Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Adrian Delia debated abortion, the environment, and migration, among a myriad of other issues in a final TV showdown on Wednesday ahead of the European elections.
The two leaders largely stuck to their respective campaign messages but Dr Muscat appeared to be more confrontational than he had been in previous debates with Dr Delia.
Moderator Mario Xuereb rang in the first round with a toughly worded question on abortion for Dr Delia.
The PN, Mr Xuereb said, appeared to be approaching the election as one it knew it would lose. Dr Delia was raising the spectre of abortion, but this could not be imposed by the EU, could it? And, by framing the election as a referendum on abortion, surely he had just played into the pro-choice camp’s hands, since it was an open secret he would not be winning this poll?
Replying, Dr Delia said the PN had clear proposals for both the EP and the local council elections, giving a brief overview.
Turning to abortion, he said the PN was adamantly “in favour of life”.
On the other hand, the European socialists were calling for the introduction of a “right to abortion”. The Labour Party, having endorsed this European manifesto, might tell Maltese it was pro-life, but it was also backing the introduction of this right.
Labour, he said, was being inconsistent.
Dr Muscat retorted that the PN was waging a campaign without any sense and it had resorted to the issue of abortion because its back was against the wall.
The EU, he insisted, could not make Malta introduce abortion, and Dr Delia knew this.
The PN had “lost itself”, going from the party that had taken Malta into the EU, to the party that tried to spread fear about ‘too many foreigners’, and now that the EU would bring in abortion.
Mr Xuereb asked Dr Muscat why he had framed this weekend’s election as a choice between him and the Opposition leader.
Dr Muscat said he was in the middle of his second term as Prime Minister and it was only natural that the electorate would judge his performance. This was also Dr Delia’s first test and the electorate would be judging him, he added.
Asked about social inequality, Dr Muscat gave a resume' of government initiatives.
Then came a question for Dr Delia: Love it or hate it the Individual Investor Programme (passports for cash) is here, does the PN back it?
His answer was: “no”. As a result of the damage done to its reputation, Malta was losing out on genuine investment opportunities that would outstrip the IIP, he said.
Dr Muscat might think the PN was counting sheep, but it certainly wouldn’t pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.
And as for a ‘campaign of hate’ that some had criticised the PN on, Dr Delia said he had nothing to be ashamed of when it came to his party.
Dr Delia then raised the issue of long term planning – something he insisted the government was not doing.
Labour was widening roads, but this will not have solved the problem of traffic, and air will be even dirtier.
Another question for Dr Delia concerned foreigners in Malta. Was the PN turning to the far right?
Here too the Opposition leader responded with a quick “no”.
The argument, he insisted, was about the impact which a rapidly expanding population had on the country. “Sure there are more jobs today, but what do they pay?” he asked
It was not a matter of race. The PN had zero tolerance to racism.
“We need to see where the issue of racism is coming from. Perhaps Joseph Muscat can tell us about pushback?” he said, adding that he had been among the lawyers to sign an anti-pushback petition.
On the murder of migrant Lassana Cisse, several issues needed to be looked at. Had standards dropped in the AFM? And would the AFM or the Prime Minister say what was the mystery crime one of the two soldiers accused of the murder had already committed when he joined the army?
Dropping in some statistics from a recent economic impact study on the road works projects, Dr Muscat asked whether Dr Delia thought the government should have left the roads with potholes to stop people from buying cars.
He also warned against thinking Malta could control flows of people, saying the last European party to do this had been the UK conservatives, and now they had Brexit to deal with.
A follow-up question for Dr Muscat asked about concerns on over-development.
Here, Dr Muscat admitted, perhaps in the clearest way to date, that the environment had been a failing for his government.
The government, he said, had not been as “sensitive” as it should have been.
In his closing remarks, Dr Delia implored voters to ask what they expected from their MEPs.
Dr Muscat on other hand asked viewers who they trusted to get things done.