An Armchair Critic Special | The Final Showdown

When there are only a few days left to exercise one’s democratic right and responsibility to vote, watching everything closely and being open to any new movements can help us make a more informed decision when we jot down our voting preferences. For some, this could mean heading to a rally of the respective party one wishes to support, but for others, this could mean simply staying at home, watching these exciting events unfold. This is one of those times. 

What are we criticising?

The Final Debate between the leaders of the respective parties, held by the Broadcasting Authority. 

Who is participating?

For the Labour Party: Prime Minister Robert Abela

For the Nationalist Party: Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech 

Opening Remarks

Grech: A positive introduction by Grech: simple, short and loyalist. All well, so far. Ah, the first shots have been fired: Grech claims that this was the perfect opportunity to debunk and bury the hatchet once and for all on a pack of ‘lies’ being spread around a debate. Grech imposes the question on Abela: before Abela was made Prime Minister and serving in the previous administration, was he orchestrating his own leadership? 

Abela: Abela starts off by saying that instead of focusing on unassailable proposals and addressing people’s concerns, Grech’s blinders lie focused on Abela’s every move. Abela uses this as proof to his argument that Grech is inconsistent and that instead, Abela is offering a team which works hand in hand, with the guiding principles of serenity and stability. Ah, Abela is on the jibes today- the multi-edition versions of the Nationalist Party’s electoral manifesto. Abela says that with a solid foundation, he is open to change and gave a short list of priorities which, if elected, the Labour Party will focus on. 

Comments:  Can we honestly cut the ‘He said! He said, finger pointing? We want potential linchpins, not toddlers fighting over toy trucks. 

Health: What will they do to improve healthcare services?

Abela: Abela started by giving testament to the Government’s work during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the recognition received by international bodies such as the World Health Organisation and the European Union. Abela scrutinised Grech for playing party politics when it came to health measures taken by the health authorities. He mentioned a few proposals which the party is proposing: the opening of a new outpatient department annexed to Mater Dei Hospital, a new psychiatric care hospital and the relocation of the Medical School within the hospital, and IVF reforms. 

Grech: Grech credited the Nationalist Party with opening a state of the art hospital. He did not give a straight answer immediately, rather, he said that if it were not for the Nationalist Party’s pro-EU endeavour in 2003 and the Labour Party’s initial opposition against this endeavour (and still, apparently?) none of this would have happened. Ah, finally, some proposals. Grech claimed that the state giving free IVF medication was also a fallacy. He further said that the Nationalist Party will invest in hospitals and new health centres and that re-invested funds will be put back onto the people. 

Comments: Well, wouldn’t using the word ‘mental hospital’ be on the verge of political incorrectness? 

Social Policy: Catering for the many.

Abela: Before giving an answer to the question, Abela called out Grech for his serious allegations and for his double standards and sensationalism. More on the PL’s proposals: increase in pensions and the COLA mechanism. Abela corrected Grech’s mistake on IVF Medication and also mentioned that a Labour Party will focus on inward benefits, childrens’ allowances and workers on a minimum wage will not see their tax refund stolen by the Nationalist Party. 

Grech: Grech hits out at Abela for not sticking to the allocated time. Lies, lies, lies!’ On social policy, Grech said that the Nationalist Party will continue to increase pensions but gives no details, and that the minimum wage will be increased. Grech also said that, with a Nationalist Party Government will be spending money on funds, not propaganda and the focus will be on a better work-life balance. Grech said that he will maintain price stabilities for rising prices and the cost of living. 

Comments: Can we stick to the questions? 

Economic Growth: You and whose army?

Grech: Maybe Grech read the first chapter of The Communist Manifesto before entering the debate – this, once again, escalated quickly, but he is pro-business. More talk on how the PN’s created economic sectors in the past and how these are still thriving. Grech mentions the start proposal of the Nationalist Party: the creation of ‘new’ economic sectors. He hits out at Abela on hidden income tax increases riddled in the manifesto and how not a single economic sector was created by the Labour Party in its entire tenure. On costings, Grech hinted at the Labour Party for constantly picking on the insistence of releasing costings of their vision. 

Abela: Well, we are on a roll today. Abela immediately rebuts Grech’s claim and says that the Labour Party’s manifesto makes it clear that there will be no income tax increases and that those who cannot help themselves, will be helped by the Government. Abela responds to Grech’s political nostalgia by reminding him that when the Labour Party went into office in 2013, they were immediately faced with an Excessive Deficit Procedure left by the previous Nationalist Party Administration.

Abela had a really straightforward section when he mocked the difference between Bernard Grech’s reality and what the Labour Party is proposing. On electricity bills, Abela insisted that there will be no increase in energy consumption and the Government will keep on striving to keep consumption bills stable. On the PN’s economic sectors, Abela hit at the PN’s proposal by saying that the relevant majority of these sectors already exist in our islands and rebutted the consistent claim that a Labour Government has not created any new economic sectors by giving a list of sectors created under a Labour Government: Biotechnology, Medical Technology, Biopharma, Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing.

Comments: A lot to process, it really shows that both are lawyers and need to prove their point- at least we are glad that both candidates kept things simple and didn’t use unnecessarily complex jargon. But, why all the focus on Robert Abela, from Grech’s end? We would love to see more on what Grech has to offer for the country, we can make our own judgements on Abela. 

Foreign Policy: Will the real diplomat please stand up?

Grech: Abela is the bogeyman, or at least Grech claims him to be so. Grech says that Abela is frightened of facing the music. We searched and searched, maybe one day, we will get the answer. Oh and there we have it, Grech scrutinised Abela’s conduct during the Ukrainian Crisis and that Labour won’t work against the FATF’s decision to put Malta on the greylist. He criticised the parliamentary group for voting against the Nationalist Party’s proposed bills. He praised European Parliament President Roberta Metsola and said that she is testament to the Nationalist Party’s capabilities. He emphasised that a Nationalist Government will improve the diplomatic corps and that he will not be passive in his decisions. On ESG, Grech said that ESG criteria are already being used by local companies- what that has to do with foreign policy, we do not know. 

Abela: Abela did not hesitate to spit out facts: by directives issued by the European Union, only four major companies use ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) criteria as we speak, but the Labour Party is not excluding ESG criteria in the future and will introduce energy audits. On foreign policy, Abela said that the driving factors in Malta’s international image are peace and neutrality, and that these are non-negotiables. On Ukraine, Abela maintained his statesmanship by saying that he will continue imposing adequate sanctions and that, given the fact that Ukraine is a key importer of wheat and grains, an agreement has been reached for price stability. Abela also hinted that adequate measures for relocations and returns are made, but the sacred right to life is always protected.

Comments: Both made good points in this regard, albeit both went on different tangents. Funny how Grech keeps mocking Abela’s metaphors when we can probably count on our own fingers the amount of times Grech has included a couple of metaphors in his rhetoric ‘you are the key to the future, the ship’. Best to just not make use of metaphors unless one is well-researched, can we all agree on that? And the whispering, cripes!

Planning Development & the Environment: Striking a balance

Abela: Abela categorically denied allegations made by Abela and reminded the viewers of the stages of a planning permit before it goes into action. Abela boasted of the 700 million euro proposal by the Labour Party which will go into the conversion of green and open spaces and gave testament to recent projects completed in the last two years. Abela said that on the environment, both parties did not address or put the environment as a top priority, but the Labour Party has learnt its lessons and with the proposals carefully devised, the environment will remain a priority. 

Grech: Grech put a great effort into defining the legislature’s shortcomings- some things may not entirely resonate with the whole electorate, but others can withdraw their own objections. ​​Grech criticised Abela for not prioritising the environment in the last few years and that this is one of the main reasons, according to him, why young people wish to leave the country. Grech proposed that a new PN Government will give back taken land to the public, by converting it into an Outside Development Zone (ODZ). Grech maintained that he will aim for sustainable development everywhere and that their drive to improve will not stop. 

Comment: We can agree with Abela’s statement: neither party, in the past, has always been consistent with the environment. But, onwards and upward, eh? We now need to judge on the more attractive plan put forward by each party and hope that they keep their promise in incentivising more green open spaces for the future. Let us hope after this election, whoever the winner may be, we have healed enough to realise that the environment is not something that should be taken for granted and that their words and fancy marketing are put into action. 

Gozo: A vision for the future

Grech: Grech made reference to the costings document released by the Nationalist Party earlier in the day, and made reference to Gozo. He said that Gozo’s environment will be preserved under a Nationalist Government. Grech acknowledged that while claiming that no development will be made in Hondoq, it is not enough and that Abela is complicit for the rapid development ensuing in Gozo. On creating a better Gozo, Grech proposed the following: tourism will be improved, ESG principles will be put in place across the board for Gozo and how the ‘new’ economic sectors will serve as a working opportunity for Gozitan students. 

Abela: Abela reminded viewers of Grech’s blasphemous ticket contravention ‘forgiving’ idea and criticised the PN’s trackless tram proposal. He further maintained that the controversial Marsascala marina project is halted indefinitely, with no possibility of reopening. Abela proposed his vision for a climate-neutral Gozo, and that this will be achieved before Malta reaches climate neutrality and that Gozo’s main energy source will depend on renewable sources of energy. He went on by criticising Grech for proposals, mocking them as futile and that some also already exist. 

Comment: We are not Gozitan, it would be a little ignorant to assume what Gozitans want when we are not in a position to make that judgement. We’ll let the people of Gozo decide on this. 

Closing remarks, nothing that we haven’t already seen. If there was, we would gladly give our two cents. But we’ll tell you this, it was refreshing to see that they were civil with each other after the debate- what better way to end a debate than with a friendly handshake. Diplomatic and courteous. 

Today’s Ranking

This little platform, where we, the common mortals, use to rant about what we see from our armchairs/sofas, can be said to be a useful arena. Everytime, we criticise from a couple of different angles, which is liberating, no obligations to stick to a particular narrative. But we will give a couple of remarks. 

We finally got our wish of having not one, but four debates, which we have watched religiously, accompanied with cheese and wine (to make things all the more interesting). We maintain that, there are no winners in a debate, nor will we say that there is a winner (but we will thread carefully in case any hint of criticism is perceived as something sinister). Both leaders had solid moments, but could have improved in other instances. 

While we did not delve into either candidates’ final pitch to the electorate in the closing remarks of the debate, something Grech mentioned which raised a few eyebrows in this living room- the mention of ‘oppression’. A reheated far-right narrative and strategy to attract and get sympathy from those dissenting from measures imposed by the health authorities? He is one of us! The final issue on this end, we can agree to a certain extent that the Nationalist Party is still nostalgic over its successes in its years in Government, more specifically on issues such as EU accession and building the national hospital (which came with its own baggage, mind you), collective pride is good and everyone has in some way benefitted from these important steps in our political history. The Labour Party has since retracted its position and is now more pro-EU than ever. But, people do not want to go back to how it was, they want to move forward to where things should be, and perhaps, the Nationalist Party has not quite registered itself with this. Essentially, this repetition is a reminder of the PN’s defect in convincing those struggling voters that it can do a better job than the opposing party. One final issue, we could not really understand why Grech chose to pick on certain issues which were a success from Labour’s end, such as IVF reforms and the health sector. 

Abela took a more focused approach in his words tonight and emphasised on the ‘calm, stability and certainty’ narrative, which we are probably used to by now. Abela had a reply for every cataclysm that was thrown at him. The one issue, and we think that both parties have fundamentally lacked in addressing was the issue of immigration policy- but at least Abela maintained that the right to life is a non-negotiable. We hope for a position which reflects a humanitarian policy in the near future. Another issue, which we can obviously not give an answer to, is how a newly regenerated Labour Government will treat its own power, a point which Grech piqued at Abela consistently throughout the debate. Abela claimed that immaterial of the majority, the Government will remain self-effacing and humble. We hope that in the long-run, Abela turns out to be the healer and regenerator that he is perceived to be. 

Final Verdict

Robert Abela

Style and Delivery: 8

Political Maturity: 7

Time Management: 5

Progressive: 8

Visionary: 8

Planning: 8

 

Bernard Grech

Style and Delivery: 8

Political Maturity: 6

Time Management: 5

Progressive: 6

Visionary: 6

Planning: 7

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