If This Is A Choice Between Two Men, Why Is Joseph Muscat Hiding From Debates?

Surely he has nothing to lose...

Jm Debate

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has made it very clear; the upcoming European Parliament election is a choice between himself and Opposition leader Adrian Delia.

As a political strategy, it makes obvious sense. Muscat is soaring high in the polls, his trust rating is more than double that of Delia and his supporters are dreading the ever-approaching day when he will depart the Maltese political scene.

However, this really begs the question as to why Muscat is refusing to debate Delia on Xarabank.

If this is an election between two leaders, the Prime Minister should be relishing the chance for the public to see how his vision matches up with Delia’s. He should be dying to confront Delia face-to-face about his bizarre abortion campaign, his rhetoric against cosmopolitanism and the Egrant inquiry and the civil war that overtook the PN only a few months ago.


Photo: Xtra debate between Joseph Muscat and Adrian Delia

And yet he is refusing to debate Delia on Malta’s most popular TV show a week before the election. It is not only Xarabank either; Lovin Malta tried to set up a leaders’ debate this month, but while the PN was willing, the PL shot it down. Muscat has mastered the art of public relations, but leaders cannot be properly assessed through scripted and carefully controlled moments alone.

The true character and resilience of a person only emerges when they are challenged and put under some pressure. The Prime Minister avoids these public situations like the plague. He hasn't given a single interview to the press since the 2017 election and has only had one debate with the Opposition leader so far, on Xtra at the start of this election campaign, in which he said that only foreigners should pick up the rubbish, a message which made his vision for a cosmopolitan Malta sound more like a vision for a caste system.

Is he scared that he will slip up again on Xarabank this Friday and that it could be too late to change the narrative before 25th May?

As it stands, it seems that the Muscat vs Delia race will be limited to two debates, the Xtra debate that was held at the start of the campaign and the Broadcasting Authority debate that will be held towards the end. If that proves to be the case, Muscat will be committing a massive disservice to the public.

There is a clear difference between what we saw on Xtra, what we will see on the Broadcasting Authority and what we could have expected to see on Xarabank.

The Xtra debate was held right at the start of the campaign, a day after Labour’s 1st May mass meeting, which effectively blew the whistle on its campaign. It was a recorded debate with no public participation and one which focused more on touching upon as many issues as possible, rather than encouraging the leaders to challenge each other.

If the 2017 election debate is anything to go by, then the Broadcasting Authority debate will hardly even be a debate at all, more like two speeches merged into one.

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Photo: Xtra debate between Joseph Muscat and Adrian Delia

Also, love it or hate it, but Xarabank remains Malta’s most popular programme. The morning after the infamous Egrant story broke two years ago, Muscat challenged then Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to a debate on Xarabank that very same evening. He chose Xarabank because he wanted to show Busuttil up in front of maximum viewers and indeed he came up on top in that debate.

Why doesn’t Muscat want the same ahead of a European Parliament and local council election that he himself is pitching as a choice between himself and the Opposition leader?

Is he scared of the tough questions he will be asked? Does he think Delia is more than just a negative carbon copy of his predecessor who is struggling for his own survival? Is he concerned that he has reached his zenith and that any debate could only ever help Delia get more exposure?

Or has he become so arrogant that he doesn’t think the public even needs to watch him face down Delia before voting for him by another historic margin?

If this is truly an election between two men, then we deserve to see how their respective visions match up against each other in the most challenging arena in the country.

After all, Muscat has promised to step down before the next general election, meaning this election could very well be his last. Surely he has nothing to lose. Or does he?

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Written By

Tim Diacono

Tim Diacono tends to clam up when asked to describe himself. You can contact him on [email protected]