Bloodshed in Bidnija


Daphne is dead, brutally murdered in a hamlet few people outside Malta had ever heard of before. The initial shock left us dumbstruck. Before we had gathered our thoughts, the PN had returned to its assault on the government based on allegations of sleaze, cronyism, poor governance and erosion of the rule of law.

The voice of prudence and moderation was never given a chance.

So far, nobody has a clue who killed Daphne, except her killers. The notional responsibility of every government for everything that happens in its jurisdiction has been stretched to include an assassination which most probably could not have been prevented by a democratic government tuned to perfection and a police force with every resource possible and imaginable.

We have been wounded collectively but we are being invited, coerced even, to fragment. Accusations fly, allegations are remade and attached by unfathomable logic to the awful event. Is this what we were expected to do, instantly to turn on one another? By whom?

Nobody has accused the government of having a hand in Daphne’s murder. Nobody has dared because it would be counter-productive. A government having just won a landslide victory, almost disoriented by a floored and self-harming Opposition would not invent such a nightmare for itself. So, because it is impossible to accuse the government directly, the next best thing is to accuse indirectly, to inflate notional responsibility to actual responsibility, to demand resignations that will not happen and foment an atmosphere of profound discontent.

It is an understatement to say that the reaction of the Adrian Delia’s PN to Daphne’s murder is disappointing. We had a right to expect sobriety, moderation, prudence, even a truce in the endless feud. Instead we had a scandalous populist exploitation of a crime of historic proportions.

Nobody in his right mind suspects that the Government had a hand in Daphne’s murder. Despite the very public excoriation suffered by Adrian Delia at the hands of Daphne during the PN leadership race, nobody in his right mind could suspect Adrian Delia of assassination. How about one of their henchmen unhinged? Possible – but not plausible: a political motive for the murder seems farfetched.

Something more personal involving great financial loss, perhaps imprisonment for a merciless criminal seems far more plausible. We have been thrown head first into the “what if” season and among all the “what ifs”, this seems to be the best bet.

But there is worse, far worse, to contemplate. What if Daphne’s killers simply picked her for her prominence? What if she is collateral damage in an attack on Malta? It took decades for evidence to emerge that Italy’s anni di piombo had been largely orchestrated by the CIA. The terrorists at both extremes of the Italian political spectrum never suspected that they had been so deftly manipulated into turning their country into a war zone. Today the CIA should have no interest in destabilizing Malta but the game they played could be played by others.

What if Daphne and Malta are both victims in a larger game? In this scenario, the devil in the piece has to be Russia and its geo-political interest in the Mediterranean. Profoundly humiliated by the West’s role in the Arab Spring, it has kept Assad in place in Syria against all comers at the cost of hundreds of thousands dead and millions reduced to refugee status. Did the Kremlin pick Malta and Daphne in Malta to show the EU that it could destabilize a member state? Our government may have achieved more prominence than is good for us when it supported the Russian embargo and when it refused to refuel the Russian fleet on its way to Syria. Perhaps the Russians are innocent, but this is the “what if” season and they must forgive us for not excluding them.

What is certain is that this is a time for prudence, for moderate discourse, for credible leadership. We are all called upon to avoid playing the killers’ game. Upping the ante in the wake of an event such as this is the last thing we should be doing. We should not be turning the country into a political powder keg. Only our enemies, as ruthless as Daphne’s killers, would want us to do so.

Defeated as they are, the PN owe the country responsible leadership appropriate to the grave circumstances of the moment. The government owes the country a steady hand at the helm and consideration of the long-term reforms that will give us the resilience to face an assault such as Daphne’s assassination without the fear of destabilization.

Duopoly makes us vulnerable, authentic democracy could make us less of a target of choice.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 29 October 2017

Reflections from Carthage



At the University of Carthage in Tunisia between Thursday and today the international community has been engaging with Tunisian civil society. The Fifth Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy – Decentralisation by Participation exchanged views and experiences with all sectors of Tunisian civil society: young people, women and trade unionists were at the forefront, with very passionate views on the Tunisian roadmap to democracy.

Why has the Arab Spring in Tunisia provided different results from those reaped in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria?

Yahd Ben Anchour, lawyer, former Chairman of the High Commission for the Preservation of the Revolution, and charged with overseeing  constitutional reform in a post Ben Ali Tunisia, emphasised the fact that the roots of this more successful outcome can be traced to a number of policy decisions in the late 1950s. The then Tunisian strongman Habib Bourguiba had championed free access to education, including higher education. He had, moreover, championed gender equality right from the first days of independence.  Tackling these issues made Bourguiba an exception in the Arab world.

From outside Tunisia, Bourguiba’s personality cult, the large scale clientelism over the years as well as the leadership of a one party-state naturally overshadowed his otherwise significant  social achievements, which are considered by many as the essential building blocks of today’s Tunisia civil society.

Even though a number of Tunisian women are still shackled by tradition, the number of them active in public life is impressive. It is this exceptionalism which has given the Arab Spring in Tunisia the edge over neighbouring countries and consequently the reasonable chance of success.

Mohammed Bouazizi’s  self immolation and subsequent death on the 4 January 2011 brought together all those dissatisfied with the Tunisian regime, leading to its downfall and laying the foundations for the first democratic state in the Arabic family of nations.

The debate in the Global Forum focused on the discontinuity of the electoral process in contrast to the permanence of political dialogue and participation. In a society which has rediscovered its hold over its own destiny, it is emphasised that political participation bridges the gaps of political time and goes beyond political monoplies. All Tunisian participants emphasised the fact that direct democracy reinforces – and is complimentary to – representative democracy.

Power originates from the people, who ultimately remain its sole arbitror. This can be done through referenda, not just to delete legislation but also to propose measures which the elected representatives did not consider necessary.

It is an ongoing debate that sees young people, women and trade unionists together with a new generation  of political activists debating the next steps to be taken by a democratic Tunisia.

It is in Malta’s interest to nurture this democratic development on our southern borders. We are not accustomed to having this type of neighbour!   During a recent meeting with Tunisian Premier Habib Essid, Malta’s Foreign Minister George Vella stated that Malta was willing to support Tunisia’s democratic process.  Back in 2012, in the first months after the revolution, Michael Frendo, then Speaker of Malta’s House of Representatives,  had also been in Tunisia, offering Malta’s  hand of friendship and cooperation to our neighbours.

Some positive developments for a change to our south.

Published in The Independent on Sunday : 17 May 2015