For the next month, Times of Malta will be bringing you daily highlights from the political events in the run-up to the March 26 general election.
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As it happened
That's all, folks
9.07pm The day's political events are over, and the first day of the 2022 electoral campaign is coming to its end.
This live blog will end here. Thank you for having joined us - we will be back tomorrow with news from day two of the campaign.
Of political futures and pasts
9pm Nothing new here: Abela is reiterating the various proposals he unveiled on Sunday and earlier on Monday, while talking up his party’s track record in government.
Both parties have chosen extremely similar electoral slogans, and they’re taking very similar potshots at each other, too.
“We are the future, they are the past," Abela says of the PN.
Earlier, the PN said Labour "is focused on the past rather than the future."
Abela's pro-business pitch
8.50pm Abela’s soundbite: ‘Others left you without medicines, we’ll leave without medicine bills’. He’s alluding to the party’s pledge to make formulary medications free for all pensioners.
And the PL leader also leans into his party’s pledge to slash corporate tax rates, saying he intends to be "the first Labour prime minister in history to reduce taxes for businesses."
Square pegs, round holes
8.32pm Event organisers have to stick to a pretty long list of COVID-19 rules - from providing hand sanitiser to setting up hoarding to prevent gatherings, registering attendees and enforcing minimum distances for seated patrons.
And until March 14, people technically still need to wear masks while outdoors in groups of more than two.
Here's a list of 'Mandatory standards and guidance' for COVID-19.
And here are two screengrabs from this evening's political events. You can make up your own mind.
Abela in Qormi
8.10pm The Labour Party's first electoral event, in Qormi, will begin any minute - Abela is taking selfies with supporters as he makes his way to the stage.
Watch it in the video below.
Next up: Labour's Qormi rally
7.52pm Robert Abela will be leading his first electoral campaign event as PL leader this evening. It's due to begin any minute now - Labour ministers are busy posting selfies of themselves at the event.
Here's Ian Borg with Roderick Galdes, for instance.
We reported last Saturday that OPM gave cabinet ministers a bit of a telling off last week, after it got word that some of them were planning on campaigning in their districts rather than attending Abela's Sunday rally.
Three takeaways from the PN event
7.40pm So, the PN’s first election event is over. What have we learned?
- Claudio Grech will not be contesting. Instead, district 1 voters will see Chris Micallef’s name on the PN ticket.
- It was Bernard Grech who told Kristy Debono, Mario Galea and Clyde Puli to call it a day.
- Bernard Grech believes Robert Abela quickly called an election because he is worried about skeletons in his closet coming back to haunt him.
Outgoing PN MPs were asked to make way: Grech
7.20pm Bernard Grech says news of Claudio Grech’s decision is bittersweet – but he is convinced he will continue to be a “pillar” for the PN. And he announces that Chris Micallef will run on the PN ticket in the first district.
The PN leader also makes it clear that Clyde Puli, Kristy Debono and Mario Galea were all asked to make way for fresh blood. He thanks them for their contribution to the party.
Claudio Grech will not contest
7.05pm Claudio Grech is quitting frontline politics, after two terms as a PN MP.
The first district MP has just announced that he will not be contesting the upcoming general election, saying he wants to make room for younger candidates. But he'll continue to work for the party throughout the campaign.
Grech is putting his money where his mouth is - he was the brains behind the PN policy to encourage party regeneration by promoting new blood within the party's ranks.
A 'concrete vision'
6.47pm Grech’s soundbite of the evening: "We have a concrete vision for Malta, not a vision of concrete".
He’s using this interview to reiterate the party’s key proposal so far: a €1 billion investment to develop 10 economic sectors. You can read more about those plans here.
Bernard Grech in Valletta
6.40pm Bernard Grech is being interviewed at a PN event in Valletta. Plenty of smiles and cheers for the party leader at the event.
Watch the interview below.
Mark Camilleri's PN turn
6.35pm Mark Camilleri served as book council chair under this government. He’s even a card-carrying member of the Labour Party.
But the outspoken writer and self-described socialist says he's concluded that the best option would be to hold his nose come March 26 and vote for the PN.
Camilleri says that his favoured electoral candidate remains ADPD’s Sandra Gauci (districts 6, 12) but that the electorate’s priority should be to replace the incumbent government, by voting in the PN.
Don’t expect to see Camilleri at Dar Ċentrali if that happens, though.
“Once elected in office, PN should be opposed once again,” he writes in a post titled 'The urgency of voting them out'.
Poll: Labour 55.7%, PN 42.7%
6.04pm We have the first poll result of the 2022 general election campaign, and it suggests a Labour Party walkover.
The poll, by statistician Vincent Marmarà, has the PL at 55.7% versus the PN at 42.7%. Other parties combine for 1.6%.
If correct, that would see the Labour Party increase its 2017 majority – which was already a national record – by 0.7%, with the PN losing 1% of its 2017 vote and third parties capturing an additional 0.3%.
A total of 750 respondents aged 16 and up were surveyed between February 17 and 21. The poll has a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error of +/- 3.6%.
What’s happening tonight?
5.55pm Both major parties will hold their first official campaign events this evening.
For the PN, that’s at 6pm in Valletta. Bernard Grech will headline.
The Labour Party event kicks off a bit later: Robert Abela will address PL supporters in Qormi at 7.45pm.
A cheap holiday at home
5.37pm Malta’s national airline is essentially bankrupt. Travel remains complicated due to COVID-19. Technology means we can do practically everything remotely.
But election season in Malta means one thing for Maltese expats – cheap flights back home. And this year is no different.
Air Malta will be running €90 return flights to fly eligible overseas voters back home for the March 26 election. The service will be available on the airline's "regular scheduled service", the DOI says.
Booking is via the Air Malta call centre: strap in for a long wait on the telephone. Details here.
'How can you take them seriously?'
5.16pm ADPD chair Carmel Cacopardo (districts 4, 9) is distinctly unimpressed by Labour's sudden €700 million zeal for greening urban areas.
"First they ripped out every tree and dragged away every bit of soil they came across. Now they want to pump millions into creating open spaces," he writes in his personal blog.
"How can you take them seriously, when they and their developer friends ruined everything they set their eyes on?"
A pregnant pause
5.06pm Bernard Grech is busy preparing for the PN's Monday evening meeting in Valletta (start: 6pm).
So busy, in fact, that it seems he was caught by surprise when a member of his team hit 'record' during this trip through Floriana this afternoon.
Lending democracy a hand
4.58pm The Electoral Commission is looking for people to serve as assistant electoral commissioners, polling place officers and counting staff.
Online applications for those posts open on Tuesday at 3pm and close at 8pm on Saturday (February 26).
If you’d rather apply in person, head to the Naxxar counting hall or ID cards office in Victoria, Gozo. They will be accepting applications between 3pm and 8pm on weekdays, and from 8am to 8pm on the Saturday. You’ll need your ID card.
And if you’ve never done this before, don’t worry – the electoral commission will be briefing applicants on what the job entails.
ADPD announces its electoral candidates
4.09pm We had a little dig at them earlier on for their radio silence, but the Greens have now unveiled their electoral candidates. There are 10 in all, with some contesting two districts.
Here are the ADPD candidates running for parliament, in each electoral district.
- District 1: Anthony Buttigieg
- District 2: Mario Mallia
- District 3: Brian Decelis
- District 4: Carmel Cacopardo, Brian Decelis
- District 5: Melissa Bagley
- District 6: Sandra Gauci
- District 7: Ralph Cassar
- District 8: Mario Mallia, Mark Zerafa
- District 9: Carmelo Cacopardo, Mina Tolu, Mark Zerafa
- District 10: Melissa Bagley, Anthony Buttigieg, Mina Tolu
- District 11: Ralph Cassar
- District 12: Luke Caruana, Sandra Gauci
- District 13: Luke Caruana
ADPD candidate launches campaign
3.14pm ADPD's Mina Tolu will be contesting the 9th and 10th districts.
Tolu, who uses the pronoun 'they', is encouraging voters in those districts to get in touch.
"You can share your vision for Malta and I'll share mine," Tolu wrote.
It will be Tolu's second electoral campaign, following their run in the 2019 European Parliament elections.
President appeals for a clean and honest campaign
2.43pm President George Vella has made a public appeal for honesty and moderation throughout the electoral campaign and said candidates should not insult voters' intelligence.
Political arguments can be made without defamatory language and without resorting to accusations based on baseless allegations, he said.
Regulatory authorities have a duty to do their work “scrupulously, carefully and impartially” during this delicate time, he noted.
Voters have a responsibility too, the president said: voting is an important democratic duty that will have a huge impact on the country’s future in the coming years.
“This choice must be made following serious reflection. This choice is not about personal interests, but rather about creating the greatest prosperity possible,” the president said. “This choice must prioritise the common good, not sectoral or personal interests.”
Vella is an election old hand: he served as a Labour MP and minister for several legislatures.
Read about his statement in further detail.
'Abela out to distract' - PN
2.23pm Half an hour after the Labour Party implied that the Nationalist Party is divided, the PN hits back.
Robert Abela, it says, left his own candidates in the lurch to satisfy his own personal grudge and run head-to-head against Bernard Grech on the 5th district.
"He's now trying to find something to shift the focus off of him," the PN said. "We are united, full of energy and talent."
There are now five cabinet members vying for a seat in the 5th district - Abela, as well as Miriam Dalli, Owen Bonnici, Julia Farrugia Portelli, and Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi.
2.13pm José Herrera has updated his Facebook profile photo. Unfortunately, his team members also published the instructions to do so.
"Let's update his profile pic with this and write: José Herrera, minister and 1st district candidate," the post read before it was fixed.
Labour leans into PN 'clique' narrative
1.57pm The Labour Party has pounced on news that three current PN MPs have announced that they will not be contesting the general election.
All three, the PL says, backed former party leader Adrian Delia.
"This is another sign that the clique that made Bernard Grech party leader continues to dictate the Nationalist Party's agenda and is even making it hard for Nationalists themselves to work in the party," the PL argues.
Volt Malta to run just one candidate
1.53pm Volt Malta, which registered itself as a political party less than a year ago, will be running just one candidate in next month's election: Thomas 'Kass' Mallia, who will contest districts 10 and 11.
The party has also unveiled its electoral slogan: Ivvota Aħjar. Ivvota Volt [Vote better. Vote Volt.]
1.45pm It's been around 27 hours since Robert Abela announced the general election date, but we've yet to hear anything from the Greens, who are ostensibly Malta's third-largest party.
The party has posted a link soliciting applications for electoral helpers, but said nothing else so far about the 2022 general election.
Their silence hasn't gone unnoticed, either. Here's Bis-Serjeta's Matt Bonanno.
Other small parties, on the other hand, have shifted into gear: ABBA's key pledge is to amend Malta's constitution to explicitly outlaw abortion, while the Partit Popolari is pushing for more direct democracy and a president elected through a public vote. Volt Malta has also kickstarted its campaign - more on that in a few minutes.
What do pensioners want?
1.11pm The national association of pensioners has made a number of election requests, ranging from tackling inflation to addressing issues of computer literacy.
In a statement on Monday, the association listed 23 policy pledges it wants political parties to make. Here are a handful of them:
- Revising the COLA mechanism
- Slash the 15% tax rate on savings and investment interest
- A pensioners' discount on utility bills
- A meals on wheels scheme for vulnerable elderly
- IT and computer literacy training for senior citizens
- Free Gozo Channel crossings for pensioners
- Financial aid to encourage community living rather than admission into homes for the elderly.
Reading between the lines
12.53pm PN MPs Debono, Galea and Puli each put out social media messages announcing their decision to bow out of politics. But while Debono thanked each of the PN leaders she served under, Galea and Puli did not.
Galea mentioned both Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi, but made no mention whatsoever of the party's three most recent leaders - Bernard Grech, Adrian Delia or Simon Busuttil.
Instead, he made it a point to note that he disagrees with Grech's vision of encouraging older MPs to step aside in favour of younger candidates - something Times of Malta had revealed back in November 2020.
"I fully believe that people who dedicated their life to the party and country without ever having a shadow of suspicion should not be discarded just because he is elected," Galea wrote.
Puli, meanwhile, thanked each party leader he worked under, bar one: Simon Busuttil.
Three PN MPs will not recontest
11.50am We've just learnt that Nationalist MPs Kristy Debono, Mario Galea and Clyde Puli will not be contesting the upcoming general election.
PN sources told Times of Malta that after talks between the MPs and party leadership, a decision had been taken in recent days for them not to contest the election.
Puli, who had served as PN general secretary until 2020, announced his decision not to contest on Facebook. Here's the full story.
The PN's 10 priority sectors
11am Bernard Grech on Sunday said his party will focus on 10 new priority sectors his party as a matter of priority. This morning he's listed them:
- Metaverse-driven investments;
- Compliance and Due Diligence Services;
- Specialised manufacturing clusters;
- 3D printing;
- AI application;
- Video gaming;
- Sports industry;
- Energy optimisation;
- Global Profit with Purpose/Social Enterprises.
The initiatives will be 50% publicly funded, unlocking long-term local deposits held in financial institutions, and 50% sourced through local and European lending institutions intended to support economic development.
PL proposal: Floriana, Ħamrun to have new gardens
The milk factory will instead be moved to an industrial site.
Energy Minister Miriam Dalli also confirmed St Anne Street in Floriana will be turned into a garden with traffic rerouted underground.
The Birkirkara aqueducts will meanwhile be given a green roof and a park will be set up behind Pjazza San Franġisk in Victoria.
We'll bring you more detailed reports of the two press conferences shortly.
First press conferences
9.30am Both PL and PN have announced their first press conferences for this electoral campaign.
Robert Abela is addressing the PL press conference at 10am at Cospicua's Rialto, while Bernard Grech will give the PN media conference at 10.15am at the party's headquarters in Pieta.
What have they promised so far?
8am The campaign's barely started and the two main parties have already pledged millions in goodies.
On Sunday night, Robert Abela promised a €700 million investment over seven years to create green spaces in urban places if the Labour Party is elected to government.
On the other hand, PN leader promised €1 billion investment in 10 new economic sectors.
7am We will be giving you daily political updates as Malta prepares for the next general election.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Robert Abela called on the country to give him a new mandate to build on the successes that the Labour movement has created.