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[WATCH] Five leaders go head-to-head in University General Election debate

Leaders of five political parties will face off in the general debate oragnised by the University of Malta Debating Union and The Third Eye

17 May 2017, 1:12pm
Joseph Muscat, Simon Busuttil, Marlene Farrugia, Arnold Cassola, Ivan Grech Mintoff (who bowed out at the last minute)and Henry Battistino
Joseph Muscat, Simon Busuttil, Marlene Farrugia, Arnold Cassola, Ivan Grech Mintoff (who bowed out at the last minute)and Henry Battistino
15:35:

The debate ends, prompting several PN-supporting students to stand up to clap and break out into a chant of “Simon, Simon”.

15:34:

Farrugia says that her nascent Partit Demokratiku was founded on Labour’s pre-electoral pledge for transparency and good governance.

”Our aim is for wealth to be distributed for fairly, and for Maltese assets and land to no longer be sold on the cheap,” she says. “Greece had also registered a surplus and we all know what happened to Greece.”

Busuttil closes off the debate by saying that the country’s future is at stake on 3 June and that a win for the ‘national force’ could herald a government based on reason.

15:27:

Cassola lashes out at Muscat for falling short on his pledge to revamp the Constitution, arguing that he appointed Franco Debono as the chairperson of the commission for Constitutional Reform to ensure that nothing gets done.

“There are several thousands of honest Maltese people in this country, and we are telling them to vote clean and vote green. You have the chance to make history.”

15:25:

Time for the leaders’ closing statements. Muscat calls for political tit-for-tats to become less vicious, warning that they could be putting off youths from becoming politically active.

“No party had proposed the morning-after-pill in its electoral manifesto, but a group of women who launched a petition managed to shift the establishment and see the pill introduced. I hope to see more of these movements in the future.”

15:22:

Busuttil gets a question from Charles Mercieca, son of Labour MP Franco Mercieca, asking for details of the PN’s proposal to give families €10,000 to buy a house in Gozo.

Busuttil says “Say hello to your father for me” and his brief response to Mercieca’s question gets drowned out in a sea of cheers and jeers.

15:15:

Muscat gets a question from medical student Glenn Briffa on potential clashes between university students and those from the upcoming Bart’s Medical School.

Muscat: “The Gozo hospital will double in size and many of Bart’s students will conduct their practice there. St Luke’s will re-open and a mother and child hospital will open in Mater Dei, which will increase the positions for student doctors as well as the supply of beds.”

Farrugia questions why new hospitals are being built when “our hospitals are being privatised”, while Busuttil says that he plans to retain Bart’s but give full priority to students from the University of Malta.

15:09:

The leaders all get a question from Sergio Sammut on their plans for safe bicycle lanes.

Cassola: “Traffic is the country’s cancer factory and it eats up 3% of our country’s GDP a year. Instead of incentivising people not to use their cars, parties are proposing flyovers and tunnels. AD wants electic cars, a fast ferry service and a decent public transport.”

Battistino: “The traffic problem is due to over-population by foreigners. We must accept that this is a small country that accomodates 300,000 people.”

15:06:

Muscat gets a question from student Michael Tonna: “You said that you will resign if the inquiry proves your wife owns Egrant, which means you are confirming that opening a Panama company is a bad thing. Then why didn’t you fire Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.”

Muscat: “It would have been unacceptable if Mizzi hadnt declared his company in Parliament, and if he had tried to hide it from the public.

Farrugia butts in: “Mizzi was made to resign from the Labour Party, which means he was not considered good enough for Labour but good enough to remain as minister.”

15:02:

All the leaders get a question on the economy’s dependence on the gaming and financial sectors. Cassola calls for a reform in the MFSA, questioning how it is possible that they gave a license to Pilatus Bank and calling for its chairperson to be chosen by a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

Muscat is next: “We need to form a united front to counter any attacks by foreigners against our economy, and we are planning to tap into the health, education and logistics sectors.”

Busuttil says that companies will only invest in Malta if its reputation is clean and rips into the government for not having tapped into any new economic niches.

14:57:

Busuttil gets yet another question, from a student Jean-Claude Gatt who challenges him on his warnings four years ago that Muscat would reduce stipends.

“Thank God that at least he didn’t remove stipends too..” the PN leader responds.

14:56:

Busuttil gets another question, from Christine Dalli, who challenges the PN leader on his pre-electoral predictions that a Labour government will drive the country into the wall.

“How can a university student trust your economic competence when your prediction had gone so badly wrong?” she asks

Busuttil responds: “Muscat drove the entire country into a wall, and we must choose whether we want to be led by a corrupt government or not.”

14:53:

Busuttil gets the next question and is asked why he didn’t take action against Toni Bezzina, Jason Azzopardi or Beppe Fenech Adami.

”I already said that I gave Bezzina the option to retract his ODZ application or resign. However, I will not take action against people being smeared for no reason. Fenech Adami was investigated by three magistrates – including by Philip Sciberras who had written obscene posts on Facebook - but the inquiry found nothing wrong.”

Muscat challenges Busuttil to ask whether he will force Fenech Adami to resign if he is under investigation by the FIAU or the police. To loud jeers by Labour supporters, Busuttil says that “it all depends”.

14:50:

Student Roberta Debono gets the first question. She questions Muscat why Labour had pledged meritocracy and then “vindictively transferred” PN-leaning civil servants to government departments.

”You can look at the number of people we kept as ambassadords, the number of people we kept in the foreign service. Besides, anyone who feels aggrieved can go to the Ombudsman.”

14:47:

The debate has entered the final stage, where the leaders will take questions from the floor by randomly selected students.

14:45:

To cheers from the hall, Cassola says that Muscat is constantly looking at his mobile to read messages sent from his communications aide Kurt Farrugia.

14:44:

Muscat hits out at the PN’s new proposal to slash income tax to 10% for self-employed people, warning that it will discriminate between different categories of workers.

”This will mean that everyone will want to become self-employed, and will not enjoy the benefits – such as sick leave – that comes with being employed.”

14:42:

Busuttil is asked why people should choose the ‘Forza Nazzjonali’ when its proposals havent been costed.

“If the economy is doing so well now, then can you imagine how well it will do without corruption?” he answers.

14:41:

Muscat is asked what happened to the multi-storey university car park he had promised before the last election.

”A tender has been adjudicated for a car park as well as a residence for foreign students,” he says. “Discussions with the university and the Planning Authority are ongoing to ascertain how high the car park can be. It will be funded by a private company, meaning that the university will not have to pay a single cent itself.

14:34:

Cassola brings up a photo of Ann Fenech, asking Busuttil whether he will take action against her for her role in the sale of citizenship scheme.

Busuttil responds: ”You know you are wrong. Ann Fenech is part of a large legal firm of 100 lawyers, and she cannot tell her lawyers what to do.”

14:31:

Security guards have approached a student to warn him to stop shouting at the Prime Minister. Net News journalist Mario Frendo, seated nearby, steps in to ask why the security guard didn't act in a similar manner to another student who had shouted at Busuttil earlier. <

14:30:

Busittil is asked whether he will resign if the Egrant inquiry finds no proof that the Panama company belongs to Michelle Muscat.

“I already answered this question,” Busuttil responds. “I am not the person being investigated because I don’t have a Panama company. The allegations on Egrant weren’t made by me, but by a whistleblower who is now being attacked by the Prime Minister.”

14:26:

Muscat is asked a question by a student psychologist concerning the shortage of positions for assistant psychologists.

Muscat talks about Labour’s plans to build a new mental health hospital by Mater Dei. “This will create jobs for psychologists and, at the same time, increase community care. This is something I think we can all agree on.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
PN leader Simon Busuttil
PN leader Simon Busuttil
Alternattiva Demokratika leader Arnold Cassola
Alternattiva Demokratika leader Arnold Cassola
Partit Demokratiku leader Marlene Farrugia
Partit Demokratiku leader Marlene Farrugia
Moviment Patrijotti leader Henry Battistino
Moviment Patrijotti leader Henry Battistino
14:20:

As Muscat says that he has no problem being on stage in a debate where it is “four against one”. His statement prompts PL student supporters to break out into a chant of “Joseph, Joseph” and PN student supporters to counter-chant “Shame on you”.

14:19:

Cassola welcomes Busuttil’s commitment not to develop White Rocks and challenges him to make similar pro-environmental positions with regards hunting and the proposed motor racetrack.

14:16:

The second part of the debate has started and the politicians receive their first question posted on social media regarding the level of personal attacks in the election.

Farrugia goes off a tangent: “Civil liberties are also about freedom of speech and the right to express our femininity. Muscat uses civil liberties to win votes, but he shows in practice that he doesn’t agree with them.

14:13:

Busuttil, asked about his party’s civil liberties credentials, pledged that a PN government will introduce gay marriage.

“The Prime Minister did good work in this sector, and we want to continue building on what is right and arrange what is wrong.”

The PN leader is jeered mockingly by Labour supporters as he says that the country is too politically divided.

”Unfortunately, as it stands, university graduates have to beg to ministers to find a job.”

14:10:

Muscat admitted that his government had made environmental mistakes, but – to mild jeers from the crowds – says that his government has never built on ODZ land.

14:09:

Busuttil pledges that a PN government will not develop White Rocks.

”Successive governments have been battling over the years over their plans for White Rocks, but I believe we must save what countryside we have left – including Wied Ghomor and White Rocks.

14:03:

Farrugia accuses the government of hypocrisy, arguing that it protects whistleblowers that leak information beneficial to them politically but attacks those that leak compromising information.

Battistino calls for a radical Constitutional change, that will see the President of the Republic “chosen by the people” and vested with the responsibilities of appointing the police commissioner and the Attorney General.

“As it stands, it’s a game of musical chairs every years and then it goes back to square one.”

14:00:

Cassolas rips into Malta’s two-party system.

“The faces keep changing but the system remains the same, and the authorities exist to serve the Prime Minister of the day. This system is not one that befits a democratic European country,” he says. “Busuttil pledges that he will protect ODZ land, but who will be responsible for this? George Pullicino or Toni Bezzina?

13:57:

Muscat is asked what plans he has in mind to tackle Malta’s corruption problem, and the Prime Minister responds that he already removed prescription from politicians, and introduced a law regulating party financing.

“The PN’s president [Ann Fenech] set up Panama companies, a PN candidate had set up offshore funds, and another PN candidate’s company was delisted from the stock exchange because it didn’t declare payments.

13:55:

Busuttil has so far been receiving the loudest cheers from the students, but Labour student supporters break out into a chant of “Joseph, Joseph” as Busuttil says Malta’s clean air levels are the result of the interconnector.

13:52:

Busuttil dismisses Muscat’s challenge to resign if the inquiry clears him, arguing that the inquiry was only ordered after Pilatus Bank’s chairman was allowed to remove evidence from the bank.

”The mere fact that Muscat kept Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri by his side although they have Panama companies was enough reason for him to resign,” he says. “Muscat seems convinced that the magistrate will find nothing about him, but that conviction doesn’t convince me of your innocence but rather convinces me that you’re confident because you know that the evidence has already been removed.”

Students break out in a chorus of “Corrupt, corrupt” as Busuttil notes that the police are aiding the magistrate in his investigation.

”How can the police investigate now when they did nothing for a whole year? The police have a clear conflict of interest and the country’s institutions have jammed up.”

13:49:

Henry Battistino rips into Malta’s two-party system.

“53 years have gone by independence, during which the two political insulted and attacked each other, but no politician spent a single hour in prison. No one will go to prison this time, and corruption will remain because it is institutionalised in Malta.”

He said that hardly any Maltese people work as waiters or hotel receptionists anymore, because the jobs pay too little.

13:45:

Arnold Cassola syas the education system must no longer be a one-size-fits-all system and that students must be taught to teach critically, instead of just following their leaders blindly.

13:43:

Leaders are asked what their vision on the education sector is, but Muscat starts his response by dismissing Busuttil’s warnings, noting that a Ukrainian airline company is planning to set up a nw maintenance plant in Malta.

He reiterates his pledge to resign if a magisterial inquiry links him or his wife to the Panama company Egrant, and challenges Busuttil to commit to do the same if the inquiry hears him.

“On education, we will continue increasing stipends and remove income tax for students after they completed their Masters and PhD.”

13:38:

Simon Busuttil receives roaring applause from the students as he takes to the stage, to say that students should have been studying for their exams but are instead attending a debate prompted by Muscat’s call for an early election.

”After this election, the world will decide whether it will continue to do business with us, which is crucial for your future. If foreign investment stops because we made the wrong choice, then jobs will be as stake. The government is drowning in corruption, and the Prime Minister and his chief of staff are both under a criminal investigation.”

13:35:

There is near silence in the hall as Henry Battistino speaks up, to declare that his party is against excess liberalism.

“Im sorry I’m not a skinhead full of tattoos, as my party has been labelled a party of fanatics,” he says. “The country’s big dilemna is because we have lost our Christian values, and it will be useless for us to copy the European trend. You can see what your eyes what’s going on.”

13:33:

Marlene Farrugia receives a warm welcome from the crowd, and she instantly calls on the country to unite as one for the sake of good governance and transparency.

13:32:

Arnold Cassola is up next and instantly starts by criticising the Broadcasting Authority for not allowing his party a spot on the election debates, calling for electoral reform, and warning that Malta has the highest level of pesticides in Europe.

”The University must establish a laboratory that investigates pesticides and other chemicals.”

13:29:

Joseph Muscat is the first to make his opening statement. He urges students to vote and called for the election to be “a battle of ideas and not a abttle of shouts”.

”I want a truly European country with regards civil liberties. Malta has once again been ranked first as the most gay-friendly country in Europe, which I am proud of. We must start talking now about other controversial civil liberties, such recreational marijuana, full marriage equality, and the regualrisation or legalisation of prostitution. Youths have a crucial part to play in this debate.”

13:25: The debate will be split into three parts; in the first part, the leaders will take questions that have been prepared by the organisers, in the second part they will answer questions posted by students on social media, and in the third part they will take questions from the floor by randomly selected students.
13:23: Sir Temi Zammit Hall is packed with students with more gathered outside. Unlike in previous election debates, the students have been ordered not to cheer, boo or clap. However, the instructions seem to have fallen on deaf ears, and a loud roar erupts inside the hall as the leaders walk onto the stage.
13:19: Welcome to MaltaToday’s live commentary of the university leaders’ debate. The debate has been delayed since Alleanza Bidla leader Ivan Grech Mintoff told the organisers that he will not be attending. Students in the hall cheer mockingly as the podium reserved for the eurosceptic leader is dragged off the stage.
The date has arrived for the most anticipated debate during this electoral campaign so far: six leaders will face off in the debate being held at the University of Malta.

The leaders who will be grilled by the students are: Prime Minister and Labour leader Joseph Muscat, Opposition leader and PN leader Simon Busuttil, Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Arnold Cassola, Partit Demokratiku leader Marlene Farrugia, and Patrijotti Maltin’s Henry Battistino. Ivan Grech Mintoff of Alleanza Bidla was also invited but bowed out at the last minute.

Muscat and Busuttil have been granted 23 minutes of speaking time each, Cassola was granted 11 minutes, Battistino given 11 minutes, and Farrugia  10 minutes. Grech Mintoff had been allocated six minutes.

Sir Temi Zammit Hall will host 800 students (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Sir Temi Zammit Hall will host 800 students (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Organised by the University of Malta Debating Union and The Third Eye, the debate has fuelled controversy following leaked chat messages showing that a group of student PN supporters planned to “hijack” debate between.

The organisers have also drawn up a set of guidelines for students wishing to attend the debate, including that no bags or any items, including food and beverages, will be allowed into the hall. No one will be allowed to wear clothes bearing any political logos or slogans, and no form of “rowdy behaviour” such as booing, yelling or cheering shall be tolerated. 

Police officers have also been dispatched to the University’s campus.

Whilst long queues gathered outside Sir Temi Zammit Hall, big screens were set up at the skate park. Tal-Ajkla's Zaren Bonnici was also spotted on campus.

 

Tal-Ajkla's Zaren Bonnici spotted at the University's campus (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Tal-Ajkla's Zaren Bonnici spotted at the University's campus (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)