Sociologist from Malta

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Op-ed column in the Malta Independent

My op-ed column in the Malta Independent returns on Thursday 9 January 2019. I wish to thank the Malta Independent for this opportunity and to readers for your encouragement and feedback. 

I wish you peace during the festive season and beyond. 


The Roots of Muscat's Labour (3) - Michael Briguglio

Two weeks ago my blog published my 2001 MA thesis in Sociology 'Ideological and Strategic Shifts From Old Labour to New Labour In Malta' which compared Malta's Labour Party in the 1970s and 80s with that of the 1990s. I had found similarities and shifts within Labour, and such characteristics may help us understand Labour's power today. 


Last week my blog published my 2010 follow-up to this study. Entitled 'Malta'sLabour Party and the Politics of Hegemony', the paper argued that Labour's strategy under Joseph Muscat, which I dubbed 'politics without adversaries' is akin to convenient alliance-building for electoral purposes, one that may turn out to be effective only for maintaining the status quo. In last weeks' blog I argued that in hindsight, and taking into consideration Malta's current political crisis, we can say that under Muscat, Labour's alliances exceeded the boundaries of what we normally include within electoral strategy in liberal democracies. 

In the meantime, in 2013 I co-authored another study on Malta's Labour Party with University of Malta colleague Prof Roderick Pace. Entitled 'Malta', the study comprised a chapterin the Palgrave Handbook of Social Democracy in the European Union (Edited by Jean-Michel de Waele, Fabien Escalona and Mathieu Vieira). 

This study looked into Labour's history, organization, electoral results, relation to power and institutions and programmatic positioning. 

Pace and I argued that the main challenge of Malta’s Labour Party in the 2010s was  to be in Government: Save for the brief 22-month interval between 1996 and 1998, Labour had been in opposition since 1987. Prior to 1996, the last time the Party won a majority of votes in a general election was in 1976.

We added that for this reason, winning the general election became almost  an end in itself, more than a means to an end. We stated that judging the Party’s strategy under Muscat’s leadership, it can be seen as attempting a replica of its 1996 strategy, creating a politics without adversaries, which attempts to bypass conflicting interests, as I argued in my 2010 study. 

Therefore, we argued, in this case, the 2013 electoral victory also represents a balancing act attempting to reconcile the various interests which Labour had managed to persuade in its favour prior to the general election.   We also hypothesized that conversely, Labour’s victory can also be interpreted as a means to an end. A new hegemonic formation might have been constructed, as happened under Mintoff’s premiership during the 1970s; then, Malta’s welfare state was radically expanded and various changes took place in economic and foreign policy, inspired by socialist and nationalist ideology, in a context of patronage, as I argued in my 2001 study. 

Thus, in 2013 Roderick Pace and I concluded that with Labour now in government, it would be interesting to observe how the ‘moderate and progressive’ banner can be transposed in terms of policy, and whether this will represent a shift from the Nationalist hegemonic formation which had begun in 1987 and which was inspired by ideologies such as Catholicism and consumerism.

Malta's current political crisis sheds much light on Labour's governance. Scholarly studies in political sociology and political science can substantiate evidence from the past 6 years through analysis. 



PN, Egrant, Democracy - Michael Briguglio

PN, in its constitutional role as Opposition, did the right thing in keeping up the fight to have the full Egrant report published. Let us not diminish the essential political fact that the Opposition has a vital role in the functioning and safeguarding of democracy. Divide and rule serves the ruling forces. The same forces which looked invincible until just recently.


Sunday, December 15, 2019

Is Malta embracing activism? Interview with Times of Malta


Andre' Callus from Moviment Graffitti and I were respectively interviewed by Claire Caruana on the status of activism today. The article appears in today's Sunday Times of Malta. You can read it from this link: 


Thursday, December 12, 2019

A crook-proof Constitution - Michael Briguglio

In my fortnightly column in the Malta Independent, I discuss the challenges facing Malta's constitutional reform, including key areas it should cover and the methodology of the consultative process. You can read the article via this link:

https://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2019-12-12/blogs-opinions/A-crook-proof-Constitution-6736217361


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The roots of Muscat's Labour (2) - Michael Briguglio


Last week my blog published my 2001 MA thesis in Sociology 'Ideological and Strategic Shifts From Old Labour to New Labour In Malta' which compared Malta's Labour Party in the 1970s and 80s with that of the 1990s. I had found similarities and shifts within Labour, and such characteristics may help us understand Labour's power today. 

In 2010 I published a follow-up to this study. Entitled 'Malta's Labour Party and the Politics of Hegemony', the paper argued that Labour's strategy under Joseph Muscat, which I dubbed 'politics without adversaries' is akin to convenient alliance-building for electoral purposes, one that may turn out to be effective only for maintaining the status quo. In hindsight, and taking into consideration Malta's current political crisis, we can say that under Muscat, Labour's alliances exceeded the boundaries of what we normally include within electoral strategy in liberal democracies. 

The paper was published in peer-reviewed academic journal 'Socialism and Democracy'  (Routledge, Taylor & Francis), and can be accessed from these links:

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

The roots of Muscat's Labour (1) - Michael Briguglio

Back in 2001, my MA thesis in Sociology 'Ideological and Strategic Shifts From Old Labour to New Labour In Malta' compared Malta's Labour Party in the 1970s and 80s with that of the 1990s. I found similarities and shifts within Labour. Such characteristics may help us understand Labour's power today.  Incidentally, the study starts off by querying a certain Joseph Muscat.... 

You can download the dissertation here:

Chapter 1 Introduction - Click here
Chapter 2 Theoretical and Methodological Background - Click here
Chapter 3 The Malta Labour Party in perspective 1920-1987 - Click here
Chapter 4 The Malta Labour Party in pespective 1987-1998 - Click here
Chapter 5 New Labour and the Third Way in Britain and Europe -  Click here
Chapter 6 Old Labour in Malta - Click here
Chapter 7 The Construction of New Labour in Malta -  Click here
Chapter 8 Malta's New Labour in Government - Click here
Chapter 9 Conclusion - Click here

My full list of academic publications: 



Image result for alfred sant joseph muscat

Monday, December 02, 2019

How is Muscat's defiance possible? Michael Briguglio

So Joseph Muscat will resign from Prime Minister and Labour leader next month. He is clearly defying the calls from the Opposition, civil society and independent media to quit immediately. 

How is Muscat's defiance possible? The Labour cabinet and parliamentary group have given their blessing in what looks like an internal compromise, a condensation of different interests, that forces Muscat to leave but which gives him time to scrape to the bottom for damage limitation whilst he remains in power.

In raw terms, power understands the language of power and can only be replaced by stronger power. 

A hegemonic formation. 


Sunday, December 01, 2019

Girgenti - Are we serious? Michael Briguglio

Following today's Girgenti meeting, Labour's parliamentary group gave unanimous support to the Prime Minister for “all decisions he will take” after a “free discussion” in which all MPs participated, according to a Labour Party statement.

Unless this is face-saving PR through which Muscat has been constrained to declare that he will resign imminently, this statement looks like another example of Muscat-speak: All praise for the great leader, giving him time to scrape to the bottom to protect the gang of crooks whilst he remains in power. 

I think it is more a case of the latter. I hope I am wrong. 

In the meantime, the call for Joseph Muscat to resign imminently is growing within civil society, and there are signs of increased unity within the Opposition. 



 

It-Torċa survey: Muscat is less popular than Labour - Michael Briguglio

The front page of GWU newspaper it-Torċa should have read 'Muscat less popular than Labour', but instead it tried to put on a brave face in relation to his untenable situation. 

Some numbers from it-Torċa:

- 46.5 per cent want Muscat to stay on as Prime Minister.

- Muscat's trust rating has gone down from 58 per cent in September to 51.3 per cent now.

- Gap between the two major parties is declining and close to 2017 election levels. Last September PL was at 58.1 per cent of the votes, with the PN being close to 39 per cent. Now, 55.5 per cent are saying they would vote Labour, whilst 42.7 per cent said they would vote PN. This translates into a lead of 12.8 per cent for Labour, or a majority of 40,000 votes, according to statistician Vince Marmara. 

Some other numbers:


- In the 2017 General elections Labour won 55.04 per cent of votes, with the Forza Nazzjonali (PN+PD) winning 43.68 per cent.

- In the 2019 MEP elections, Labour won 54.29 per cent of votes, with the PN winning 37.9 per cent. 

Around 100,000 registered voters did not vote in the 2019 MEP elections.  They represent 27.3 per cent of the vote, the highest ever abstention rate since the introduction of European elections in Malta in 2004.


Even though surveys are important tools to gauge people's perceptions, they cannot tell us everything about politics. For example, they cannot predict sudden political shifts and historic changes.


In the meantime I reiterate that Muscat may well be using this time left as Prime Minister to manouver to protect the gang of crooks. We had similar tricks in the past years. His clear conflict of interests tell us that he should resign or be removed from Prime Minister immediately. 

For every day he remains gripped to the role of Prime Minister, we should stand up to be counted. 

Unity, opposition to Muscat both externally and internally, numbers and commitment are key factors to dethrone him. 


Saturday, November 30, 2019

Muscat's incumbency cannot be trusted - Michael Briguglio


Yesterday different news portals in Malta reported that Joseph Muscat lost the support of the majority of his cabinet and that he would be resigning. 

Then came an Orwellian government statement, typical of Muscat-speak.

Needless to say, it denied that Muscat has lost confidence within the Cabinet. It then added
that Joseph Muscat will remain focused on the country's priority, to close one of the largest criminal cases in it's history, as he promised, and it would just be at that moment when he will answer and speak about the road ahead. 


Yeah, right. 

The once almighty Prime Minister has become liablity to his party and country. But it seems that he will be prolonging his stay, and we are now reading that the Labour Party will have a leadership contest on January 18. 

It is unclear what Muscat's role in Government and Labour will be till then. 


But given his history of trickery and standing up for crooks, we shouldn't trust him. His clear conflict of interests tell us that he should resign from Prime Minister immediately. 

Muscat may well be using this time to extend his power of incumbency. He may buy time and manouver to protect the gang of crooks. Not that we hadn't any similar tricks in the past years. 

Let's not allow Muscat to get away with this. 

For every day he remains gripped to the role of Prime Minister, we should stand up to be counted. In our own ways: whether in the streets, in the mediasphere, within the institutions, in our communities, behind the scenes...

Country before crooks.


Friday, November 29, 2019

Stop the rot - Michael Briguglio

This morning we read that the Police requested the postponement of the court sitting of Melvin Theuma, the alleged middleman in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. He was due to testify after the President signed the pardon requested by Theuma’s lawyer in return for his testimony.  

In the meantime, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat did not resign despite protecting crooks and having clear conflicts of interest in Malta's political crisis. In line with this narrative, his Cabinet refused to recommend a Presidential pardon to Yorgen Fenech, and Keith Schembri was released by the Police. 

The gang of crooks is doing its utmost to protect itself, and Muscat is keeping up appearances as magician in this bloody party.  

But the gang of crooks does not enjoy absolute power, and parties can be followed by hangovers: The state depends very much on society allowing it to function. 

We should stop the rot. The President of Malta, Labourites who put country before crooks, the Opposition, civil society, the press. Each and every one of us.

We can voice our concerns publicly, attend protests, write, share social media communication. We can help build unity against the evil we face. We can boycott government initiatives and speak up in our own communities. In our own ways, we can refuse to assist the gang of crooks in its attempts to look legitimate.  

Let us stop this collective nightmare. 

File photo The Malta Independent - Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is currently visting President George Vella following Cabinet's refusal to recommend a Presidential Pardon to Yorgen Fenech 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Muscat is running out of tricks - Michael Briguglio

Ruling elites can resort to various options to silence dissent. These include co-opting, seducing, deceiving, bribing and using brute force. In liberal democracies, methods such as terror and violence are less possible due to factors such as media scrutiny, civil society activism, political pluralism, rule of law and voter response.  

But in Malta, Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered. Two years later, omerta' is imploding. Joseph Muscat has lost all political legitimacy. 

The criminal investigation of his right hand man, Keith Schembri is enough to rubbish Muscat's claims of political stability. If the Prime Minister really wants stability, he should resign immediately.

He has not only surrounded himself with kingpins of corruption who are being investigated in connection with the murder of Caruana Galizia, but he gave them his blessing for years. The cherry on the cake was when he had the gall to thank Schembri for his work once the latter ran out of options. 

As I am writing this blog I am watching Finance Minister Edward Scicluna sounding like an apologetic Soviet appartchik on One TV. It would have been better if he apologized for his role as Minister in the Electrogas financial deal and in the weakening of the the FIAU and the MFSA. Luckily not everyone is so spineless.

In the meantime, Joseph Muscat must be in panic mode. It is the only way how I can interpret his emphasis for the rallying of troops on Sunday.  He may even get softer in the coming days to try to show us that he is listening. But tricks can go stale. Especially when omerta' is giving way to struggles for personal survival by implicated actors.

Public declarations and actions against the mess are flourishing. Different voices are expressing their dissent in their own ways.  

Let's not be detracted by divisive tactics, hunches, grudges, antipathies and affiliations. To be effective, a worthy cause requires commitment, unity and numbers. 

Our chorus is that Joseph Muscat's time is up.  Let's sustain it. 



Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Joseph Muscat should resign - Michael Briguglio

The constantly developing political crisis makes Joseph Muscat's position as Prime Minister untenable. He himself said he wants stability. Indeed: he should resign with immediate effect.

The Prime Minister should pay the political price for a Faustian pact involving kingpins of corruption who are being interrogated in connection with the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. A pact which has real effects on Maltese society. A pact which he kept blessing through his electoral popularity. A pact which is imploding.

The once almighty are now in a precarious situation and must be calculating how to save their skin at the cost of breaking the code of silence, omerta'. They are facing the Titanic of their own creation.

Respect to all those who are standing up to be counted in their own ways. 

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Muscat is part of the problem - Michael Briguglio

The current untenable political situation looks like the result of Faustian pact, a deal with the proverbial devil. Its authors are in a precarious situation and must be calculating how to save their skin at the cost of breaking the code of silence, omerta'. They may try to sacrifice some allies in the pact, but they simply cannot control all the holes in what looks like a sinking ship. 

The fact that so far three Labour MPs have stood up to be counted is admirable. I believe that there are other Labourites who feel let down by the ruling elite and who want the albatross removed from their Government's neck. Seeing the bigger picture is not monopolized by any particular affiliation or belief. Indeed, we are also witnessing newly found unity within the PN opposition and a growing chorus of civil society voices demanding justice. So much for divide and rule. 

In the meantime, Joseph Muscat said he will not abdicate. He never did: his years long inaction against kingpins of corruption has had real effects, where some are more equal than others at society's expense. 

Muscat is part of the problem. 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The situation is untenable - Michael Briguglio


When Mizzi and Schembri were not fired during the Panama Papers scandal it was clear that they had disproportionate power within the ruling elite.

The recent turn of events indicates that implosion may be knocking at the door of the same
elite. The requests for presidential pardons hints the breakdown of omerta' and the spread of distrust and panic. Government's refusal to urgently discuss matters in Parliament, as requested by the Opposition suggests that the ruling elite is trying to cover up its newly found weakness and confusion by stonewalling debate. It is trying to put on a brave face behind precarious unity. A waiting game is in place, but in the meantime cans of worms may still be opened within the judicial process. Behind the apparent unity of the power bloc, elites may be calculating the best way to save themselves. 

In such instances I admire those who see the bigger picture and act accordingly, irrespective of their affiliations and orientations. There are plural possible political outcomes, but the great unifier is that the current situation is untenable. 

The bigger picture - Michael Briguglio


I wish to emphasize that

  1. One hegemonic formation can be replaced by another. For this to happen, adversaries of the ruling bloc need to set aside their differences and focus on what unites them in the articulation of an alternative hegemonic formation. On a micro-level, such strategies reaped success in various civil society conflicts with the support of political actors, under different goverments. It also explains the construction of hegemonic formations in the form of different PL and PN governments. Conversely, factionalism, sectarianism and puritanism work to the benefit of the ruling bloc. 
  2. The current hegemonic formation can witness internal struggles to maintain power and incumbency whilst removing its political liabilities . The questions here are whether such struggles are taking place within Labour and, conversely, whether the ruling bloc can survive the current situation through its networks of power and the logic of numbers. 
  3. Force majeur should never be underestimated, but it can never be predicted. Some possible guesses: the judicial process can open various cans of worms, possibly leading to implosion; political ruptures may take place beyond the current way of things; conversely the 'invisible' and 'silent' majority may be not primarily concerned with what is dominating the mediasphere. 

The future is unwritten, but one can help push history towards certain directions through political encounters. I insist that the bigger picture should precede factionalism, sectarianism and puritanism.