This article was penned before the news of the circumstances behind the tragic death of Rita Ellul. We take the time to show solidarity with her loved ones.
As the campaign trail progresses for the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party, both are demonstrating, to the best of their abilities, their vision for the next five years. It is quite easy to get lost in the corral of proposals, conferences and rallies which both parties are holding on a daily basis. In this contribution, we have taken the time to review and explore where the two major political parties stand on a couple of fundamental issues which inherently form part of our beliefs or shape the way we vote.
The Environmental Gatekeeper
In the last few years, overdevelopment and environmental conservation have been top of the agenda concerns for Maltese citizens, and rightly so. Upon the announcement of the dissolution of parliament and consequently, an upcoming general election, Prime Minister Robert Abela immediately stated that the environment is one of the key pillars of the Labour Party’s electoral campaign. The Nationalist Party kicked off its campaign by announcing the much discussed billion-euro investment into novel economic sectors and jumped on the environment bandwagon much later. It put forth a list of proposals showing how a Nationalist government will cater for green open spaces. What one gathers from this is that, for both parties, the environment has now become a top and genuine priority and whoever has the necessary credentials and solid action plan, will be crowned.
We obviously will not hesitate to admit that there is a sentiment of treading carefully when it comes to proposals focused on the environment by both parties. In the past, both parties echoed the environment as a priority and their conduct remains subject to question. And yet, this election may be a ticket to re-generate and re–programme the parties’ priorities and change the lens on the environment once and for all. At least, that’s what we hope they are hoping to achieve.
On the one hand, Abela is proposing a 700 million euro investment which will be directly injected into projects aiming at expanding green open spaces around the Maltese islands. So far, this is what we have- Abela has explained this investment plan in great detail, but how the Labour Party Electoral Manifesto is further pledging is yet to be seen. Grech on the other hand, aims to hit different targets at once- from sustainable finance to green open spaces. The Nationalist Party’s manifesto speaks of including ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) criteria in tax reductions and the expansion of open spaces and the conservation of outside development zones. On the former matter, the PN does not delve into great detail about how it will determine ESG criteria or how it will invest in ESG projects or provide support for businesses. While this seems to be a noble idea, it does not fully encapsulate a concrete modus operandi.
The Bridge Builder
Most people remember President Emeritus Guido De Marco for many exceptional qualities, but one of his most remarkable characteristics was his ability to build bridges with anyone in a politically charged environment. The late president was able to make friends, even with adversaries from the opposite side of the political spectrum. So, would we call Abela and Grech bridge builders?
This section does not exactly pertain to any particular ground-breaking proposal which either party has proposed, rather, Grech and Abela’s etiquette when faced with the blue and red card. Both Grech and Abela have had a limited amount of time in the last few years to prove their capacity to lead, so we will cut them some slack on this. Then again, we also have an election which will determine the fate of the country’s progress in the next two years, therefore delving into their etiquette and veiled conduct towards each other.
Currently, we are waiting for the key anecdote which will be one of the determining factors of this question- a debate between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Abela confirmed that there will be a debate. The traditional debate held at the University of Malta and a debate on the national broadcasting channel are to be expected. Grech has made it clear that he is more than willing to debate Abela.
Both leaders, in their own way of delivery, have managed to make attempts to show their ability to heal and unite, but when faced with each other, the approach generally taken, we have seen, are comparatively pinpointing what the other lacks, coupled with blows and practical politics, all in an attempt to show competence to lead. Maybe the late President’s way of doing politics is something everyone can learn from.
So, how do the two co-exist in each other’s presence? There are the usual petty taunts, which we are unfortunately used to. However, a few days ago Nationalist Party and Labour Party candidates crossed paths while visiting a local flea market in Birgu. This unplanned meet up was light hearted and promising. It showed those who were watching, that people from completely different sides can show a degree of humility towards each other and share some light banter.
The True Feminist
With the controversial gender quota law which came into law earlier in 2021, it should be expected of the two parties to encourage women, who are more than capable and competent to participate, to run for politics. But getting in touch with reality does not simply stop at having a gender balanced ballot, but also practising what you preach. There are several issues which shape one to be classified as a ‘feminist’. Rather than going into merits of the different types of feminism, such as first, second and/or third wave feminism, the focus is rather on initiatives and attitudes which unashamedly focus on shaping a more inclusive and egalitarian society.
There are a myriad of issues which are to be considered in this specific subject. First and foremost, the tragic death of Paulina Dembska saw an uproar in the nation and brought to light the fears which women face on a daily basis. One of the responses was a discussed femicide bill proposed by the Government which would recognise femicide in the Maltese Criminal Code. The enactment of this bill was an opportunity for both sides to come together and address such a crucial issue which concerns many. Yet, the Opposition criticised the bill and deemed it as ‘superficial’, but proceeded to vote in favour for it anyways.
On reproductive rights, both have steered clear of taking a stance on issues such as surrogacy or abortion, however the Labour Party took a much more open approach, claiming that such topics merit an open debate with civil society, not merely in Parliament. The Nationalist Party’s position in this regard was somewhat confusing, rocking back and forth on the issue and more recently, declaring positions on social media feeds that steer clear of the aforementioned issues.
On accessibility to contraceptives, while the Nationalist Party has declared itself that it will give out contraceptives, as well as the Morning After Pill free of charge if elected in the past, there is no mention of this in the current electoral manifesto. Just a bygone? On the other hand, the Labour Party is yet to release its electoral manifesto- it shall be interesting to see what they will provide on this end- maybe the bone of contention that is the newly done National Sexual Health Strategy? We will have to wait and see.
On this issue however, before parties start issuing free essential contraceptives and prophylactics, they both need to address the serious issue beforehand, which is the lack of availability of the Morning After Pill in pharmacies.