Why you should care
Malta’s left-wing government just collapsed over corruption, murder and a cover-up.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced last night that he’ll step down Jan. 12 to give his party time to come up with a successor. The last two weeks have seen a spectaular fall from grace over cronyism and alleged complicity in the murder of a 53-year-old journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who investigated Maltese corruption before a car bomb two years ago claimed her life.
Why does it matter? Muscat, who before entering politics was a journalist himself, has presided over the renaissance of Malta’s left-wing Labour Party for the last six years. But after Malta’s richest man, tycoon Yorgen Fenech, was charged with complicity in Caruana Galizia’s murder last Saturday, things have swiftly fallen apart: Muscat’s chief of staff was linked to Fenech, then resigned and was arrested. Now the scandal has claimed Muscat too — though Caruana Galizia’s family wants him to leave office immediately and not wait until mid-January.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Changing winds. Despite allegations of corruption, Muscat was a popular leader. In early November, a Malta Today poll found that just over half of respondents trusted Muscat more than other political leaders (down from an all-time high of 54 percent a year earlier). His tenure has seen Malta’s bona fides on things like LGBT rights move forward swiftly and surely — but Muscat had said as long ago as 2018 that he wouldn’t seek reelection, so it’s possible his personal downfall won’t unduly affect the island nation’s political trajectory.
Family ties. The campaign for justice for Caruana Galizia has been spearheaded by her family — specifically her oldest son, Matthew, who told OZY that while he knew his mother’s investigative journalism work was important, “her murder was a possibility that I simply never considered.” Today the family has asked Maltese courts to keep Muscat from being involved in the ongoing investigation — except as a suspect. In recent days, Muscat’s chief of staff and tourism minister resigned after Fenech’s lawyers reportedly offered information on them in exchange for a pardon (which was denied).
Next steps. While no favorites have been named in the race to replace Muscat, it may happen without a national election. Instead, the new prime minister could be selected by the Labour Party as part of an internal leadership election. Unless a snap election is called, whoever’s selected will likely be in power until the next scheduled general election in 2022.
WHAT TO READ
How a Dog Called Peter Sparked Malta’s Political Crisis, by Juliette Garside in The Guardian
“What happens in Malta has come to matter to Europe, and those who see threats to the rule of law within its borders.”
Malta Arrests in Daphne Caruana Galizia Murder Still Don’t Solve the Crime, by Barbie Latza Nadeau in The Daily Beast
“Vella and other family members maintain that they would also like to see her sister’s many investigations into corruption by Malta’s top officials lead to arrests.”
WHAT TO WATCH
What Lies in Store for Malta’s Prime Minister Muscat?
“Many think that people power can help clean up the country.”
Watch on DW on YouTube:
Malta Tycoon Charged in Journalist’s Car Bomb Killing
“The country has seen many protests over [Muscat]’s handling of this case.”
Watch on CBC on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Intrigue. Maltese Economy Minister Chris Cardona briefly stepped aside but was reinstated yesterday. Fenech told police he was handed a typewritten letter by his doctor after his arrest — which he believes was penned by Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, who uses the same doctor — instructing him to lay the blame for Caruana Galizia’s murder on Cardona. Schembri denies writing any such letter.