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Editorial • February 15 2004

Wanted – A three-way debate

The decision by the Nationalist Party executive not to allow the three main contenders for the leadership post to take part in public debates or in direct debates between themselves is regrettable. This decision militates against the golden rule of politics, the confrontation of ideas. This is a necessary process before arriving at an informed decision. By excluding this process, the electors will be less informed before casting their vote on the next Party Leader and eventual Prime Minister.
This decision could only have been arrived at after calculating the potential fallout that could arise from a no holds barred debate. By so fearing, the executive has closed the doors to a lively debate. It is too simplistic to state that such a debate is unnecessary as all three contenders hold the same fundamental beliefs. It is also extremely misleading to try and give the impression that there are no differences between the contestants. There are differences of style, attitude, approach, anchorage and emphasis. There are also differences of substance, differences of direction. Is it to be a vote for retaining the status quo, or a vote for change?
The differences go far beyond obvious differences of character. Their very respective DNAs differ. Lawrence Gonzi’s humanity, John Dalli’s drive and Louis Galea’s vision make them all, luckily, very different indeed. These differences should all be laid bare in front of the electors before they cast their vote. What better way for this to happen than to open up the contest to a three-way debate? This would certainly be more enlightening than the present stale reporting of press releases, press conferences and meetings with councillors privately or in groups.
Of course all contestants share the party’s fundamental beliefs and are all united in their praise of Dr Fenech Adami. But beyond this, they all have their own idiosyncrasies and political stands on issues. These need to be brought out even at the price of the party appearing momentarily less united. After all leadership battles in all political parties are bloody affairs. This is both healthy and necessary in a democracy. The Nationalist party is not the homogeneous party it appears to be. It incorporates a rainbow of ideas. It does contain conservative Christian democratic and liberal groupings. Indeed this is its very strength. It is also to the merit of Dr Fenech Adami that the party has managed to rally around its ranks persons from such varied political leanings.
The prevailing circumstances when the choice of leader is taking place must also be taken into account. This too dictates that there should be a debate so that one can appreciate the merits of each contestant to operate within this changed political milieu.
The choice is taking place at a time of difficult economic conditions and fast social changes. The circumstances are totally different to the time when Dr Eddie Fenech Adami became leader. In 1977 the political situation was dominated by a climate of threats to local democracy and institutionalised corruption. The unions were under attack, the police acted beyond their legal powers, the institutions were completely taken over by the Government of the day, and human rights were under attack. In short the new leader’s political programme was the restoration of democracy. This fortunately, is no longer the case today. Today’s battleground is the regeneration of the economy.
The electors must know where all three stand; what their solutions are and what vision they have to solve today’s problems. The person leading the country will be facing different challenges to those faced by the Fenech Adami administrations.
This three-way debate should be held and chaired by an independent and professional journalist.
In order to give the event a national status it should also be transmitted live on PBS. Does the PBS board not feel it has the duty to host this debate? This event is not just a simple internal affair. It is a national issue. The party is also electing a Prime Minister-in-waiting. Since the event carries national consequences the Public Broadcasting Service should rise to the occasion. Its ethos is to render a national service. This is a golden opportunity for the public service to render a national service. The occasion deserves nothing less.
The debate is tantamount to democracy at work.





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