Yesterday we saw the University General Election Debate being held. Prime Minister Dr. Joseph Muscat was joined on stage by Alternattiva Demokratika’s Chairman Professor Arnold Cassola, the leader of the Partit Demokratiku Dr. Marlene Farrugia, the leader of Moviment Patrijotti Maltin Henry Battistino and the leader of the Opposition and Nationalist Party Dr. Simon Busuttil.
Organised by The Malta University Debating Union and media organisation The Third Eye, the debate itself had come under the microscope for a number of reasons such as the venue, the booking system and alleged attempts to “hijack” the debate. However cometh the hour, the debate passed as smoothly as it could possibly have done; with very professional organisation and a civil audience throughout.
The debate itself was moderated by Mr. Luke Hili, a final year law student and was divided into 3 sections. The first section was formed of questions which students had come up with and sent in anonymously, the second with questions taken from on the Facebook livestream of the event and the third with questions being posed from students in the hall.
It was a three hour long marathon debate, with a lot to digest (I have almost 4,000 words of transcript), but here are some of the things that spring to mind the most.
Corruption is very much on the minds of everyone
One party has been saying that this is an election “on principles” whilst the other has been giving all the importance to proposals. What this debate has shown for certain is that whilst proposals are certainly going to be an integral part of the decision that everyone will be taking on June 3rd; principles will come into this. Throughout the three hours there were A LOT of questions on corruption with names such as Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and Beppe Fenech Adami, Tonio Fenech and Ann Fenech coming up more than once throughout the debate. Egrant was also, obviously, mentioned quite a few times as was the integrity of Malta’s institutions.
All the parties had something to say about this, and all of them had their own proposals regarding how to improve it. If nothing good at all has come out from the shadow of alleged corruption that Malta has been in recently – at least it seems to have made all parties finally realise that a reform is DESPERATELY needed in this regard.
This may not be an election solely on principles or on proposals; but this debate has shown that both of these are going to have a big effect on the result of this election.
The Environment remains low on the Agenda – unless you’re Arnold Cassola
Something which came as a surprise to me was just how low on the agenda the environment was. For all the furor surrounding this issue; there wasn’t a single question directly mentioning the environment. It was mentioned only briefly when Simon Busuttil was drawn into the subject after Arnold Cassola waved about a picture of Toni Bezzina; wherein he stated that White Rocks and Zonqor won’t be built up. No proposals to stop ODZ buildings, nothing on Manoel Island, nothing on building height limits. Joseph Muscat was equally un-reassuring; only briefly touching on the fact that the Zonqor project was the only project which was being built on ODZ land.
The sad reality is that it looks increasingly like the environment remains low on the agenda of the main parties. Arnold Cassola may be at times portrayed by a lot of people as that grandfather whose had a bit too much to drink at the family dinner table; but it’s high time that we start listening to him if we want to safeguard what’s left of our environment.
Advances in Civil Liberties meanwhile…
Whilst environment may be an issue that wasn’t touched upon – civil liberties did come up more than once. Issues such as gay marriage, LGBTQI rights and minority issues were all raised. A question on mental illness and how each respective party would deal with it was also asked. In his closing address, Joseph Muscat raised a very valid point; mentioning that 4 years ago, the Morning After Pill had not been in any of the party manifestos; but after pressure from a group of young women – it was introduced.
It’s down to us youths to put pressure on the country’s ruling government to come up with and introduce these more progressive measures. And if the MAP Pill saga proved anything; it proved that it can be done.
Partisanship is still alive and well
You’d have been forgiven for thinking that since this is a debate held at University and populated by University students – supposedly the more educated sector of the island – that the audience would be fair and would absorb all the points proposed by all the leaders to help them make an educated decision on June 3rd. If you were thinking that though, I’m afraid you’re wrong.
Whilst the claims that the debate was going to be “hijacked” in favour of one side or the other proved to be completely false; the partisan nature of Maltese politics was still put out on show for everyone to see. From the very minute the leader’s walked in to varying levels of cheers, all the way through all the points that the leaders made – be them good or bad – you could see the same segments of the audience clapping for the same leaders.
I’d like to think that as time passes, the partisan nature of Maltese politics starts to recede; but I think this debate is evidence that there is a long way to go yet.
None of the leaders really won the debate
For all it’s hype as a game-changing debate; the actual event itself proved to be pretty straightforward. Of course One News will tell you that Joseph Muscat won and NET News will tell you that Simon Busuttil did; but in reality, I don’t think you can really pick out any real winner.
Muscat did not manage to convince the audience on how he dealt with the alleged corruption scandals. Busuttil did not manage his time well and as a result made a massive blunder when telling Labour MP Franco Mercieca’s son to refer to the manifesto he would receive, while sending his regards to his father. Cassola drew a lot of praise but people still struggle to take him seriously. Farrugia had a lot of bark but fell into the trap of focusing on too much criticism. Poor Henry Battistino meanwhile seemed a bit lost at times and, even though his plea to get familial insults out of politics had an actual ring of genuineness to it, he was an anti-liberal in a liberal audience; something which wouldn’t have done him many favours.
All in all; I don’t think anyone who came into this debate thinking of voting one way, has been convinced to vote another way.
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