How One Death Changed Politics in Malta

posted in: Europe, Malta, Politics | 0

The Port of Valletta, the Capital of Malta

It was 3 PM and the sun beat down brightly on a car, slowly winding its way through the rural village of Bidnija, Malta. But this idyllic scene was shattered when a car bomb went off, destroying the car and killing the driver, a journalist named Daphne Caruana Galizia. Unbeknownst to anyone, this tragedy would have far-reaching effects, culminating in the political crisis which has rocked Malta for the last year.
Before one can fully understand the 2019 Malta political crisis, it’s important to know who exactly Daphne Caruana Galizia was. Born on August 26, 1964, Caruana Galizia became a reporter for The Sunday Times of Malta in 1987. She soon attracted fame (and infamy) for exposing corruption in the Maltese government. To give just one example, in 2016, she revealed that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff owned a New Zealand-registered trust, which he used to run a Panamanian company. The next year, she revealed that the Prime Minister’s wife had received US$1 million from the President of Azerbaijan’s daughter. Such exposes naturally attracted a lot of backlash; her front door was set on fire and her dog was brutally murdered in 1996. In 2006, the house went up in flames as the family slept, and they barely escaped with the skin of their teeth. Even the government took action against her, as she was arrested in 2013 for speaking out against Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. So Caruana Galizia was no stranger to the prospect of death. In her last blog post, focused on the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, she ended with the line, “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.”

The Memorial to Galizia in Bidnija

In death, Caruana Galizia proved even more troublesome to the Maltese elite than in life. An anonymous informant told the police that the rich Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech had ordered Caruana Galizia’s assassination after she reported on his corrupt dealings. On November 20, 2019, Fenech was arrested on board his private yacht, and he was charged the following month. In court, Fenech accused the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, of having masterminded the assassination. Both Schembri and Konrad Mizzi, the Minister of Tourism, resigned just days afterwards. As chaos reigned in the executive branch, thousands of people took to the streets, demanding the resignation of Muscat himself, who was accused of having known about Fenech, Schembri, and Mizzi’s involvement in Caruana Galizia’s murder and failing to have done anything. On December 1, 2019, Muscat announced his intention to resign, which he formally did on January 12, 2020. In a stunning political upset, the Labour Party elected relative unknown Robert Abela as Muscat’s successor, instead of his rival Chris Fearne. Abela certainly has his work cut out for him – during Muscat’s tenure, Malta’s press freedom ranking (as documented by Reporters Without Borders) slid to the 77th best in the world, a shockingly low score for a European country. In the midst of widespread scandal and popular distrust of political elites, the Mediterranean, and Europe as a whole, waits with bated breath, ready to monitor Abela’s term.