Given the large volume of articles which were written that year, I decided to split the 2013 annual report into two parts. This article is the first part. In this piece, the focus is solely on the three months leading to the general elections which were held that year. The second article – click here to read – focuses on the remainder of that year, which were the Labour Party’s first nine months in power.
The general elections of 2013 were worse than a riot in a prison yard. In such a riot, all combatants are willing to do anything to survive. There is no code of honour, there are no rules, and there certainly aren’t any referees.
In the case of those general elections, it was a situation in which only one of two combatants was willing and able to play dirty.
Using its gigantic, unwieldy propaganda machine, Joseph Muscat’s Labour Party spared no expense in tearing the Nationalist Party to shreds. In fact, the party’s very expensive campaign was clearly financed by the same major business interests that later effectively took over the country’s halls of power, a Faustian pact that would spell the end of democracy as we knew it.
On the other hand, the Nationalist Party attempted to campaign like it would campaign in any other election, and was consistently caught off-guard by the viciousness of the Labour Party’s multi-pronged assault on the then governing party’s credibility. Like any other propagandist, Muscat knew very well that even when his party was pinned to a wall when one of its many fabricated narratives went up in smoke, the lie would stick more than the eventual truth which emerges.
As was evidently visible in the first two years of Muscat’s takeover of the Labour Party, the party continued piling all the pressure and hatred it could pile on top of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s shoulders. During this election, that hatred hit yet another crescendo – ONE reporters publicly harassed Daphne at political events, rabid Labour Party supporters physically assaulted her and then colluded with the police to frame her as the assailant, and she was even arrested in the middle of the night right before election day for posting public videos which mocked Muscat.
Besides doing everything in its power to destroy Daphne’s credibility and the Nationalist Party’s relatively solid track record under Gonzi’s stewardship, the Labour Party was also fully committed to the idea of building a cult-of-personality around Muscat and ‘his’ movement. This movement, shorn of a concrete ideological basis and any actual relationship with objective reality, was a widely cast net that promised everything to everyone, especially people who wanted to make money.
Early on, the Labour Party successfully captured key lobby groups which threw their weight behind the party, even when its electoral proposals were clearly sketchy at best and entirely fraudulent at worst. The Malta Employers’ Association, for example, which counted Konrad Mizzi’s father and Labour Party sympathiser Joshua Zammit among its board members, had issued a surreal statement lauding the Labour Party for its now-infamous power station proposal when the rest of the country was busy scratching its head trying to figure out whether it was even possible.
We now know exactly what that power station proposal was about. It was never about slashing electricity tariffs for families in Malta. In fact, we are currently paying through our noses to subsidise electricity prices, and spent years losing money ‘hand over fist‘ while Electrogas’ shareholders, including alleged murder mastermind Yorgen Fenech, are set to rake in millions for the rest of their lives.
The Malta Employers’ Association wasn’t the only organisation to back the Labour Party at the time. One of the party’s staunchest allies was (and still remains) the Malta Developers’ Association, who issued another surreal supporting statement for the Labour Party’s fraudulent power station plans. As sharp as ever, Daphne immediately zeroed in on the extent of this incestuous relationship between developers and the Labour Party:
“…I am very nervous about a situation in which the Labour Party is backed by land developers. This is because I know that several key politicians within the Labour Party see this as a good way of making money for themselves privately, and even if it might be legitimate, it’s really not a good look. Charles Mangion, for instance, is the notary used on many major, really major land deals. His conflict of interest is massive, and nobody speaks about the elephant in the room.”
“And in any case, I lived through the years of Labour government and I know as others do that the corruption, human savagery (does anyone remember the poor accountant hacked to pieces and found in a disused well?) and environmental degradation of those robber-baron years were absolutely terrible,” she added.
The developers’ association was so tight-knit with the Labour Party that it used the services of one hardly known lawyer at the time to set up its statute. That lawyer, who goes by the name of Robert Abela, is now a prime minister who continues his party’s tradition of handing the country’s land to major developers on a silver platter. Funnily enough, this closeness (along with evident personal frustration over his summary execution as former deputy leader of the Labour Party) led to what was likely the only honest moment in Anġlu Farrugia’s political career.
Tony Zahra, one of the most influential voices in the business community and president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, was another figure who threw his weight behind the Labour Party’s electoral machine. When singing the Labour Party’s praises during the campaign, Zahra naturally never mentioned that one of his key business partners would then go on to become the minister of finance in Muscat’s Cabinet – none other than Edward Scicluna.
These high-profile endorsements helped cement the feeling that Labour’s ascent to government was practically inevitable. A closer look at its electoral campaign motifs quickly exposes this constant drive to attract voters who were aware of the Labour Party’s criminal history in government and were therefore distinctly uncomfortable with publicly pledging their allegiance to it.
They were so desperate to attract this crowd of voters that they kept trundling out the same handful of ‘switchers’ whose job was to convince the public that it was now acceptable to vote for the Labour Party, in spite of the evident shortcomings which it was trying to tuck away.
Ironically, one of the Labour Party’s rallying cries during the general elections of 2013 was to call for a transparent, meritocratic government while it was already striking deals and fixing things up for its own incoming clique. This slimy, hypocritical approach slid right into the broad ‘moviment’ style politics. People were essentially free to project their ideas onto this ‘new’ movement while simultaneously finding an outlet for their genuine frustration with the overhyped train of scandals which were ongoing at the time.
Besides turning their energy proposals into a battleground where nobody really knew whether what anyone else was saying is actually true, the Labour Party threw its entire might behind the Enemalta oil scandal, which later turned out to involve one of their key financial controllers, Joe Cordina.
Although the strategy was evidently successful, in truth, this strategy betrayed two things about Muscat – his lack of real understanding of what politics is about and his apparent fear of going toe-to-toe with Gonzi, a man with far more political nous and presence than he ever managed to muster.
In a nutshell, Muscat’s style of politics was one which, besides depending overt clientelism and relentless targeting of all dissidence, also depended a lot on tribalism. As Daphne herself pointed out, Muscat’s rhetoric encouraged people to forget their ideological grounding and vote for his party, a key feature of a style of politics which views political groupings as tribes to be joined or left behind rather than parties which are grounded in ideology.
Muscat’s popularity with the party’s hardcore base, which to this day serves as his insurance policy from prosecution from authorities who are not too keen on imploding the government he ushered into power, also depended a lot on heavily scripted appearances. Whenever such an appearance was out of his control, like a debate between leaders, he would bail and either send a lackey in his stead or otherwise snub the debate entirely. His deputies also followed the same approach.
Whenever he was confronted by the independent media, his approach was also skittish and evasive, one which would later earn him the infamous moniker of ‘the artful dodger‘. During that particular election campaign, this approach was most visible when the infamous cocaine scandal was brought to light, with Muscat repeatedly refusing to acknowledge the fact that his deputy, Toni Abela, who now sits in the judiciary’s chambers, was recorded boasting about how he covered up the incident thanks to the help of a friendly police officer.
The only instance in which Muscat faced off directly with Gonzi in a debate was the leadership debate that is held at the University of Malta in the run-up to general elections. Even then, there was a coordinated effort from the Labour Party to ensure that they had control over the crowd. Three of the individuals who were involved in this subversion – Eman Pulis, Ryan Spagnol, and Alex Agius Saliba – all went on to eventually claim their pound of flesh.
Pulis heads Sigma, a private organisation that deals in gaming industry networking events and one which benefited immensely from the Labour Party’s policy approach for the whole sector. Spagnol is now Cabinet secretary, while Agius Saliba is a Labour Party MEP who has staunchly opposed rule of law debates in European fora and has repeatedly accused Nationalist MEPs of being ‘traitors’ for taking the government to task for its massive corruption scandals over the last decade.
In what was probably one of the most impressive acts of gaslighting an entire nation I’ve ever personally witnessed, Muscat also managed, with a straight face, to convince the public that his party’s campaign of wanton destruction was actually benign and that it was the Nationalist Party who was running “the most negative campaign” ever.