Thursday is day 25 of the general election campaign. We will be reporting the day's political events as they happen.
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What happened today on the campaign trail
8.22pm This live blog will end here.
- Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo receives a dressing down from a man who has lost confidence in politicians;
- Robert Abela promises that Wied Żnuber will not be developed and that the land around it will be classified as ODZ. Environmental NGOs say this is not enough and insist that the application for a miniature airstrip at Ħal Far is removed. Later in the day, Bernard Grech promises a new race track at Ħal Far;
- Chris Fearne replaced Robert Abela at a virtual leaders’ debate at the Junior College;
- ADPD accuses the two big parties of pandering to hunters as independent candidate Arnold Cassola says both the Labour and the Nationalist Parties are kept hostage by the threat of votes from the hunting lobby.
Cheques needed now
8.07pm Robert Abela brushed off criticism about the government sending out cheques to people on the eve of an election.
“Bernard Grech says sending cheques is bad governance. The help was needed now, so we gave it now,” Abela said about the timing.
Since Monday, people have started receiving the annual tax refund and an additional cheque to compensate for cost of living increases.
The prime minister also repeated his appeal for everyone to have their say on election day.
“Pick up your vote. Everyone deserves a say in the country’s leadership”
Investment in Freeport and a new race track at Ħal Far
8.03pm In Mqabba, Bernard Grech gets a boisterous welcome as fireworks are let off from the roof of the PN club to mark his arrival.
Grech as well as Toni Bezzina, Stefan Caruana, Francince Farrugia, Owen Sciberras and Stanley Zammit will be contesting this district on the PN's ticket.
Grech says he’s happy to be in the district that houses the Freeport, which he calls a success story for the PN’s governing track record. Acknowledging the challenges residents face due to their proximity to the Freeport, Grech pledged to invest in the facility so it would no longer infringe on people’s enjoyment of their property.
"Having lived in Birżebbuġa myself, I know first hand the inconvenience of the noise and pollution it generates. A new PN government will pledge to invest in infrastructure for the Freeport to continue working while creating drastically less inconvenience for residents,” he said.
Similarly, Grech promised to implement plans for a new race track in Ħal Far, but ensure that plans are executed carefully to mitigate as much noise and inconvenience as possible.
“We want hobbyists to be able to enjoy themselves and grow their passion into a career, however, we will also ensure that its neighbours will be respected.”
Grech spoke about some of the PN’s proposals to help village band clubs and revive traditional feast celebrations, including helping associations to own their club properties, improving legislation for fireworks manufacturing and subsidising utilities for associations.
Is PN candidate Joe Giglio breaking the law, Cassola asks
6.58pm Independent candidate Arnold Cassola asked in a statement if PN candidate Joe Giglio is breaking the law.
He pointed out that senior citizens in homes are voting on March 19 and Giglio is visiting the Ta' Simblija residence a day earlier.
"Is it legal to target voters the day before voting? Has the day of silence before voting day been abolished? Ta' Simblija is my electoral district. Can I go and speak to the residents tomorrow, 16 -12 hours before the vote," Cassola asked.
PL's event in St Paul's Bay starts
6.54pm The PL's event in St Paul's Bay has started.
Watch it live here:
PN's evening event starts
6.45pm The PN's event in Mqabba has started.
Watch it live here.
Where are the leaders tonight?
5.36pm Robert Abela will be in St Paul’s Bay this evening, for an event that begins at 6.30pm. He will then move on to Cospicua, for a brief message to supporters that is scheduled for 8pm.
Bernard Grech is also making a 6.30pm appearance, this time in Mqabba. We will provide video links to both events.
Stop pandering to hunters - ADPD
5.32pm Following the news conferences given this afternoon by Birdlife and the FKNK after the Ornis Committee decision to lift a moratorium on the hunting for turtle doves on Thursday, ADPD appealed to the people not to be accomplices to the PLPN in their pandering to hunters.
In a statement, it said both parties were, yet again, united against the real interests of the Maltese, biodiversity, the countryside and farmers to please hunters, yet again shaming Malta with the European Commission.
It said it remained clearly against any type of spring hunting and supported Birdlife’s call for a referendum.
'We're all for spring hunting... but it must be sustainable' - PN
5.05pm Replying to questions from Times of Malta this afternoon, PN spokesperson Peter Agius said the Nationalist Party is for spring hunting as long as this is done sustainably.
He also said, however, that opening the season so close to the election is an "obvious attempt at vote-catching".
Agius was replying to questions during a press conference on health-related proposals in the party’s electoral manifesto.
Read the full report here.
Oh, and it's St Patrick's Day
5pm It's a different kind of St Patrick's Day, with COVID-19 restrictions having effectively wiped out the traditional street celebrations. But that didn't stop PN leader Bernard Grech from joining some revellers in Paceville.
Earlier, the St Julian's local council distanced itself from any street parties, saying they refused to be held accountable for any enforcement.
Rule out Ħal Far airstrip to protect Wied Żnuber - NGOs
4.45pm The development of a miniature airstrip for model aircraft in Ħal Far still threatens Wied Żnuber, despite Robert Abela's ruling out of any development in the valley, NGOs are warning.
Their warning follow a statement by the Prime Minister earlier in the day, declaring "there will be no development in Wied Żnuber”.
The NGOs said the airstrip is being planned for a stretch of land off Wied Żnuber, right next to a Natura 2000 site and a nesting ground for vulnerable seabirds that are sensitive to sound and light. The area is situated between a strip of factories and cliffs that are home to colonies of shearwaters and seagulls.
Read the full story here.
'Politics normalises ugliness'
4.35pm A new Gozitan Youths' NGO accused Malta's politicians of normalises ugliness, corruption and indifference toward the environment.
And in a statement, the NGO Għawdix did not mince its words:
"Throughout our work as an NGO, we spoke with several politicians. We also spoke with the Planning Authority. Face-to-face with us, they all agree that Gozo is becoming uglier, and they claim to be dissatisfied with the situation. But then! An election crops up and almost (we repeat, almost) none of the candidates commit to combat the most critical issue that is upsetting the majority of Gozitans: construction that is ugly, hasty and in excess."
Addressed to the candidates, the NGO raised a series of pertinent questions as to what is leading to politicians' silence when faced with destruction, among which: is it complicity with developers steeped in the lie of unbridled 'progress'... or is it fear of losing super-rich party financers.
Choose pro-environment candidates, Cassola says
3.13pm Independent candidate Arnold Cassola accused the Labour government of betraying the environment yet again pandering blatantly to the hunting lobby.
In a statement, he said that by removing the moratorium on quail and turtle dove hunting, Labour will be complicit in the continued destruction of the little remaining natural wildlife in the country.
"This election has shown that both the Labour and the Nationalist Parties are kept hostage by the threat of votes from the hunting lobby. The thousands of Maltese who love our natural environment and its wildlife should use their vote too to protect what they love."
His appeal is: "Vote for the environment by voting for those independent and third-party candidates who have consistently worked to protect our country‘s natural environment throughout their life."
150 scandals in nine years
2.20pm The Nationalist Party has just released a video detailing the scandals which have embroiled the Labour government in the past nine years. Featuring news headlines, the fast-moving video focuses on scandals ranging from Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder to the hospitals' deal.
Back at the Junior College...
12.15pm Back to the Junior College debate, the students' questions focused on the environment, workers’ rights and how students are expected to tangibly benefit from the two main party’s extensive manifesto proposals.
When asked about revising the 2006 local development plans, both Grech and Fearne remained coy, speaking on the difficulty of revising plans for already committed land. The PN leader said his party would not give up any more ODZ land for development and it would return certain sites back to the public domain, such as White Rocks in Pembroke.
Meanwhile, the smaller parties were more straightforward in saying that the approach to planning must be radically altered. Cassola and Cacopardo both agreed there should be a two-year moratorium on high rise development and called for an overall decrease in intensive building, while Mallia said that the 2006 local plans must be revised.
Fearne said it was essential that there are no sectors of workers who are afraid to join trade unions, a reference to Labour’s proposal, now watered down, to make union membership mandatory.
Cacopardo said more resources are needed for authorities to be able to serve as an effective monitor, while Cassola added that the culture of cheap labour and precarious work must come to an end.
Stop this 'cancel culture'
12.25pm The University's Faculty for Social Wellbeing has weighed into ABBA's request to the police to investigate 18 activists who they claim are breaking abortion laws. And with good reason - some of the individuals targetted by the conservative party targetted are academics.
"Beyond our own personal beliefs and positions, their right to take a position and their generosity to support women (in this case) is commendable and deserves our solidarity. We are starting to sense a growing culture of cancellation which is permeating our society and which we need to resist in every possible way.
"This really cannot keep going on whereby academics and social operators who champion a cause are systematically attacked, threatened and in cases endangered," said the statement signed by dean Andrew Azzopardi.
Virtual leaders' debate at Junior College - Fearne replaces Abela
11.45am Chris Fearne has replaced the prime minister at a leaders' debate, being held virtually, with the students of the Junior College.
Abela was busy campaigning in Birżebbuġa. Bernard Grech and ADPD leader Carmel Cacopardo replied to questions, along with independent candidate Arnold Cassola and Volt candidate Kassandra Mallia.
The Nationalist Party criticised Abela's absence, saying it was disrespectful to the students. The party also claimed the prime minister was avoiding questions as new stories emerged about him. Grech and Abela met at a debate at the Chamber of Commerce only on Wednesday.
Young people aged between 16 and 18 are voting for the first time in the general election. That's the age of the students at the college.
Earlier Grech uploaded this video to celebrate St Patrick's Day.
Now Labour is promising to add an ODZ site
11.35am Robert Abela was campaigning in Birżebbuġa on Thursday morning, meeting people at the market and promising to protect them from further industrial development. He promised that Wied Żnuber would not be developed and the land around it would be classified as ODZ. So far it had been the PN that had been promising to extend such zones.
Also campaigning in Birżebbuġa on Thursday morning were candidates and officials of ADPD, who raised concerns of noise pollution from the motorsport racetrack which the bigger political parties are promising to build at nearby Ħal Far.
Hunting for votes
10.45am Another election, and once again we're seeing politicians pandering to the hunting lobby, ignoring the wishes of law-abiding citizens who actually care about the environment.
The Ornis committee has lifted the moratorium on the spring hunting of turtle-doves, and the government is expected to give its blessing (despite being in breach of EU law). We're receiving multiple reports of candidates meeting with hunters.
Meanwhile, this afternoon both Birdlife Malta and the hunters' federation will be giving a press conference.
The environment can be saved without money
10.20am The church's environment commission has made a series of proposals to try to save the little environment left in Malta.
All it needs is laws, plans and policies that require no investment, but crucially based on conflict-free advice.
The commission called for MPs to have a decent salary that reduces their reliance on businessmen and contractors for donations.
Another month since Daphne's assassination
9.57am Another month has passed since the car bomb murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017. Former PN leader Simon Busuttil has tweeted that people should remember it when they cast their vote.
Giving up on politics. Evarist Bartolo gets a dressing down
9.39am Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo has recounted on his Facebook account how he met a man who gave him a dressing down.
"I do not want to vote. I have lost confidence in politicians. Do the few people with lots of money matter more than the many people with little money? Why do you listen to them more than you listen to us? You, politicians, are letting us down, as well as yourselves, when you are dishonest, corrupt, when you put your personal interests before those of the country and the people, when you do not stand up for the weak and when you ignore social justice."
The man told the minister that he no longer cared about politics and was dedicated to voluntary work, distributing food to those who did not have enough to eat.
Bartolo says he asked the man to still use his vote in favour of honest politicians who serve the people and the country and stand up for the weak. He also told him that voting was a duty, as well as a right, achieved through the toil of those who viewed politics as a force of good and in favour of the down-trodden.
And so say all of us.
Strategies without a plan
8.39am In today's Times of Malta political opinion pieces, Ranier Fsani laments the parties' strategies without a plan. A vision, he says, is based on having a sense of constraints, what’s going on around you, what you want to prevent as well as where you’d like to go. It’s based on the trade-offs you’re willing to make.
Brian Decelis, an ADPD candidate, argues, that the electoral system needs to be fine-tuned to ensure that each vote counts and discourages nepotism.
Ray Azzopardi asks a pertinent question. Everyone was delighted when Prime Minister Robert Abela announced that the yacht marina project in Marsascala had been scrapped. Finally, the voice of the people has been heard. But why now, during an election campaign?
Will picnickers endorse the environment minister, like the FKNK have done?
8.24am Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia has announced his ministry has been cleaning out and set up picnic benches and tables at l-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa and il-Miżieb. The statement made no mention of the forthcoming spring hunting season, which will mean restricted access to those areas by picnickers.
A few hours earlier the Ornis Committee voted in favour of lifting the moratorium on the spring hunting of turtle-doves as from this year’s spring hunting season. Will picnickers endorse the environment minister like the hunters have done? Similar clean-up works have been done in Fgura, Salina, and Dwejra along the Victoria Lines.
Good morning - just a week of campaigning left
8.08am Good morning. Just a week of campaigning is left before the general election. The day before polling day - tomorrow week - is officially, a 'day of silence' meant to allow voters to reflect on their electoral choices before casting their ballot the next day. It is an anachronistic rule in the modern age of social media, but it is still on the statute book.