Over the course of the past two weeks, Malta’s Parliament has experienced mass protests from over 4,000 citizens demanding the Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, step down from office immediately. Whilst these protests have led to Muscat’s 1 December announcement that he will resign, this promise will only take effect on 12 January 2020 when new elections are held. Thus far, the protestors have continued blocking the gates of Parliament, seeking transparency and accountability from their politicians.
The protests have largely resulted from public dissatisfaction over police investigations into the 2017 car-bomb killing of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, a reporter who was well-known for her exposure of alleged corruption of Maltese politicians and business leaders in her blog “Running Commentary.” A powerful activist for anti-corruption, Galizia was instrumental in reporting a number of allegations against Maltese politicians in the infamous Panama Papers Scandal, exposing erosions to the rule of law. Since her death, the Labour Party, led by PM Muscat, has shown little interest in investigating.
Public dissatisfaction has grown over the course of the two-week long protests. When asked about the demonstrations in Malta, European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, declined to comment, though he stated that he was “highly concerned” about the rule of law not being respected. Dutch liberal MEP, Sophie in’t Veld, a politician leading the EU’s fact-finding investigation into Malta, claimed she was “not reassured,” with the Maltese situation and that “everybody recognises, including the Prime Minister himself, that he has made some serious errors of judgement.” Protestors have also been active in expressing their opinions, with some yelling “Prison!” and “Assassins!” at Maltese politicians.
The protests have demonstrated how crucial it is to have an active and engaged public holding the Parliament to account for breaches of the rule of law. Open and peaceful discussions must take place to ensure support of independent investigative journalism. Journalists such as Galizia have played an instrumental role in exposing money-laundering scandals, political corruption and unethical business deals at the highest echelons of power. It is only through dialogue and negotiations that protestors will be able to ensure the security and safety of an independent media.
The past week has been chaotic for the Maltese government. The protests have largely been sparked by recent developments in the investigation, beginning on 19 November 2019 when Prime Minister Muscat offered a presidential pardon to a taxi driver in exchange for potentially crucial evidence about the journalist’s death. One week later, the PM’s chief of staff was arrested, only to be released two days later. By 2 December, the opposition party began throwing fake currency in Parliament stamped with the face of Muscat, now a symbol of political corruption. Rather than dissipating, these events have only increased the demonstrations.
The Maltese protests highlight the importance of holding the Executive responsible for a breakdown in the rule of law. Through the demonstrations, the public has demanded reforms be made to ensure the safety of journalists investigating political corruption. Over the next year, thorough investigations into Galizia’s murder must be conducted and peaceful discourse and engagement must be made by both protestors and parliament. It is crucial that the safety of the media is strengthened to ensure continued exposure of political corruption, holding Parliament accountable to the people.