One of the largest events to take place on Campus every five or so years is the General Election Debate, which this year is to take place on the 17th of May. This year’s event already started on a rocky footing due to the Prime Minister’s alleged refusal to attend the debate because of foreign commitments, before an eventual rescheduling of the debate appeared to solve the issue.
The debate always seems to bring some sort of controversy, with either party being accused of ensuring an unbalanced audience during proceedings for their own personal advantage during two of its previous reiterations, the 2008 and its 2013 editions. And this year it doesn’t seem to be any different.
Screenshots which were leaked to Insite from an unnamed source show that several individuals close to the Nationalist Party have been busy inviting as many PN supporters as possible to the debate, in an attempt to swing the audience favourably towards one party over the other. One comment was that this debate “should be hijacked like they [the Labour Party] did in 2013,” while another individual argued that “there needs to be some type of strategy for this debate… even in terms of which questions to be asked. [Prime Minister] Joseph can take the piss out of his own people because they don’t understand him, but University is another story.” Members of the conversation estimated that there will be 600 members from the Nationalist side, as opposed to the 200 members from the Labour side. The suggestion of other “online secret groups” was also put forward, as well as the establishment of “10 team leaders to keep control.” Ironically, some members of the conversation suggested that the conversation needs to be downsized “otherwise, more space for print screens,” as well as an order at the very end to “delete the chat.”
Among the individuals in this leaked conversation, perhaps most shockingly, are a number of members from student organisation SDM. However, no members of the organising committee behind the debate, which are formed of members of the Malta University Debating Union or the Third Eye, are inside this conversation.
With this leak in our hands, Insite asked members of the organising committee on what precautions were they taking in light of this information, and whether we can expect stricter controls to ensure a more impartial debate. In their reply the Organising Committee expressed how it “has been continuously striving to deliver a high-quality and impartial debate.” The e-mail went on to say that “apart from a limited number of journalists and official party representatives, the audience will be composed entirely of University of Malta students. Verification checks during the application stage for a seat in the hall have been made and will continue being made to ensure that every applicant is indeed a student of the University of Malta. Applications are on a first-come-first-served basis. Only successfully registered students will be admitted inside the hall for the debate. On the day of the debate items such as bags, posters, streamers, noisemakers, etc. will not be allowed inside the venue. Security personnel will be present and will be instructed to escort any misbehaving individuals outside the hall.”
Following the publishing of this article, Insite was contacted by Steve Zammit Lupi who requested the following right of reply:
“Insite, since you mentioned my name in this article, please note that I was added to this group chat without my consent and approval, and I did in no way urge people to attend in one way or another. Infact I left the chat immediately. The printscreens that your ‘source’ provided confirms this. Would appreciate if you can clarify. Tribal politics has no place in the University of Malta, thank you.”
Nicole Borg is a currently a 4th year student studying Communications and Theatre Studies. She joined Insite as a writer and editor in 2014/2015. Following she progressed to join the media team as Publications Officer in 2015/16. Currently she is the Executive Editor of Insite Malta for the term of 2016/17.