The University debate
Peppi Azzopardi said Bernard Grech was more convincing during the university debate, despite the expectation that he would not perform as well as Abela. He said the PN leader spoke plainly and authentically, and he is noticing that young people are increasingly gravitating towards Grech during the campaign.
Maria Brown said she was positively surprised by Carmel Cacopardo’s performance with solid arguments throughout.
While Brown was dismayed at the way students in the audience jeered and behaved in general, Azzopardi argued that a loud audience should not be equated with an ignorant one.
“It is normal for young adults to be animated like that, and their reactions to the debate were very democratic,” he said.
Brown is annoyed by both parties’ fixation with free handouts, saying it is simply cultivating a detrimental colonial culture.
“It is probably rooted in centuries under the British rule, where anything you managed to snatch from the government was a small victory, because it wasn’t yours and you took it from the Queen.
“But when we do it in a democratic republic, we’re just robbing ourselves. That’s our own money we’re taking, so it’s not free at all.”
Instead of attempting to eradicate this, both parties are using it to hammer in the conviction that citizens must feel grateful and indebted to politicians who give them a constant lifeline – a debt they can only pay by giving politicians their vote.
Brown acknowledged, however, that a few other proposals, such as Labour’s equity sharing measure, incentivised investment and intelligent financial planning in people.
Azzopardi said that despite pledging quite a lot, the Nationalist Party is not dishing out free stuff.
“Grech is asking voters for some things in return. He will give you €10,000, only if you promise to give up your car for five years. He will raise your stipend, given that you engage in voluntary work. He will incentivise your business, as long as you follow ESG guidelines.”
Azzopardi said he worries more about the cost estimates of Labour’s proposals, rather than the PN’s.
‘Freebies are not free’
“We know where Bernard Grech will get money to deliver on his manifesto – from the 10 new economic sectors. And we know the Nationalist Party can create new sectors because we have seen a PN government do it in the past.
“But we don’t know where Labour will get the money for its thousand proposals. I just hope it’s not from the sale of passports.”
Azzopardi acknowledged Labour might be more credible because it ran the country relatively smoothly during the pandemic, and with an ongoing war and a looming supply shortage, voters may be more reluctant to change government.
On tampons and pills
Brown said pledging free contraceptives, tampons and morning-after pills has further consequences, because it shoves the burden of family planning solely on women.
“It’s like we decided that women are exclusively responsible for child-rearing; that there is a specific timeframe during which they must have children, and any pregnancy out of that timeframe is inappropriate.
“The discussion seems to always revolve around what women should do to avoid getting pregnant. We never speak about vasectomy, for instance. Men seem to be left out of the equation.”
She said this is unfair on both women who are expected to bear all the responsibility and men who genuinely want to take an active part in child-rearing.
Labour and Volt promised free contraceptives in schools, pharmacies and health centres last week, and PN had already made a similar pledge last October.
The bold footballer
Azzopardi noted how he has seen Grech evolve and grow stronger during the campaign, despite being new to politics.
“I believe the shots of him dribbling during football, for instance, exude youthful genuinity that can be felt among those on the pitch as well as those watching on TikTok,” he said.
“In those moments, to me he seems almost like a mischievous young man, in a good way: adventurous and far from the conservative that many label him to be.”
Azzopardi said this same audacious spirit, does however have a downside, when he slightly crosses the line in his speeches.
“I’m referring to that line he said about how it is more important for the pope to visit if Labour wins and when he jokingly suggested he would bring down the Labour headquarters and transform it into ODZ land.
“I think he said those things in good spirit, but still, I wouldn’t have said that, especially in the height of an election campaign.”
Despite having worked within the PL structures, Brown said she was disappointed to witness lack of transparency, good governance and inappropriate proximity between politicians and businesses over the past few years. She thinks one of the PN’s most powerful battle horses is the fight for good governance.
However, she says she is still more convinced by Labour’s proposals.
“Not only do I see more substance and vision in them. They are more long-term than the PN’s,” she said.
“Despite moving towards its potential third term, Labour’s plans for public transport, parks and open spaces extend beyond the five-year term, and I commend that. PN is still keen on short-term projects.”
She also said she is now realising how detrimental it was for the Nationalist Party to lose so many months embroiled with internal conflicts.
Azzopardi acknowledges that while the PN is still failing to persuade voters, it would be a win-win situation for everyone if Labour’s huge majority is reduced.