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Gonzi admits people did the right thing on divorce

Muscat met police chief on case of minister

Nationalist Party leader Lawrence Gonzi yesterday admitted the people did the right thing when they voted for divorce in a referendum two years ago.

Gonzi replied no when asked whether he would resign if the PN lost

The admission from the Prime Minister, who voted against a divorce law in Parliament despite the referendum result, came during a debate for party leaders organised by The Times yesterday.

Dr Gonzi was asked the point blank question by moderator Herman Grech, head of media at The Times, during a yes-or-no, 20-question session that characterised the last part of the hour-long debate that was also transmitted live on One TV and Net TV.

But Dr Gonzi answered with a plain “no” when asked whether he would resign if the PN lost the forthcoming election, something Dr Muscat answered with “I will not hang on to power”.

The Big Debate, held at the Intercontinental Hotel, started off as a three-way match that also included Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Michael Briguglio.

The leaders sparred almost robotically for the first part, upping the tempo in the second half when Dr Muscat said a whistleblower was ready to speak out on a case in which, the Labour leader alleges, a minister had put pressure on the police to release somebody from custody. Dr Muscat had first mentioned this incident, involving an unnamed minister, on February 14 without giving details – he had urged journalists to carry out their own investigations.

The whole Cabinet had subsequently denied the allegation but the Labour leader returned to the case yesterday.

When asked how the allegation squared up with his stated desire to run a positive campaign, Dr Muscat said he had passed on the details of the case to the Police Commissioner.

“I spoke to the Police Commissioner and passed on the information that I had. I also told him there was a whistleblower who was ready to testify but this person did not feel protected enough to speak out now without a Whistleblower’s Act,” Dr Muscat said.

Reacting to this statement, Dr Gonzi said he had no information on this case and would go to the Police Commissioner if he had any.

Dr Gonzi rejected a suggestion that the PN’s criticism of Labour deputy leader Toni Abela was a mud-slinging campaign.

“This is not mud-slinging but a question of how Toni Abela behaved in the situations he was faced with. Whenever I received reports of illegalities I always referred the matter to the police and never interfered in investigations.”

Both leaders willing to enter a coalition with Alternattiva

Apart from reiterating their respective parties’ electoral proposals, Dr Gonzi and Dr Muscat committed themselves to reform fireworks laws and enter into a coalition with AD if the party were elected to Parliament.

But they were non-committal on whether illegal boathouses should be pulled down and disagreed completely on whether the shipyards reform was a good thing – Dr Muscat said it was bad while Dr Gonzi repeatedly insisted it was a good thing.

Dr Muscat disagreed with holding a referendum on spring hunting while Dr Gonzi defended a loan his party’s commercial arm took from construction magnate Nazzareno Vassallo.

Both leaders committed themselves not to increase VAT in the next legislature although there was a hint of hesitation before Dr Gonzi gave his reply.

On immigration, Dr Muscat said he agreed with a push-back policy for immigrants if Libya was stable and could guarantee their human rights, something Dr Gonzi disagreed with.

In a brief tit-for-tat just before the first part of the debate was up, Dr Gonzi acknowledged that the Government’s public transport consultants had got the route changes wrong when bus operator Arriva started running the service in 2011.

The public transport reform was described by Dr Muscat as the Government’s “biggest fiasco” along with the €500 honoraria increase for ministers.

At the start of the debate the leaders made their pitch on why people should vote for them on March 9.

Dr Gonzi said the PN was the party that could guarantee more jobs, pointing out that a recent forecast by the European Commission had said Malta will be one of the best performers in the EU. “The PN can offer a strong future,” Dr Gonzi insisted.

For Dr Muscat, voters should choose Labour if they wanted a new way of doing politics that maximised the potential of all people. “We will not look at the colour of your face,” he said.

Dr Briguglio reiterated that voters knew where AD stood on a number of issues that were ignored by the other parties. Taking the podium in the first part of the debate, Dr Briguglio said AD had been effective outside Parliament by putting a number of issues such as divorce on the country’s agenda and urged voters to give it a chance to be more influential by having a parliamentary seat.

“We have a historical responsibility to speak on those issues the other parties ignore such as the rights of the LGBT community. In Parliament AD will raise those issues others want to ignore and we will force them to discuss and vote on them,” Dr Briguglio said, urging voters to “write history” by choosing AD.

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