Malta’s golden boy is no longer glittering

When Joseph Muscat became Malta’s prime minister in 2013, he did it with a record electoral victory and a promise to bring divisive politics to an end.
For six and a half years, his electoral prowess remained largely unmatched — his Labour Party never lost an election with him as leader. But on Sunday, Muscat’s time in office neared its scandalous end when he announced he would resign after January 12 amid the fallout from an investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Caruana Galizia was a Maltese investigative journalist who exposed government corruption in her blog. She was assassinated in a car bomb explosion in October 2017.
Muscat’s time in government began brightly when Labour rose to power in 2013. He presided over record economic growth and several years of budget surpluses which boosted living standards.
Economic incentives such as free childcare encouraged mothers to re-enter the workforce. And Catholic Malta, which until 2011 did not allow divorce, earned a spot on lists of the world’s most LGBT-friendly countries under his tenure.
What was an island of 422,000 people in 2012 had more than 493,000 people by 2018 — a 15 per cent increase in six years. The construction sector flourished. Malta’s natural environment, already constrained by the country’s minute size, did not.
All throughout, Muscat navigated a tightrope between progressive politics and populism. He deftly handled Malta’s response to the European migration crisis, projecting a statesmanlike image on the international stage while quietly lobbying for a top post in Brussels.
But he was also not shy of playing on voters’ sentiments, telling the public that he dreamed of all Maltese being “little rich men” and that foreign workers were necessary to ensure local workers received pensions. He has also said “picking up rubbish” and other menial jobs should be left to foreign workers. He won re-election with an even larger majority in 2017, but when Caruana Galizia was assassinated in October of that year, the wheels began to fall off the Muscat government’s wagon.
A prime suspect in the murder is a prominent businessman linked to the two men whom Muscat so staunchly defended. One of those two, chief of staff Keith Schembri, was arrested in connection with the crime but later released without charge. The other has been forced to resign as a minister. A third minister has also been forced out due to the case. Protesters demanding Muscat’s resignation over the Galizia case have long claimed the prime minister was complicit in the crime and should be investigated himself. — AFP