Sunday

20th Aug 2017

Maltese election to test faith in ruling party

  • Joseph Muscat called the election to show people still had confidence in his government (Photo: consilium.europa.au)

Corruption allegations could still sink the Maltese government in elections on Saturday (3 June) that take place in a "tribal" atmosphere.

The latest polls, published before a day of campaign silence on Friday, indicated that the ruling Labour Party of prime minister Joseph Muscat would win by a modest margin.

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  • “Malta is doing well and people can feel that” (Photo: Berit Watkin)

Muscat called the vote to restore confidence in his government after a series of corruption allegations against him, his wife, and top officials.

These included revelations that Muscat’s chief of staff, who is still in his post, had a secret bank account.

They also included leaked private emails between Muscat and a businessman, Christian Kalin, whose company, Henley & Partners, helped Muscat to create a Maltese passport-sale programme.

Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese blogger who publicised the Muscat-Kalin email leak, portrayed it as the same high drama as the US election last year.

“This is reminiscent of the Hilary Clinton situation in the US and Hilary Clinton wasn’t even in office”, Galizia told EUobserver on Friday.

Clinton, the Democratic Party candidate in the US, was accused of using private email servers in her time as secretary of state to access classified files.

Galizia has accused Muscat of using private servers to bypass public scrutiny on the passport scheme. She said the passport-sale programme had given Maltese people a bad name abroad.

Kalin told EUobserver on Thursday that there was “absolutely nothing improper” in his emails with Muscat.

He said the passport scheme had by and large attracted respectable people, rather than ones suspected of having shady ties, or so-called Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs).

“We have occasionally to do with PEPs, and of course our firm is adviser to many different governments, and as such we deal with government officials which are by nature PEPs”, Kalin said.

“The Malta IIP [passport scheme] has occasionally PEP applicants, but the overwhelming majority of applicants are not PEPs”, he said.

Sunday result

Conjuring yet more drama, a Maltese official recently told The Guardian, a British newspaper, that the anti-Muscat revelations could be a propaganda campaign by a foreign power, in the same way Russia was said to have attacked the US and French elections.

Asked if the Kalin-Muscat emails were obtained by hacking, Galizia said: “No. No. No”.

Meanwhile, the only overt intervention by a foreign entity came from Joseph Daul, a French politician who chairs the pan-EU centre-right party, the EPP, of which Muscat’s opponent, Simon Busuttil, is also a member.

Daul said in a statement on Thursday that Muscat had “engulfed” Malta “in money-laundering and never-ending corruption scandals” and that it needed “a trustworthy leader who will restore Malta’s reputation as a democratic, transparent and trusted partner”.

The polls left a large enough margin of as-yet undecided voters for the result on Saturday to go either way, Galizia, the blogger, said.

She said that, based on past form, if Muscat or Busuttil won by a large majority then the result would be clear by Sunday morning, but that if the outcome was close it might not come out until Sunday evening.

Same policies

Mario Vassallo, a lecturer at the University of Malta, told EUobserver that the corruption allegations would be central to the vote because Muscat and Busuttil had the same policies on most issues.

He said both of them wanted to attract foreign firms by using low tax, in the same way that Ireland or Luxembourg had done.

He added that “no crime has yet been proved” against anyone in Muscat’s family or government.

Matthew Lowell, who works for Binda Consulting International, a political consultancy in Malta, said Busuttil would also back the passport-sale scheme if he got to power.

He said Muscat was “popular” because the past three years of his rule, including income from the passport-sale scheme, had seen a mini-boom in the country. “Malta is doing well and people can feel that”, he said.

But he said the corruption allegations were serious enough to warrant three criminal investigations and that they painted Malta in a bad light at a time when it held the EU’s rotating council presidency.

Tribal politics

Vassallo noted that Malta suffered from “tribal” politics, in which party-loyal media and audiences did not care what was factual.

“Parties own and run TV stations and newspapers, so fake news is defined as anything coming out from the other side”, he told EUobserver.

He criticised Caruano Galizia for continuing to campaign against Muscat on her blog and on Twitter even though the official political campaigns, as well as accredited media, were forbidden by law from saying anything on Friday.

“I’m saying that [criticising her] on ethical, not legal grounds”, he said.

He said the way that content circulated on the internet had made the law on pre-vote silent periods obsolete, but he said individual voters could still choose to have a day of quiet reflection.

“People depend so much on social media these days that they never shut it off, but, I, for one, plan to do exactly this today”, he said.

Focus

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While the smallest EU state has been commended in Brussels for its smooth presidency of the Council, domestic politics are characterised by heated polarisation with accusations and insults often being traded.

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