Malta has changed politically, socially and economically since its membership into the EU in 2004. In 2019, Malta has maintained this prosperity, but its transformation and current trajectory raise concerns over the future of its citizens and their social well- being.
In addition, one must also consider regional and global issues that will have a sizeable influence on Malta’s future. Developments in the past years have shown a dire need for an independent research-policy institute.
Maltese politics may have led to EU membership, but membership has not led to the political harmonisation and reform that would be a requirement for a matured EU member state. There are a number of reasons why this is an alarming prospect. Firstly, the political climate has not transformed from its often hostile and tribal bipartisan character.
This state of affairs disallows the proper integration of additional political parties that would allow more balance in the formation of new governments and more flexibility to tackle the problems by regional instability and climate change. This is much of a problem connected to Malta’s size, voting habits and system, as it is connected to the ability of third parties to capture the imagination of Maltese constituents.
Secondly, the bipartisan system proved effective insofar as each party maintained a core voter base which disallowed the other from achieving a comfortable margin of the popular vote. This system gives the ruling party sole control to press its political mandate. Historically, bad governance would force the ruling party to respond to public dissatisfaction, lest it lose in the next general election.
However, it is now inconceivable that after the 2017 election, with the landslide victory of the Labour Party (PL) and implosion of the Nationalist Party (PN) core voter base, that this native rule of political stability will be maintained.
However, the dynamics in which the 2017 elections were held are most worrying and have rattled Maltese society to the core.
The dynamics surrounding allegations of government corruption, whether the Maltese believe these or not, are extremely alarming. Malta’s size and societal structure has the propensity to entrench political views. When Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called and won a snap election in the face of corruption allegations brought forward by Daphne Caruana Galizia, the prospect that the allegations against Muscat and members of his cabinet were politically defeated in a general election, and not in the courts, is democratically unsound.
Such a popularity contest forced the opposition party to go on the defensive and campaign with an inflexible mandate, which ultimately led to its defeat at the polls. It has destroyed dialogue within each camp concerning political change, as each party viewed such a debate as an extension of assessing Muscat’s (and the PL’s) innocence or guilt.
Undoubtedly, these developments have had a profound impact on the states’s ability to combat corruption, protect the environment and make Malta a more equitable society. It also raises the importance for independent research and policy outside the confines of this political arena.
The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia on 16th October 2017 marked a gruelling twist in Maltese politics. It was a targeted attack on independent journalism and destroyed decades’ worth of independent knowledge, information exchange and research.
The longer the identities of the pay-masters remain at large, the more difficult it is to ascertain what mark this assassination will leave on Malta’s future trajectory as a democracy. The PN suffered post-election turmoil with widespread resignations across the party hierarchy.
Caruana Galizia had raised several irregularities which questioned Adrian Delia’s suitability as new PN party leader before her murder, which has turned a crack within the party to a full-blown gulf as a result. Although the PN are trying desperately to seem unified, they are battling their own corner and that of the ruling party. Many assume that they will not see reelection for at least a decade, and therefore, it is not up to meet the task.
The above developments have created a status-quo that will be subject to volatile change if the ruling party does not secure its margin of support. Economic growth is the centrepiece of the current government’s success and they have sought to maintain this growth. However, Malta’s economic progress is accompanied by a bitter after taste. People have rallied to prop up the legacy left in the wake of Caruana Galizia’s assassination.
The findings and commentary by Shift News, Manuel Delia and even foreign TV shows have led to a continuation of independent reporting and review. Their findings are extremely worrying and show irregularities across Maltese public administration, the Individual Investor Programme (IIP), the housing market, uncovering cases of political appointeeism or the acquisition and tender of the Gas- fired power plant.
It is not surprising that policies intended for maintaining PL’s supremacy are the most riddled by allegations of misdemeanour and corruption.
This fragile status-quo has halted meaningful policy development to meet the challenges that are posed by climate change, regional conflicts and intercultural stability in Malta.
An independent research policy institute would be a requirement to create a “third wave” of policy-based research, separated from political machinations and dependent on EU and private support. This would benefit all stakeholders in society, including the government.
The research institute will focus on conflict resolution, intercultural communication and the management and the mitigation of effects brought upon by Climate Change in Malta and the wider Mediterranean region. It will facilitate a neutral base for Maltese to openly network and debate on critical topics concerning the establishment of regulations and rules that protect Malta’s natural and historical heritage.
Giving students in Malta the ability to participate in the formation of ideas on how best to tackle Maltese problems and provide peer-reviewed solutions in response. It would seek to create workshops and invite scholars from a range of relevant scientific fields to discuss and debate on critical subjects areas of interest to Malta. It would be an additional expert voice in a bipartisan battle ground, that it desperately requires. Therefore, the creation of such an institute is inevitable.
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