‘Definite political influence behind Yes victory’ – RTK journalist

Mark Sultana, James Debono say that Prime Minister must close the upcoming spring hunting season if protected bird species are shot at

A Yes for spring hunting victory in the referendum definitely reflected political influence over undecided voters towards the end of the campaign, RTK journalist Karl Wright said.

“The political leaders shouldn’t have declared their voting intentions,” Wright said on tonight’s edition of Reporter. “I know people who didn’t have an opinion on spring hunting either way, but said that they will vote Yes because their leaders had told them to.”

He noted that a referendum sample ballot sheet with an X marked in the Yes box had been pinned to the noticeboard of the Haz-Zebbug Labour band club.

The last MaltaToday survey on the referendum showed that the No camp were 6.5 percentage points ahead of the Yes camp. However, 17% of respondents, the majority of whom were Labour voters, said that they were as yet undecided.

“Their conscience told them to vote No, but their leader told them to vote Yes,” SHout spokesperson Mark Sultana said of these Labour voters. “The Prime Minister’s repeated support for the Yes camp towards the end of the campaign mobilized these undecided voters to vote Yes.

However, MaltaToday journalist James Debono said that the Yes camp probably won because more of its supporters actually voted.

“The voter turn-out in the districts that voted in favour of spring hunting was some 10% higher than in those that voted against it,” Debono said.

In Gozo, 62% of the voters voted ‘yes’. Sultana admitted that the SHout campaign didn’t have the financial resources or the know-how to focus on Gozitan zones.

He also pointed out that the 2,000 Gozitan hunters, the rural lifestyle of several Gozitans, and the fact that both FKNK President Joe Perici Calascione and Yes spokesperson Kathleen Grima are Gozitan could have acted in favour of the Yes camp.

‘Muscat has taken on hunter responsibility’

In a hard-hitting statement held moments after the yes campaign’s wafer-thin victory was announced, Muscat warned hunters that the victory was their last chance to “get it right” and that law-abiding hunters are now greatly responsible for reporting cases of illegal hunting.

He added that he will not shirk from closing the hunting season again due to cases of illegal hunting.

“Muscat has taken on the responsibility for the Yes victory, but he is now responsible for the hunters enforcing themselves,” Sultana said. “He must now keep his word and close the hunting season in the event of any hunting illegalities.”

However, he said that a large percentage of hunters break the law frequently.

“I often visit the countryside and I see several cases of illegal hunting,” Sultana said. “What we see in the media is just the tip of the iceberg. The majority of the shot birds are either hidden or taken away. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that the hunters will start reporting cases of illegal hunting, but then again nobody could have predicted the huge level of public support that SHout received. Muscat is right; the scenario has changed.”

Debono said that the Yes victory could be a very temporary one.

“Pressure on Muscat has increased after he had invested so much political capital into appeasing the hunters throughout the campaign,” he said. “Now he knows that half the population want spring hunting abolished, he will be pressured to close the spring hunting season if there any abuses.

"If protected birds are shot at, then Muscat must instantly close the hunting season. He must also strengthen the Administrative Law Enforcement, and re-introduce a special license for spring hunting. "

Debono also compared Muscat’s hard-hitting statement with Busuttil’s brief recorded reaction that the referendum’s outcome must be respected by all.

“As soon as Muscat saw that 49% of the population had voted against spring hunting, he instantly reached out to them ro bring them on his side,” Debono said. “Busuttil’s recorded message was a big mistake.”

Wright agreed, saying that Muscat “appeared more conscious and sensitive” of the 49% than Busuttil had.

‘Hunting has an expiry date’

In a recorded message, MediaToday managing editor Saviour Balzan said that hunting and trapping have an “expiry date” and will end one day.

“On the other hand, the public will only grow more environmentally conscious as time goes on,” Balzan said. “The victory margin was incredibly narrow and environmentalists must now take advantage and try to consolidate their positions.”

Debono warned that the environment could be in for a future hit thanks to an airstrip in Gozo and new planning policies that will permit further development.

“Politicians often speak of a balance as far as the environment is concerned, but we now need a misbalance in favour of the environment to compensate for all the damage that has been done to the environment over the past 40 years.”

Sultana said that there is room for more cooperation between BirdLife and hunting organisations with regards tackling illegal hunting.

“However, our campaign didn’t focus on hunting illegalities but on sustainability,” Sultana said. “Environmentalists will stick with their values, just as Nationalists don’t suddenly become Labourites after losing an election.

“For those of you out there who are angry and upset at the referendum result, take solace in the fact that 49% of the population support your stance.”

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