[WATCH] University Debate: Party leaders go head-to-head for first time before election

Leaders of five political parties will be taking part in the first debate of the election campaign at the University of Malta

The University General Election Debate 2022

The University General Election Debate 2022

Posted by MUDU - The Malta University Debating Union on Thursday, March 10, 2022

The first leaders debate of the election campaign was dominated by booing, yelling and cheering from the student audience.

The debate brought together five party leaders for a grilling on the environment, sexual health, and housing.

Robert Abela and Bernard Grech took part as the respective leaders of the Labour Party and Nationalist Party. Carmel Cacopardo took part on behalf of ADPD, Paul Salomone represented Partit Populari, and Ivan Grech Mintoff appeared for ABBA.

The crowd was clearly more sympathetic towards Abela, who was greeted with the loudest cheers and a standing ovation as everyone chanted his name.

When Bernard Grech emerged, the crowd erupted into a mix of chants, with some booing and shouting “Viva l-Labour”.

When confronted on the issues, Abela would list a variety of schemes and policies undertaken by the Labour Party under his leadership.

However, he didn’t shy away from mentioning abortion, a topic long-considered taboo for Maltese elections.

Abela said the public debate on abortion should not be stifled, and said he would not kick people out from the Labour Party for expressing pro-abortion views.

It was a statement echoed only by Green party chairperson Carmel Cacopardo in a debate between party leaders at the University of Malta.

Cacopardo stated that no woman should be painted a criminal for undergoing an abortion. “They need help, empathy, not state persecution.”

Grech maintained that the Nationalist Party remains pro-life from inception till death, but said he is open to understanding the experiences of women who undergo abortion.

Grech repeatedly tried to delivery a few blows to Abela, but his attempts were often drowned out by the audience.

He called out the Labour Party for failing to present a manifesto mid-way through the election, and even accused the party of copying the PN’s pledges.

When the debate shifted to transport, Grech rubbished the government’s plans for a €6 billion metro system, dubbing it unfeasile.

But Abela quickly rebutted this by mentioning the Arriva debacle, even comparing the PN’s proposal for trackless trams to the Arriva bendy buses.

Ivan Grech Mintoff didn’t shy away from criticising Abela and Grech, but he failed to capture the audience in his proposals on sexual health.

“We believe that sexuality is based on biology, nothing more,” he said to an unimpressed audience.

Paul Salomone maintained a middle ground on most issues. He said Partit Popolari wants to be a voice for the voiceless, calling for a new housing system and a more efficient transport system.

Cacopardo maintained balanced support throughout the debate, frequently prompting light cheers from the audience. He called out the two big parties for failing to regulate their media companies, while pointing out that the problem with public transport is reliability.

14:45 And the debate ends on that note. Thank you for following the debate with us. You can find more of our coverage on the coming election on our dedicated website page, as well as on Facebook and Instagram. Nicole Meilak
14:44 A girl from the audience shouted “corruption” at Abela, but the audience immediately shut it down and started cheering. As Abela concluded his statement, the entire hall stood up and chanted “Viva l-Labour”. Nicole Meilak
14:43 Abela meanwhile invited Grech to visit a metaverse project that government is working on. “If we copied the PN’s measures we’d need a printing factory with all the changes they’ve done so far.” He says there was no criticism on the Labour Party’s proposals because they were all costs. Abela then put the question to the audience: “Do you want a party of reforms, or the party that always maintained the status quo?” Nicole Meilak
14:41 Bernard Grech says it’s no wonder Abela has been avoiding a debate with him. “It’s evident he has no vision.” This was met with claps and jeers from the audience. “We have a duty to give vision and hope, and to implement that hope. Our vision is based on the creation of wealth. Half of the campaign is over, and Abela hasn’t even mentioned a sector he will create for you.” Grech instead invites Abela on an national, bipartisan march in support of Ukraine. This is also met with loud cheers and considerable boos. Nicole Meilak
14:37 Grech Mintoff called on the students to keep one thing in mind: “Are you happy with the leadership of Robert Abela and Bernard Grech? Are we better or worse under this leadership?” He tells them that if you’re part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution. “Use your vote to make sure that things change, not remain the same. On 26 March, only you can solve these problems. If you’re happy with the system, vote for business-as-usual, vote for continuity. If not, vote for change, vote for third parties.” Nicole Meilak
14:35 Salomone says that there are people who still live in poverty despite progress. "There are people who live in poverty. Anyone who doesn't believe me can come with me. I visited someone who hasn't paid utility bills for years. Enemalta is giving them just enough electricity to switch on two light bulbs and a fridge. We want to be the voice of these people.” Nicole Meilak
14:34 Cacopardo says his party wants to clean up public life. "We have major shortcomings. How can we pretend that the message of good governance can move forward when both parties keep giving a bad example. I mention one example: one of the things they both avoided to regulate, through political party financing, is their own companies full of debt. They don’t pay utility bills." Nicole Meilak
14:31 It's time for closing statements. First up is Carmel Cacopardo. Nicole Meilak
14:31 Ivan Grech Mintoff argues that teachers often have to follow an agenda. Here, he blames MGRM for lobbying with the Education Ministry. The crowd is far from impressed. "If you want to show teachers respect, at least hear what they're saying." Nicole Meilak
14:29 Bernard Grech says educators deserve better conditions, and calls out Robert Abela for not giving any clear figures on bettering their working conditions. He also adds that teachers should not have to be moved around whenever there’s a shortage. He mentions that one Bormla school had to tell parents not to send their children to school because some teachers were sick and there weren’t any substitute teachers. Nicole Meilak
14:27 Salomone says that educators have a right to a higher pay. "However, we need to see the work they do at home that's related to school." He adds that a new disciplinary system is needed to make sure respect continues to reign in schools. Nicole Meilak
14:26 Abela says their conditions will be improved greatly. He won’t commit to any figures, but negotiations on a collective agreement are underway. Nicole Meilak
14:26 Cacopardo insists that many educators need to be respected. They need a higher pay, but that’s across the board and deserved by everyone. Nicole Meilak
14:25 Cacopardo insists that many educators need to be respected. They need a higher pay, but that’s across the board and deserved by everyone. Nicole Meilak
14:25 The next question is for everyone: “Educators deserve a higher pay, they take a lot of work give a lot to students. You mentioned bettering the conditions of educators. What do you mean by it?” Nicole Meilak
14:24 Some questions have had to be skipped, either because they were already discussed or because the leaders have no time to address the questions. Nicole Meilak
14:23 Grech Mintoff makes a comment. "We're not children. All this infrastructure happened with cheap labour and foreign slaves. Our solution is to look at other small countries like Malta, where they asked for a derogation so that instead of people entering the country at random to be used for cheap labour, instead enter with visas.” He says Isle of Mann has a similar derogation, where the amount of people entering the country is controlled. “Malta needs to talk with the European Parliament on an immigration derogation.” Nicole Meilak
14:21 Abela says the Labour government inherited horrible infrastructure from the previous PN government. He says explanations were always given after flooding events, but the relevant infrastructure investment was always given. Nicole Meilak
14:20 The next question is anonymous, addressed to Abela and Grech. The question concerns Malta's infrastructure system and flooding issues. Grech says foreign workers would always be needed to offer certain services, but vowed to avoid creating a cheap labour economy. “We need more investment. What’s important is a level playing field so that all contractors have a chance to work without needed special agreements with the Prime Minister. Nicole Meilak
14:18 Salomone agrees with a universal policy for vaccinated and unvaccinated persons. "Like Grech said, art is culture that must remain with us." Abela reiterated that he would condemn any attacks on singers and artists, but pointed out there was a front-page story on the Nationalist Party newspaper against Lynn Chirchop Faure, a Labour candidate who was also a Eurovision contestant. Nicole Meilak
14:16 Grech Mintoff says he believes there should be a policy for everyone, not one policy for the vaccinated and another for the unvaccinated. Cacopardo points out that we're still waiting for a report on the spending of the Malta Film Awards. Grech says the starting point should be to respect artists - “He could have disassociated himself from Farrugia Portelli's comments on Julie Zahra, but he didn't," Grech said. "Art isn't a hobby - it's education and culture.” Nicole Meilak
14:15 Abela says the priority was the vaccination drive so that COVID-19 restrictions could be lifted. Government will give any help needed. Nicole Meilak
14:14 The next question is from Megan Caruana. She says many artists and creatives were left in the dark during the pandemic - what’s their exit plan to help candidates do their job? Nicole Meilak
14:13 Bernard Grech stands by his claim that the Labour Party failed to introduce any new sectors. On his tax issue, Grech says he already clarified his tax situation before he entered politics. "Others called an election when he got caught doing business with Christian Borg". Nicole Meilak
14:11 Grech Mintoff says the party doesn't have an issue with the LGBTIQ community but just with MGRM, the Malta Gay Rights Movement. He claims that the party has several queer candidates as well. "We believe that sexuality is based on biology, nothing more." Nicole Meilak
14:10 We will now move on to the second part of the debate with audience questions. The first question seems to be inappropriate for the debate. The second question, in two parts, comes from Clifford Galea. First is to Ivan Grech Mintoff on his LGBTIQ stance, second is to Bernard Grech on his “10 new sectors” claim and his tax returns scandal. Nicole Meilak
14:06 Abela says connectivity is a sensitive issue for Gozo as it suffers from double insularity. He says the tunnel is at procurement stage, and existing ferry services will be improved. “We recognised the need for a fourth ferry,” he says. Abela now moves on to list other party pledges and government achievements on Gozo. Nicole Meilak
14:04 Grech Mintoff's ABBA party also doesn't agree with the tunnel. He says this is a pre-electoral promise that comes out before every election. "I don't even think it's feasible," he says. Nicole Meilak
14:04 Salomone says the party is against the tunnel. "Government has done good things, but we need to respect what Gozitans want. They feel that the tunnel would rob Gozo of its character." Nicole Meilak
14:03 Grech says that Gozo is more than just a tunnel. It's about the hospital and its ports, he says, as he lists through the party’s proposals for Gozo. Nicole Meilak
14:02 The next issue is the Malta-Gozo tunnel. Carmel Cacopardo says that the ADPD position is that the tunnel isn't needed. He notes that the tunnel is for cars, not people, and there’s an implication for Gozo. Nicole Meilak
14:01 Salomone mentions Caruana Galizia, and then references the murder of Karin Grech. He suggests a task-force on these Grech Mintoff says there should be a focus on coalition parties to help third-parties get to parliament. Nicole Meilak
13:59 Grech says Abela could have voted in favour of the PN's mega-bill package against corruption. "They could have avoided putting independent journalists on billboards. Let's be serious. Media needs more freedom and support, but everyone needs to be responsible.” Nicole Meilak
13:58 He says he accepted the results and met with Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family. He said he met with a committee of experts to oversee the reform, drafted a number of laws to protect journalists, notably from SLAPP. “Our country might be the first to have a law against SLAPP.” Nicole Meilak
13:57 Next question tackles local media in light of the results of the public inquiry. What will the parties do to fulfil these recommendations. "Let me tell you what we've already done," Abela says. Nicole Meilak
13:56 Grech Mintoff makes a comment and accuses the main parties of wanting to introduce abortion. "You can't both be populist, saying you're against abortion, and then say you'll distribute the MAP. It's one or the other. You can't continue lying in this way. If you want abortion, be men and say so," he says. "Metsola is signing off in favour of abortion, and you let her - who's leading the party? Cyrus Engerer voted in favour of abortion, and you let him do so," he said to Grech and Abela respectively. Nicole Meilak
13:53 Grech immediately hits back. “We promised to give medicines for free, you haven’t even started yet. This is backdated from January and you haven’t even started paying for the medicines yet.” Nicole Meilak
13:51 Abela makes a brief remark against Grech: “The solution to fertility isn’t to tell people who can’t have children to join the Nationalist Party,” he said. Abela stated that IVF services need to be given for free, as well as the medicines needed. Nicole Meilak
13:49 Salomone: “More needs to be done, especially in schools. We don’t agree with abortion, but every case should be handled on its own merits. A woman who wants an abortion should be helped so that the baby can at least make it to birth, and if the parent doesn’t want the child, it is offered up to adoption.” Nicole Meilak
13:48 He says sex shouldn’t be a taboo, and should be explained to children even at a younger age so that they can practice better relationships. “At the end of the day we want a health population, not physically but also sexually and mentally.” Nicole Meilak
13:46 On sexual health, "it's nice to hear that Abela wants to do more, but a year ago we had already said that we'd offer the morning-after pill for free," Grech said. Nicole Meilak
13:46 Grech says it's important to have a discussion on abortion, but states that the party is in favour of life, "from inception to death". But he says we need to understand why women undergo abortions and treat them with empathy. Nicole Meilak
13:45 “A doctor should be able to operate on a woman when her life is at stake,” he concludes. Nicole Meilak
13:45 “Our laws aren’t clear on what interventions can happen when the mother has pregnancy difficulties or when her life is at stake. The law needs to be clear. Lawyers say there’s double effect, self-defence, but when we come to the fact, in October 2019 a woman entered hospital because of an infection due to pregnancy and they refused to take action.” Nicole Meilak
13:44 Cacopardo admits that sexual health is missing from the education system, but he will discuss abortion. "There should be decriminalisation of abortion for women. No woman who receives an abortion, for whatever reason, should be treated like a criminal. They need help, empathy, not state persecution.“ Nicole Meilak
13:42 He added that there should be no unjust limits to those who can donate blood. “I won’t avoid the topic of abortion. I believe this is an ongoing discussion that should be ongoing. I expressed my opinion on this, it’s not in the Labour manifesto. I want to understand people who do abortions. I don’t want to stigmatise them or or kick them out of the party.” Nicole Meilak
13:40 Abela says there's more to do on sexual health and civil liberties. "We will give priority to this area," he said. Abela said sexual health in education should reflect today's realities. "We will give contraceptive pill and morning-after pill for free. The IUD will be offered as part of the NHS. Menstrual products will be provided free in schools." Nicole Meilak
13:40 Abela says there's more to do on sexual health and civil liberties. "We will give priority to this area," he said. Abela said sexual health in education should reflect today's realities. "We will give contraceptive pill and morning-after pill for free. The IUD will be offered as part of the NHS. Menstrual products will be provided free in schools." Nicole Meilak
13:39 Grech Mintoff adds that ABBA is against abortion and the morning-after pill. He says the other parties say they're against abortion but are in reality working to introduce it. "We have incentives to grow our families, not make them smaller." Nicole Meilak
13:38 Next issue is sexual health. Grech Mintoff makes a brief comment to Grech and Abela. "If debt increases, and it increased a lot, and the cake became smaller, where is all this money coming from?" Nicole Meilak
13:37 Grech said that voluntary work also helps widen one’s horizons. “For us, this has value because it helps you grow. We believe in young people, students, but not just. We will make sure that workers, even part-time, until 21 years of age that earn less than a set percentage of median income will be exempt from paying National Insurance.” Nicole Meilak
13:36 Grech was referring to a recent comment made by Labour minister Julia Farrugia Portelli towards Nationalist candidate and signer Julie Zahra. Nicole Meilak
13:35 Grech says education is not only about money but vision. “We believe that education isn’t just academic - it’s also about sports, arts, music. These aren’t just hobbies, we don’t make fun of candidates because they’re singers. I’ve come on this stage many times to sing and I’m honoured to have done that. But we’ll do more.” Nicole Meilak
13:34 Cacopardo says education is a tool for social justice. "We need a stronger sense of recreational and constructive reflection - this is missing from tertiary education." Cacopardo added that ADPD is proposing that stipends should increase to half the national minimum wage. Nicole Meilak
13:33 Abela says the Labour Party will be introducing a child guarantee for low-income families who want quality education for their children. He said students will receive €500 a year for three consecutive years for those who continue studying past obligatory age. Stipends will increase by 10% without strings attached, “unlike the pledges by the Nationalist Party.” Nicole Meilak
13:31 The next issue is education. Salomone says everyone should receive the financial and sustainable help needed to continue in their education. “We have a strong society that knows what it wants to do with its future.”
Ivan Grech Mintoff says the state took away the rights of parents and are teaching children content that goes against their beliefs. “Parents should have a right to decide what their children learn.”
Nicole Meilak
13:29 Grech makes a quick comment, saying he made little money in his tax returns because he wanted to spend more time with his cildren. “At least I never took €28,000 a month from the people,” he said, referencing Abela’s retainer agreement with the PA. Nicole Meilak
13:28 Abela notes Labour's raft of first-time buyers aid, including a total exemption of tax on their first house. He also notes Labour’s pre-1995 rent reform, through which Housing Authority subsidises part of the rent paid on these houses. “If you don’t put your trust in me as Prime Minister you’ll leave these families without help,” Abela said. “If this isn’t the case, you shouldn’t have put it in your manifesto,” he said, prompting the crowd to chant “Viva l-Labour”. Nicole Meilak
13:25 Abela makes a quick swipe at Grech. "At least I've never had a tax return of €6,000 a year." Nicole Meilak
13:25 Grech Mintoff is more straight to the point, advising the audience to look at his party's housing proposals on their website. Nicole Meilak
13:24 Salomone: You’re right to find it hard to buy property. We want to propose a housing system for young people,” he says. “No developers show the lifetime of buildings,” he points out, saying that people often have to move out because of short building lifespan. “Let’s build a housing system that provides a roof to young people who came out of school or university and give them a chance to build a family.” Nicole Meilak
13:22 He moves on to the issue in question, and lists several Nationalist Party pledges on housing. “We want any money we give you to go to you, not to the developer,” he said. “We want you to appreciate that you have a responsibility to pay back to society what made it possible for you to buy your own house,” he said. Nicole Meilak
13:20 The next issue is housing and “property prices. Grech is first, but he takes a moment to hit out at Abela. “We'll publish our costings, you should publish the party's accounts and your parliamentary returns," Grech tells Abela. Nicole Meilak
13:18 He’s listing several environmental projects taken on by the Labour government, including the Ecohive project on waste-to-energy. He recalled how European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised Malta for tis green recovery plan. Nicole Meilak
13:17 In response to Grech Mintoff, Abela says everyone made mistakes on environment, but Labour is trying to mend these wounds through incentives, among which on UCA zones. He mentions Wied Fulija, an afforestation project taken on by the Labour government. Nicole Meilak
13:15 Abela mentioned that Bernard Grech appointed Ray Bezzina as his right-hand man. Ray Bezzina was the personal aide to former environmental minister George Pullicino who in 2006 extended Malta's building zones. Nicole Meilak
13:14 Abela keeps his target on Bernard Grech. “He said he’d make White Rocks ODZ and then develop it transparently. You need to decide,” he said. Nicole Meilak
13:13 Ivan Grech Mintoff reiterates that the two big parties have no credibility on corruption because they’re both tied to big business. He hits out at Abela for preaching on the environment while at the centre of controversy over a PA contract. Nicole Meilak
13:12 “We’re hardly a country. We’re a rock,” he said. “But every locality had its traditions and culture. That’s what we want to see, not buildings. Buildings are nice, but what about culture?” Nicole Meilak
13:10 Salomone is next, criticising the two major parties. "They both talk about the environment, but developers have been ruining the environment since 1995. They were under both parties then." He says that building needs to be carried out with proper planning - “there has never been a proper Master Plan”. Nicole Meilak
13:09 “Why are you obsessed with our costings? Do you want to copy those too?” he said, with even louder cheers from the crowd and people chanting his name. Nicole Meilak
13:08 Grech turns to Abela: “Your track record on the environment is that you ruined it,” he said, much to the crowd’s pleasure. He mentioned that the PN will increase the amount of land under ODZ, and that any development would need a two-thirds majority in parliament. Nicole Meilak
13:07 The next topic is climate change. Cacopardo is first. “We need to be careful of ODZ and understand that car race tracks have no place in Malta,” he says as the crowd reluctantly claps. “It’s important that abuses in the planning system are removed once and for all,” he continues. MPs have no place at the Planning Authority, he says. Nicole Meilak
13:05 “If there’s one thing your government failed on it’s its policy on Libya,” he said, referring to Neville Gafa and court recordings where he and an aide to Joseph Muscat “tried to buy the silence of a witness”. Nicole Meilak
13:03 Grech Mintoff immediately hits out at Abela over his previous COVID remark. “I’m glad you've now realised that the waves aren't in the beach," he says, as the crowd erupts in cheers. "You broke the economy, you put people in depression with your policies. Suicides increased threefold. Am I populist just for mentioning these?" Nicole Meilak
13:01 Salomone gives a simpler answer. “It’s not about diesel or electric. Our country needs a bus service that reaches citizens everywhere and frequently, as we have in localities with buses passing through every corner and arriving on time.” Nicole Meilak
13:00 Grech said that government needs to look into alternative modes of transport, even making electric cars affordable to students. "No more time in traffic, but more time for study and leisure." Nicole Meilak
12:58 Grech next: “Our plan is costed and it makes sense. It’s a plan that we will be able to start and conclude in four years, with less environmental destruction,” he says to the cheering crowd. Nicole Meilak
12:57 "The solution is more public transport to lower the amount of private transport, and in turn create a more efficient system," Cacopardo said. Nicole Meilak
12:56 Cacopardo says that free public transport is good, but the real problem is reliability. The crowd agrees and cheers him on. "In transport policy we can't take decisions that encourage more cars," he said. "Studies worldwide on transport show one thing, the more you widen roads, the more you increase congestion." Nicole Meilak
12:55 On the metro, he said that studies have been passed on to the European Commission. Government is asking for funding to move on with the project. “But this project is massive, for context,” he says, gesturing to Grech, “what are the costings of your proposals?” The crowd cheers. Nicole Meilak
12:53 Abela argues that Malta needs to move towards electrification. "We need to be prepared for this new electric demand and so we're going to do a second interconnector," he said, also mentioning plans for a gas pipeline. Nicole Meilak
12:53 The next question is on public transport. Abela says that Malta had an ugly public transport, and it needs to be improved. He mentions that public transport is going to be made available to all for free as from this year. "But you don't improve transport by going to the past and rejigging bendy buses into a new pledge, namely trackless trams," he said. Nicole Meilak
12:50 “This is the first war. China is taunting Taiwan. In Libya there is an unpopular interim government with two factions who want to overthrow government. We need to be careful.” Nicole Meilak
12:49 Salomone is next. “I worked in a warzone. One day I’ll come back and tell you what I saw. It’s not nice,” he said. Salomone continued that many take sides, but no one knows the truth as to why the conflict broke out.” Salomone pauses briefly, visibly emotional on the topic. “As a country, we are obligated to give all possible help to whoever is suffering.” Nicole Meilak
12:47 Grech rebuts: “We will put more money in your pockets,” he said to more cheers. Nicole Meilak
12:47 Abela makes a brief remark. "The Nationalist Party said they'd set up a €40 million fund. We're spending millions in the tax refund cheques," Abela said to a standing evasion and deafening cheers. Nicole Meilak
12:45 Whenever the crowd starts cheering Grech, others try to drown them out by booing or shouting remarks. Nicole Meilak
12:45 Some members of the audience seem to be on a mission to distract Grech, immediately jeering against him. But the audience quiets down as Grech continues. "You need to create new economic sectors. Create wealth. Grow the economy. It's not enough to subsidise things. It’s good to subsidise utility bills, but he didn't tell you that while subsidising he will steal from everyone in those same utility bills." Nicole Meilak
12:43 Grech next: “You know what Abela said when the war broke out? ‘I’m so happy to be livign in Matla away from the problems in Ukraine’. Look at who’s preaching about maturity,” he said. Nicole Meilak
12:42 “We need to strengthen our control on the energy we need,” he concluded. Nicole Meilak
12:42 Carmel Cacopardo is up next. He says he believes Malta's priority should be on social justice. He said subsidising utilities is good, even on fuel and diesel. But we should go beyond this, he said. “Two days before the invasion started, there was an agreement between Russia and Azerbaijan on economic. Let’s not forget Azerbaijan sells us fuel,” he said. Nicole Meilak
12:41 He added that he will be heading to France right after the debate for a European Council meeting. Nicole Meilak
12:40 Abela said that in the same way Labour alleviated fuel inflation, it will do what it can to prevent food price hikes. Nicole Meilak
12:40 The crowd cheers as Abela lists through the aid Malta is offering. "For every economic challenge we moved forward on one principle: to help people." Nicole Meilak
12:39 Abela also hit out at Grech for his mention on the golden passports scheme. “We can't remain silent in front of atrocities,” Abela said on the issue. He said government will be collaborating with Puttinu Cares to offer oncology services to the conflict victims. Nicole Meilak
12:38 Ivan Grech Mintoff argues that we should revert back to our position from the Cold War, with no military alliances. Abela starts off by immediately hitting out against Grech Mintoff for the way he spoke about the vaccine. Nicole Meilak
12:36 The first question is related to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. "What do you think is the best contribution we can give and how can we prepare for the coming challenges?" Nicole Meilak
12:36 We will now move on to the first part of the debate. Abela and Grech will have 23 minutes to make their points, while the other leaders will have 13 minutes each. Nicole Meilak
12:35 “Use your heads and decide what you’re voting for,” he said as he concluded. The audience briefly booed. Nicole Meilak
12:34 As he started his statement, he criticised the added time offered to the PL and PN leaders. “This isn’t a debate during a free and fair election. This is censorship. You’re unvaccinated friends couldn’t be with us,” he said. That last remark didn’t go down well with the audience. Nicole Meilak
12:33 Ivan Grech Mintoff is next up. He first asked for a clarification on time, and whether audience interruptions would impact the time allocations. Nicole Meilak
12:33 Ivan Grech Mintoff is next up. He first asked for a clarification on time, and whether audience interruptions would impact the time allocations. Nicole Meilak
12:32 Salomone ended by saying he would like to see students venture out of Malta and bring their skills back in the future. Nicole Meilak
12:31 Paul Salomone is next, addressing a more sober audience. "I'm here to pass on my message. But I like seeing a hall full of people, opinions, life. You will be tomorrow's leaders," he tells the audience. Nicole Meilak
12:30 The moderator cautioned the audience to behalf and respect all the leaders. Nicole Meilak
12:29 Grech hit out at the Labour Party for a lack of a manifesto. "If you put their proposals through Turnitin it would all come out plagiarised," he said. The crowd erupted with noise, this time many chanting "Nazzjonalisti!". Nicole Meilak
12:29 He mentioned the golden passports scheme, and how the EU may force Malta's hands in stopping the scheme. "Pay your taxes!" one member shouted out. Nicole Meilak
12:26 Grech's turn is up, and the crowd cheers his name, while others tried to boo him out. It's certainly a mixed crowd for Grech. He said he wants students to progress forward with the party. While many cheer this, others aren't impressed, and are making it known. The audience briefly shouts "Viva l-Labour". Nicole Meilak
12:26 Carmel Cacopardo is next. He criticised both parties for making extravagant electoral pledges at a time of uncertainty, especially due to the conflict in Ukraine. He warned of Malta’s lack of energy sovereignty, but he said he’ll speak on that later. Nicole Meilak
12:24 He thanked university students for their political contribution, with mention on the cannabis white paper. "You can't abstain on such an important reform," he said, with even louder cheers this time. As he ended his speech, one member of the crowd jeered him on corruption, but this wasn’t welcomed by the wider audience as they booed her. Nicole Meilak
12:22 Abela starts with a brief mention of the pandemic and the Ukraine-Russia conflict. "In this particular moment we need maturity in political debate. That doesn't mean we should be discouraged - I'm hopeful for the future," he said as the crowd cheered. Nicole Meilak
12:19 As leaders of the two major parties, Abela and Grech will be given a larger time allocation during the debate. However, all five leaders will have two minutes to give their opening statement. Nicole Meilak
12:16 There's no doubt that the audience loves Abela. Everyone is cheering him on, while others jeer Grech. Nicole Meilak
12:16 And the debate is starting, albeit with a brief hiccup as the five leaders failed to come on stage when asked to. Ivan Grech Mintoff was first on stage, followed by Robert Abela. Abela’s entrance was met with the loudest cheers and a standing ovation, with everyone chanting his name. Carmel Cacopardo came on stage, and the crowd erupted into a mix of chants once Bernard Grech emerged. Students began booing and shouting “Viva l-Labour”. Paul Salomone was last on stage. Nicole Meilak
12:00 The debate is limited to University and Junior College students, but it's looking to be a well-attended event. The debate will be moderated by fifth year law student Yasmine Ellul, but students have the opportunity to submit questions at the hall. Nicole Meilak
11:49 Good afternoon. We will be reporting the University Debate live from Sir Temi Zammit Hall this afternoon. Watch this space for immediate updates. Nicole Meilak