Electoral debate sees agreement between parties
The first live electoral debate of the campaign between Party Leaders Joseph Muscat and Lawrence Gonzi saw both sides argue a number of heated topics. Xarabank Presenter Peppi Azzopardi found some common ground between the two political giants just before the programme concluded at 23:15h.
In the closing of the debate, both Parties seemed to be in agreement over the need to tackle political corruption. There were several heated moments, particularly surrounding Labour's energy policy, where the two leaders engaged in aggressive shouting matches.
The first topic surrounded the slogans of the two political organisations. Joseph Muscat explained that 'Malta taghna lkoll' means that Malta belongs to everyone and revealed his hopes that the Maltese people can come together as one rather than allowing their differences to divide them. Dr Gonzi spoke about his party's slogan 'Futur fis-sod', emphasizing that over the next five years this country needs leadership that can guarantee jobs, healthcare and strong finances.
Standard and Poor’s credit downgrade became the first real issue of the discussion. Right off the bat Lawrence Gonzi blamed the Labour Party’s budget ‘no’ vote for the problem, explaining that S&P downgraded the USA’s rating for the very same reason. He drew comparisons with Italy, telling the audience that multiple opposing parties came together to pass the budget, adding that he could not understand why Dr Muscat did not vote ‘yes’.
Countering, Dr Muscat explained that the budget in Italy was brought forward after the election not before, "so there’s a difference". He argued that S&P blamed the national debt for Malta’s credit downgrade concluding that there are several private industry sectors, such as heavy industry, which were not taken care of, explaining that many factories have been forced to close due to multiple bad policies.
In his rebuttal, Dr Gonzi showed the S&P statement, reading that Malta’s economy was indeed doing well, arguing that factories have actually done well under this legislation. He asked why in the past Dr Muscat compared Malta to Cyprus where Cyprus is crumbling. Dr Muscat replied that he hasn’t heard a single proposal from the PN camp.
Finances and jobs
The second major topic of the debate was based around Malta's jobs and finances. Dr Muscat began this round by quoting Standard and Poor, who called Enemalta an ’ailing utility’ and explained that Dr Gonzi’s statistics regarding 20,000 jobs created is wrong and that its closer to 8,000.
Dr Gonzi called out the PL leader alleging that a few days ago he said 4,000 jobs not 8,000. He explained that the PN reduced income tax and removed 25 taxes, quoting the EU who said that Malta has one of the lowest EU income tax rates.
Both sides shot arguments back and forth regarding the finer points and statistics of jobs in Malta. Dr Muscat accused the PN of not holding their promise regarding SmartCity and instead of creating jobs, gave themselves a €500 pay rise.
Dr Gonzi argued that his party expanded the University, MCAST and healthcare system, adding that the proposed budget was all it needs to prove that it worked hard for Malta’s future.
AD Chairman Michael Briguglio explained that he is sitting on a couch in protest adding that it is unfair for him to be there rather than on the podium as AD deserved an equal seat.
Energy was quite a heated topic for both leaders. Peppi Azzopardi asked Joseph Muscat about the energy study conducted by the PL. Joseph Muscat explained that the energy plan took three years to complete and when asked why he wouldn’t release his study, he said he would if the PN leader would release all study’s relating to Enemalta.
A heated debate with back and forth arguments regarding hidden documents ensued. Dr Muscat asked if Dr Gonzi is sure that he made public all the documents related with Enemalta. Dr Gonzi mentioned that all documents regarding phase 2 and the interconnector are published, but did not comment further.
Joseph Muscat spoke on his energy plan, reiterating that it will save €187 million a year, “I cannot understand how Dr Gonzi said he would create 7,000 jobs in SmartCity and not keep this promise”. He explained that the PN had two chances to convert to gas. "In 2006 the PN, instead of gas, chose to change the law of emissions and went with heavy fuel oil," he accused. The second opportunity, "regards an Italian company called Leni, who offered to build a gas pipeline for free but they chose not to accept it”.
Dr Gonzi responded that the company wanted to bind Malta to buying energy from them for 25 years without a fixed price. He argued that the PL plan was not doable and mentioned several experts who have attested to the same. He also stated that the reason for building the interconnector was to help reduce spending, close the Marsa station and to reduce emissions in Malta.
AD Chairman Michael Briguglio supports the idea of a gas plant, however is unsure of the PL’s timeframe explaining that a project this big should not be rushed as serious studies take time. He also indicated his wish for the debate to move towards gay rights.
Again, the two leaders began to bicker as Dr Gonzi kept revealing several schemes which were proposed in the budget and Dr Muscat demanded he stop repeating what was in the budget and clarify his removal of the succession duty as it was unclear whether this referred to one property or more. Dr Gonzi announced that the PN’s proposals will increase jobs and help our country’s finances adding that they will invest in Gozo and its tourism industry.
Joseph Muscat presented his wish to see a united, inclusive country, where politics do not divide.
Lawrence Gonzi asked the question “where will Labour take our country?,” adding that the PN have steered Malta through the economic storm.
Michael Briguglio expressed his wish for full-time MP’s.
The issue of corruption and MP Parliamentary attendance came up, where all Parties seemed to be roughly on the same page, with small differences dividing them.
New debate guidelines
The debate had to adhere to the new guidelines released by the Broadcasting Authority earlier this week regarding fairness and impartiality. These guidelines ask for a diverse audience with supporters from all parties, the discouragement of interruptions from participants and ‘fair’ questions from the moderator amongst several others. Peppi Azzopardi assured viewers that these rules have always been adhered to, however disagreed with the ‘no clapping’ rule. Dr Muscat and Dr Gonzi last faced off on Xarabank in November 2012.
Earlier that day it was revealed that Dr Muscat pulled out of a Xarabank debate which was to be aired on March 1 due to certain ‘rule changes’ requested by the Party being rejected.