The leaders of the three political parties went head to head a second time before a student audience, this time at the MCAST campus in Paola, in a debate organized by the student council.
This time around however, the crowd was arguably rowdier and more unruly than that at last week’s university debate.
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, leader of the Opposition Joseph Muscat and AD chairperson Michael Briguglio fielded questions put to them by students amid raucous cheering and chanting from the audience.
As in the university debate last week, the Prime Minister centered his arguments around employment, saying the PN would created 25,000 new jobs – “these will be jobs for you.” He also pointed out that the MCAST campus was reopened by a Nationalist government after being shut down by Labour, and now offered several different career options to students.
Dr Muscat said he could see a “thirst for change” among students, rather than a fear of it. He also repeated his battle cry for one people – ‘Malta taghna lkoll’. He appealed to students to vote for a new direction where people were judged by their own merits, rather than who they knew.
Dr Briguglio called on students to become a part of history and vote for a new political system to overturn the two party system. He said a vote for AD would ensure better social justice in Malta, with equal rights for all and clear policies on the environment and hunting.
The topics discussed included ‘standard’ student issues such as stipends, job creation and parking. A number questions specific to various MCAST courses were also asked.
No student debate would be complete without the usual discussion on stipends, and in fact Dr Gonzi accused Labour of turning stipends into loans in 1996, while Dr Muscat alleged that a Nationalist government had been the last to reduce stipends in 2005.
The debate ended with more cheering and chanting, both inside and outside the hall, from large crowds of students, many of whom looked rather young.
Speaking to insiteronline.com after the debate, PL candidate Cyrus Engerer said it was a good chance for students to have their questions heard.
“I think the students are quite confident and they want change. I think it’s very clear,” he said.
Asked about allegations that last week’s campus debate was hijacked by the Labour party, Engerer said, “Was this one rigged as well? Everywhere Joseph goes, it seems the students are gathering behind him in one call for change and one united Malta”.
Questions sent to PN candidate Marthese Portelli, who was also present at the debate, remained unanswered at the time of writing.
With regard to complaints that some students were denied access to the debate, Bernard Pollacco, PR officer of the MCAST student council, said the hall could only accommodate around 400 people. He admitted that some students were left outside as the venue was full.
“The debate was open to students only, and access was on presentation of the Smart Card, which indicates that one is an MCAST student. Those who have a different Smart Card, but are still students at the College, were asked to present a note from the administration of their institute stating they were students,” he said.