[WATCH] Labour, PN accuse each other of creating conditions for Lassana Souleymane murder

In a final explosive televised debate, the two most prominent MEP candidates and major party representatives discussed abortion, foreigners and the environment, the three most decidedly pervasive issues that featured in the two parties' electoral campaigns

From top left: PL President Daniel Micallef, PL MEP candidate Miriam Dalli, PN Secretary General Clyde Puli and PN MEP candidate Roberta Metsola on Xtra
From top left: PL President Daniel Micallef, PL MEP candidate Miriam Dalli, PN Secretary General Clyde Puli and PN MEP candidate Roberta Metsola on Xtra

Representatives of both the Labour and Nationalist parties have accused each other of creating the conditions which led to Lassana Cisse Souleymane being killed in cold blood last month, in what has been described as Malta’s first high-profile racially motivated attack.

PN secretary general Clyde Puli and PN MEP candidate Roberta Metsola were guests on current affairs programme Xtra together with Labour Party president Daniel Micallef and MEP candidate Miriam Dalli, where they discussed a range of subjects from abortion to the environment.

During a discussion about Souleymane’s murder, Puli stressed that the army’s administration was partly to blame for the murder because it had allowed one of the accused men to remain a soldier, despite having a criminal record.

Micallef, however, responded  by insisting that it was the PN that had flared anti-foreigner sentiment in the country through its campaign and its repeated reference to the influx of foreigners and the challenges this has brought about.

“Opposition leader Adrian Delia is still instigating people to rise up against foreigners. The PN did not change its political style. Delia, for example, is still riding the Egrant story despite having claimed that it was devastating for the PN,” Micallef said.

He said that it was the PN that had pushed for Malta to join the EU, meaning that the country was now obliged to welcome any EU citizen who wanted to live in it.

“All those 500 million people in the EU can come to Malta legally. You don’t have an answer to the overpopulation issue. What are you going to do? Leave Europe?” he said.

On the issue of foreigners, Metsola accused Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of being a hypocrite.

“During Christmas time, Muscat wanted to leave a baby of a few months at sea. This is the Prime Minister of the pushback who has suddenly developed a conscience and wants to show the electorate how merciful he is,” she said.

No mandate to introduce abortion

As expected, the discussion also touched upon the issue of abortion, which has featured heavily in this latest election campaign.

Both parties insisted that they were against abortion and had no mandate to introduce the medical procedure.

The PN reiterated that a vote for Labour MEPs meant a vote for abortion rights, with the PL emphasising that European Parliament elections had absolutely no bearing on whether abortion was introduced in Malta, and that there was no point in discussing the subject within this context.

Puli pointed to the PN’s manifesto, which he said clearly stated the party’s position against abortion, unlike the European Socialists’ manifesto, which he said clearly vowed to give reproductive rights to every individual.

“The S&D’s manifesto has two main aims: harmonising tax and granting abortion rights to every individual. So, the abortion issue was actually brought up by the PL and not the PN,” Puli said.

This sparked a reaction from both Dalli and Micallef.

“Go back to the history books and you’ll see that the PN pulls out the abortion card every time its back is against the wall,” Micallef said. “PL is against abortion and has no mandate to push for its legality.”

As Puli pulled out the S&D’s manifesto which he said PL candidates had pledged to support, Micallef asked whether the PN had ever spoken out about abortion being legalised in other countries.

“We’re making sure it isn’t legalised in our country,” PN MEP candidate Roberta Metsola replied.

Dalli said that despite the PN’s emphasis on abortion, the PL had undertaken a positive campaign that was full of energy and that offered solutions.

“We never went to the electorate telling them that there aren’t any challenges but at least we are offering solutions. The PN is offering none,” she said, adding that during house visits she had met with a number of people who said they didn’t want MEPs attacking their country at the European Parliament.

Parties’ credibility on the environment

Host Saviour Balzan asked the two parties how people could view them as credible in their promises to safeguard the environment.

The PN, Metsola said, had been speaking out in favour of the environment for years, accusing the present administration of only remembering about the environment at the very last moments of the campaign.

“There has never been such environmental concern as there is today. The statistics show an unacceptable level of pollution. When you have every tree being uprooted to make way for roads, when you have clouds of smoke wherever you go, then obviously the environment should become a priority,” Metsola said.

Here Dalli pointed out that she was the only Maltese MEP who had made amendments to draft legislation on single-use plastics and even mentioned her work on legislation that devised new carbon dioxide emission targets from cars.

“Yes, we admit that we have a pollution problem. This spiked during the PN administration when we had a power station that worked using heavy fuel oil. PL addressed this when we switched to natural gas. When this government promised employment, we gave the people work. When it promised LGBTIQ+ rights, we granted them as well. With the environment, we’ll do the same thing,” she said.

Candidates' Facebook campaigns being paid by ministries – Puli

Puli argued that despite the Prime Minister’s declarations, the PN was the underdog in this election race especially because the government has a strong marketing machine and a lot of money to work with. “Facebook campaigns for its candidates are being paid via the ministries,” Puli said.

Regarding the Labour Party’s insistence that the election was a choice between Muscat and PN leader Adrian Delia, Puli stressed that the country would be voting in a European Parliament election and not a presidential election.

Ultimately, he said, the election was one between Frans Timmermans, the Socialist candidate for Commission President and Manfred Weber, the EPP’s lead candidate.

Micallef replied by saying that as with every midterm test, the party in government was always the underdog because the electorate was scrutinising its every move and highlighting its mistakes.

“This election is ultimately a choice between Delia and Muscat. First, Delia asks for a debate on Xarabank and then he pretends it’s not a battle between the two leaders,” he said.

He added that MEP elections were important because in the past, there were Maltese representatives who worked against their country referring to MEP candidates Metsola and David Casa.