This editorial is written in anger. But it is tempered by hope.

The anger is that felt by decent citizens who are shocked, confused and enraged that their society has been visited by dark forces of a cruel destructiveness they did not believe possible in this country, forces which have blown to bits the precious life of a truth-seeking journalist and mother, and which have shattered – with the most frightful bang – the illusion of living in a normal, safe, peace-loving European country.

Black Monday, Mark II, is what it must feel like to live in a mafia state. But do not compare Malta to Sicily – many would say we beat them hollow. Sicily has a robust mafia but also a vigorous anti-mafia. Malta only has a mafia. Witness, for example, the most high-profile murder investigation in recent times, led by a bumbling police chief with a conflict of interest. Why is he not following in the footsteps of the investigating magistrate – another of Daphne’s targets – who abstained? Is it not permissible to have a biased magistrate but perfectly permissible to have biased police?

A few years ago we were a nation that had finally, proudly, come into its own after joining the EU and aligning itself with the standards that make Europe a beacon of freedom of speech and the rule of law. Look at us now, called a ‘Mafia state’ and ‘money-laundering centre’ by the international press.

We have a government that stuffs its authorities with its cronies, which enters into secretive, multimillion-euro deals with ownerless companies and corrupt countries, whose top officials enjoy breathtaking impunity in the face of solid evidence of corruption and whose agencies of law and order cannot be trusted to protect our society from murderers, money-launderers and powermongers.

This is the country we have become. Shame on this government. The bomb that went off under Caruana Galizia’s car has not only proven her assertion that “crooks are everywhere” but has also blown the cover off this sham democracy, in the faces of those who designed it that way.

These are dark days for Malta. But hope, always, dies last. We need to clean up this mess. It has been done before. It can be done again.

Through the mourning, how to do it is the question that is exercising the minds of those who want to live in a ‘normal’ country again. How do we rebuild the nation into one whose standards come closer to those upheld by Daphne in her unrelenting denunciation of those who fell so far short of them? For unless we do so, the country may continue to spiral downwards into even more dangerous territory controlled by a sinister web of criminals, the very ones Daphne pointed to in her last post.

Ideally, the long and fraught process of change would start with a sacking and a resignation – the police chief, the Prime Minister

Those who want to see Malta change for the better are up against politicians who cling to power come what may, an electorate that sees and hears no evil, and a security structure incapable of stopping criminals prepared to strike terror in the heart of the community.

Ideally, the long and fraught process of change would start with a sacking and a resignation – the police chief, the Prime Minister. They are clearly not the ones to cleanse the country.

A crucial step would involve deep constitutional reform that bolsters checks and balances and heavily dilutes the concentration of power. It should be topped off with a strengthening of the independent media, which is under serious financial strain.

Daphne’s prodigious investigative skills were a one-off, as with a genius in any field. But her death and the void she leaves in journalism have served as a wake-up call, drawing attention to the vital role of the prying press in a well-functioning democracy. We would urge readers not to take the media for granted. Make no mistake, the assassination risks having a chilling effect on our journalists. Support the media and strengthen it by buying into it and showing advertisers that you value it. New funding models need to be looked at too, to enable us to dedicate more resources to holding authority to account.

None of the above developments seem imminent. A more immediate hope lies in the pressure that could be brought to bear by the outrage of ordinary people, whom we urge to turn up in large numbers for today’s demonstation in Valletta, and by civil society groups well-organised around the clear cause of strengthening our democracy. The Michael Briguglios of the world, unite.

With local political mechanisms of accountability having failed to stop Malta’s slide, the main check and balance on the government now is the international community, especially Europe’s leaders, institutions and media.

The European Parliament debate this week on the rule of law in Malta will be keenly watched from this perspective: not to witness our dear country shamed but to see it start being forced onto the road of rehabilitation.

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