An Armchair Critic Special | The First Face Off

During the course of campaigns leading up to a general election, different leaders may take on their very own individual ways of pledging their vision for the next legislature. However, another determining way of shaping who you will be rooting for on your ballot, is seeing how different candidates behave and conduct themselves when facing each other. A tame affair, or a non-stop staccato? 

For some, watching the action unfold before one’s eyes is almost inevitable, but for the more reserved portion of us, we love nothing more than to watch in suspense from the comfort of our own home, embraced by the warmth of a sofa and/or armchair. This is one of the times.

What are we criticising?

The KSU and Malta University Debating Union Debate which was held at the University of Malta. Needless to say, all those participating in this debate were under a microscope.

Who is participating today?

Gracing the stage with their presence are:

For the Labour Party: Prime Minister Robert Abela

For the Nationalist Party: Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech 

For the ADPD:  Carmel Cacopardo

For the Popular Party: Paul Salamone 

For ABBA Party: Ivan Grech Mintoff

Volt Malta candidates have been excluded from participation and protested the decision. 

Opening Remarks

Abela: A positive start for the Prime Minister. Abela maintains his enthusiasm for being present at the debate and how the future looks exciting. Abela seems to be focusing a lot on the economic stuff- maybe more on stuff that students care about? Abela said that the ongoing  Ukrainian crisis merits a civil and mature debate. Ah, praising the Student Council for their work on key policy issues and why it is important to legislate for such issues. 

Grech: Grech starts by reminiscing on his university years and how he aspires for students to move forward like he did. Grech gives testament to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and hits at Abela for the citizenship by investment scheme and for copying from the Nationalist Party’s manifesto- hinting that a university software would detect Abela’s copying from the introduction to the final remarks. 

Cacopardo: Cacopardo started on giving testament to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He said that both major parties seem to be blinded with making promises instead of focusing on crucial issues, such as energy prices and a potential deficit. 

Salamone: Salamone tells the audience that student participation is important for it makes students worth their salt and help shape them for whatever experience they will face. Salamone says that from his experience abroad, he wishes to see students become experienced and thrive in Malta. 

Grech Mintoff: Grech Mintoff’s start may not have been the most liked. He labeled the debate as a censorship because of those who are unvaccinated from COVID-19, being rendered unable to attend and at such an institution, free thinking is limited. Grech Mintoff labeled the party’s motto as a freedom venturer and a party of law and order. 

The Ukrainian Crisis

Abela: Abela, before answering his question, urged Grech Mintoff not to politicise COVID-19 vaccination and called out Grech’s double standards and back and forth takes on the citizenship by investment scheme. Abela affirmed that along with Puttinu Cares, the Maltese government is offering oncological care for children of Ukrainian nationality, as well as adults and humanitarian aid (in medical supplies) has been supplied to the Ukrainian people. Abela also said that Ukrainian refugees have entered through Maltese borders and have been granted asylum. On the energy prices, Abela confirmed that energy and food prices will remain stable despite the crisis.

Abela affirmed that along with Puttinu Cares, the Maltese government is offering oncological care for children

of Ukrainian nationality.

Grech: Grech started by saying that Abela is a contrarian and said that the Nationalist Party maintained its neutrality when it came to the Libyan crisis in 2011. Grech gave a harrowing story from the news and maintained that as a Prime Minister, he will sow values in his practice. For this, he said that the ‘new’ economic sectors will solve the problem from every aspect. Grech labeled himself as a statesman and the Nationalist Party’s track record is testament. Grech replies to Abela that he will put more money in people’s pockets- then why hate on the cheques?

Cacopardo: Cacopardo agreed with Abela on maintaining social unity and opening the doors to aid. Cacopardo brought to the audience’s attention the energy agreement between Russia and Azerbaijan. He pledged for more independence and control in terms of Malta’s future energy use. 

Grech Mintoff: Grech Mintoff maintained Malta’s constitutionally granted neutrality and refraining from military alliances. Grech Mintoff said he is open to welcoming Ukrainian Refugees. 

Salamone: Salamone explained his experience in working in war zones and that the experience was harrowing to the core. He maintained that no one knows why the war was started and commended the Government’s efforts in aiding children, pausing to absorb the spine-chilling thought. 

Public Transportation for Students

Abela: Abela said that public transportation will be free for everyone, jibing at Grech for the previous Nationalist Party’s administration bendy buses flop. Abela mentioned the visualisation of the metro, that a public consultation has initiated and the European Commissioner responsible for transportation has received the Government’s blue prints. Abela spoke about the conversion of electric buses to slowly be incorporated. He also mentioned the fast ferry. Abela has a lot to say, but time needs to be respected.

Grech: Grech blows at Abela again, by saying that his proposals are catastrophic for the environment and that he will achieve a better deadline in 4 years, rather than 30 years. Grech jibes at Abela for not incentivising bicycle use in road infrastructure and that trackless trams are the solution going forward. 

Grech Mintoff: Grech Mintoff said that the Government policies have been a colossal failure, that economic duress and mental health problems have tripled. And the sale of medical visas? A lack of law and order. 

Cacopardo: Cacopardo maintained that price in public transportation is not a guarantee of efficacy. He maintained that the solutions are in the plans which the Government has for the country and the solution is more local and regional public transport. 

Salamone: Salamone maintained that using the term problem to describe the situation was an understatement. Salamone maintained that the way in which vehicles run is immaterial, but he will be incentivising trucks which reach the supply and demand. 

The Environment

Abela: Abela said that Grech’s position on the environment is riddled with double standards, especially when it comes to outside development zones. He maintained that once committed to environmental conversion, Abela will remain committed and give testament to previous projects. On costings, Abela said that Grech is not to be trusted because he cannot get the mathematics right. Abela addressed Grech Mintoff’s point and said that it is true that both parties may have kept the environment at the back burner, but the Labour Party has learnt its lesson. 

Grech: Grech maintained that environmental conservation was abused by the Labour Government and echoed his proposals, such as the 50,000m2 conversion of public land to be converted into those pertaining to outside development zones. And copying- wait, how long are we going to go on with the ‘copying’? 

Abela said that Grech’s position on the environment is riddled with double standards, especially when it comes to outside development zones.

Cacopardo: Cacopardo said that a project which he visited, which was intended to be converted into a  green and open space was met with uglification. Cacopardo maintained that he will enforce the right to access the environment and that car race tracks have no place in Malta and that environmental abuse cases are axed once and for all.  

Salamone: Salamone did not hesitate to criticise both major parties. He gave testament to his village, which has seen a degree of overdevelopment. Salamone said that he will put forward an agreement to be made so that controversial projects, such as the Marsascala Marina, will not go forth. 

Grech Mintoff: Mintoff said that both parties are not to be trusted on the environment. 

Buying a first property for recent graduates

Abela: Abela said that it was the Labour Party that introduced the First Time Buyers Scheme and that the scheme is sustainable in its nature. Abela said the first time buyers scheme proposals, aimed to strengthen the foundation of the current scheme in operation, given by the Labour Party so far, will see further tax deductions and property equity sharing. Abela took a hit at Grech’s tax record controversy. 

Grech: Grech maintained that Abela is not to be trusted on any issue and lives in the past. On the question, Grech said that his children are nearing the age of aspiring to buy a first time property, but the Nationalist Party’s scheme will be there to stay and that he will incentivise standards, for properties costing up to €120,000. Grech replied to Abela’s comments by saying that the reason for him not paying his taxes was because he had to raise his children, and jibed at Abela’s Planning Authority days as a legal consultant. 

Salamone: Salamone did not shy away from saying that property prices have risen ignominiously. He says that his party wishes to start housing projects for young people aspiring to become property owners. Salamone also said that building longevity must also be put into the equation. 

Grech Mintoff: Said his time is almost done, so he asked the audience to go to the party’s website to access the party’s manifesto.

Tertiary Education Reform

Abela: Abela maintained his streak in believing that extracurricular activities should bebrought to life. He gave testament to a proposal, aimed at students who wish to pursue education beyond the required age and how he wishes to further increase stipends. 

Grech: Grech maintained that instead of parroting study material, he wishes to incentivise critical thinking in students’ academic roads. And that arts are not to be taken lightly. Grech said that the proposals aimed at students to help shape their preparation for the ‘new’ economic sectors which the PN will incentivise if elected. 

Salamone: Salamone said that he believes in a solid and informed society. 

Grech Mintoff: Grech Mintoff said that the State has taken parents’ control in deciding what their children are taught in schools and that their human rights are breached. Grech Mintoff seems to possess a very broad knowledge of human rights- maybe one day he will enlighten us with facts and what the conventions and laws say, rather than interpret things merely to fit his agenda. 

Cacopardo: Cacopardo said that he believes education is an essential tool in shaping one’s critical thinking and that the national minimum wage should be increased.

Sexual Health

Abela: Abela was honest and said that more could have been done, but with a newly renewed Labour Government, the byzantine National Sexual Health Strategy will be revamped. Contraceptives will be free for all those above the age of 16, Gender Reassignment Surgery will be provided for free to the state, sexual health education will be reformed, and blood donation will no longer discriminatory. On abortion, Abela maintained that he is in principle, against abortion, however said that it is not to say that those who opt for an abortion should be prejudiced against, but said that a discussion should be held, away from prejudice. Abela replied to a comment by Grech, saying that Grech’s statement on parents who cannot have children, to join and help the ranks of the Nationalist Party instead reeks of insensitivity, and that Grech’s proposal for IVF has been long implemented into practice. 

Grech’s statement on parents who cannot have children, to join and help the ranks of the Nationalist Party reeks of insensitivity.

Grech Mintoff: Grech Mintoff maintained that ABBA is against abortion and the Morning After Pill because it is ‘secretly an abortifacient’. Grech Mintoff also said that the pro-life rally has time and time called out Grech and Abela’s hypocrisy and populist nature by offering the Morning After Pill and jibed at Grech for Madame President Roberta Metsola’s rigour and Abela for MEP Cyrus Engerer for voting in favour of the Matic Report. 

Grech: On abortion, Grech said that the Nationalist Party has said that abortion is not on the Nationalist Party’s agenda because the Nationalist Party’s statutory belief in saying that life begins from conception. However, Grech did mention the Nationalist Party’s proposal for contraceptives to be offered for free so abortion is avoided in the first place.  Grech said that the Nationalist Party will reform sexual and mental health education. Grech bit back at Abela, by saying that his lies and lack of sensitivity are misinformed and used it as an opportunity to elaborate on more proposals.

Cacopardo: Cacopardo the party’s position maintained the decriminalisation of abortion and that there must be a legislative reform for women who wish to have an abortion to safeguard their lives, without tainting a doctor’s warrant because of the need for this procedure. Cacopardo also said that sexual health education should be further incentivised. 

Salamone: On sexual health education, Salamone maintained that more is to be done on sexual health education and said that the party is not in favour of abortion, however, every circumstance must be treated differently and that initiatives like adoption should be encouraged. 

State Responsibility: Recommendations from the Daphne Caruana Galizia Public Inquiry

Abela: Abela said he had accepted the board of inquiry’s decision following the public inquiry which investigated the degree of the State’s responsibility for the circumstances which lead to the tragic murder of the late Daphne Caruana Galizia. Abela said that he met with the late Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family to apologize and shoulder responsibility and committed to forming the Committee of Experts on the Media. Abela also mentioned that there will be new anti-SLAPP reform. 

Grech: Grech said Abela leaves much to be desired. He wishes to incentivise more freedom of speech and that everyone in the government should shoulder more responsibility for their shortcomings. He further said that Abela needs to be more independent and that the Labour Party should have voted in favor of the Nationalist Party’s motion for justice reform.

Salamone: Salamone gave testament to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s memory but also said that other unsolved homicides need to be solved too and that justice must prevail for those. He proposed a task force for this. 

Cacopardo: Cacopardo maintained that the results from the inquiry should be implemented, but those currently implemented are being put into practice at slow pace. 

Grech Mintoff: Asked for a coalition government for more law and order enforcement. 

Gozo: A tunnel or more ferries?

Abela: Abela said the tunnel project is in the procurement process and hit at the Opposition for remaining moot on the fast ferry service. Abela also pledged that climate neutrality in Gozo will be achieved before it is achieved in Malta.

Grech: Grech hinted at a referendum for the Gozitan people to decide on a potential tunnel and gave testament to the Nationalist Party’s proposals for the future of Gozo, which include a new hospital and  two new ships in the fleet.

Cacopardo: Cacopardo maintained his party’s position against the tunnel, and rather focuses on overdevelopment in Gozo.

Salamone: Salamone said that when conversing with the Gozitan people, he said that the sentiments gathered were against the development of a tunnel. 

Grech Mintoff: Grech Mintoff labeled the tunnel as a ‘gimmick’ and made the party’s position against the tunnel.

Today’s Ranking

Well, that was exactly what we needed. The thought that there will be more debates and thus, more things to cover and expect answers from is exciting. We missed the exhilarating feeling of a debate, and we think this was far from a tame affair. This debate was different for many reasons. 

First of all, and I think this does deserve some limelight cause it was not entirely expected and it was the first time such a discussion on a topic was given importance, rather than dogmatised. On sexual health and abortion, discussing something in a political debate for the political leaders, up until a years ago, was considered scandalous. Needless to say, a position slightly on the verge of acceptability for the subject at hand, was considered political suicide. In essence, a desperate case of arrested development. 

But, now more than ever, students play an imperative role in determining a party’s electability. The positions taken by the leaders range from outright denial of scientific facts relating to the Morning After Pill, to full on decriminalisation and legalisation for certain circumstances. Abela maintained his pro-life preference, and yet, somewhat showed empathy. He acknowledged the average number of women who travel abroad yearly to seek an abortion beyond Malta’s borders and he believes that there should be a discussion on the subject, but one that deviates from prejudice.

Abela maintained his pro-life preference, and yet, somewhat showed empathy.

Abela’s stance may be on the fence, but very much pro-empathy- which I think is something everyone can get behind. Grech on the other hand- we are quite confused. Wishes to encourage sexual health education amalgamated with mental health education and offers us free contraceptives and that is all good. But, is he sceptical of pro-choice sympathisers infiltrating the ranks of the Nationalist Party? Is he open to a discussion? We’re guessing we’ll probably never really get an answer.

Another thing we kept thinking about, while we’re on the subject, why is Grech almost only focusing on Abela’s shortcomings? We would like to hear more on what Grech has to offer and say and his vision for Malta, not just about Abela’s shortcomings. Abela may have bitten back a few times, but his blinders were not focused on Grech, rather his vision for the future, which made him all the more convincing- and yet, he did not beat around the bush. 

Mentioning the Ukrainian crisis was almost inevitable. Abela made Malta’s efforts so far crystal clear. Grech made a point towards the end of the debate, which in hindsight might make sense. He invited all the parties to participate hand in hand to spend a day in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Abela did not give an answer, but I think we can all agree that such an issue concerns everyone in tandem, rather than a mere political football. A day in solidarity is great, but there are other things which we can surely do. Both parties have recently had fundraisers for their respective political campaigns- what if a portion of both final amounts is donated to a cause which would help the Ukrainian people too? Both ideas could make a difference and show a degree of unity in the country.  

Anyway, let’s rank them. For full disclosure, the ranking today will not be just proposals, but public speaking skills, ability to make a point in a limited amount of time, their visions, progressive stances and their ability to show a careful plan. These are obviously not definitive, rather from what we and others have gathered. Also, a debate is not a question of ‘winning’ rather a chance to get those seeking to represent you on the spot and take note of their positions on fundamental issues which affect you, and thus, make an educated guess.  

 

Robert Abela

Style and Delivery: 9

Time Management: 6

Progressive: 8.5

Visionary: 9

Planning: 8

 

Bernard Grech

Style and Delivery: 7

Time Management: 6

Progressive: 5

Visionary: 6

Planning: 6

 

Carmel Cacopardo

Style and Delivery: 6.5

Time Management: 9

Progressive: 9

Visionary: 6

Planning: 5

 

Ivan Grech Mintoff

Style and Delivery: 4

Time Management: 5

Progressive: 0

Visionary: 1

Planning: 2

 

Paul Salamone

Style and Delivery: 6.5

Time Management: 6

Progressive: 6

Visionary: 5

Planning: 4

5 2 votes
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