanship when Malta gets its turn to take charge of the EU’s rotating presidency.
However, the Panama Papers strikes again when Daphne Caruana Galizia writes that his own wife Michelle also happens to own a Panama company called Egrant. Muscat denounces this as the biggest lie in Maltese political history and announces a snap general election.
The election is a tense one, marked by clear personal animosity between Muscat and PN leader Simon Busuttil as evidenced by a particularly fiery leaders’ debate on Xarabank.
Muscat stands strong, rolling out several proposals and managing to up his charisma game, particularly during a mass meeting at Ħal Far which will live long in the memory of people present.
A few months after the election, Daphne Caruana Galizia is assassinated in a car bomb, shocking Malta to the core.
After three men are charged with assassinating Caruana Galizia, Muscat manages to deflect suggestions that his government could have had anything to do with the murder and presides over a period of relative calm.
Valletta becomes Europe’s Capital of Culture and the government starts implementing major reforms, including a law allowing more prospective parents to legalise IVF, the legalisation of medical marijuana, pension increases and the upgrading of Malta’s road network.
Towards the end of the year, Muscat attempts to spearhead legislation to turn the island into a global centre for emerging technologies, stating the island has the potential to become Europe’s “Silicon Valley”.
Meanwhile, a magisterial inquiry finds no evidence linking Muscat or his wife to the infamous Panama company Egrant, a huge political win for the Prime Minister.
Also, major businessman Yorgen Fenech is named as the owner of 17 Black, one of two Dubai companies that were planning to transfer money into Mizzi’s and Schembri’s Panama companies. However, once again Muscat resists local and international pressure to fire these two men.
Muscat starts talking up environmental policies, stating people’s priorities are shifting from merely making ends meet to finding places where they can unwind. He also takes a strong stance against racism and xenophobia in the wake of the murder of Lassana Cisse Souleymane, believed to be Malta’s first ever racist murder.
The Prime Minister leads Labour to another record colossal victory at the European Parliament and local council elections, defeating a third PN leader, this time Adrian Delia. After this victory, internal murmurs of Muscat’s impending resignation start growing, with reports that he is eyeing a top EU post. However, he stays on as Prime Minister.
And then it all comes crumbling down. After Yorgen Fenech is arrested and charged in connection with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Mizzi and Schembri resign on the same day. Fenech also implicates Schembri in the assassination and says in court that Schembri had kept him constantly updated about the progress of the investigations. Police later confirm that Schembri is being investigated for murder.
With his own former chief of staff now investigated for murder, Muscat has no realistic option left but to resign, triggering a leadership race during the Christmas period.
Muscat steps down, with either Chris Fearne or Robert Abela set to replace him tomorrow night.
What will Joseph Muscat’s legacy be?