UM Debate: No Clear Winner, Just One Loser
The election debate was scheduled for midday. My cameraman and I arrived on campus, wading through crowds of surprisingly excited students, all poised in suspense for the arrival of the party leaders. We set up our equipment and began making observations on the herd-like behaviour of the various political youth organisations that were swarming around the lecture hall like moths to a light.
As the doors opened to students, staff, and media house representatives alike;
everyone flocked to their seats as anticipation in the room climbed. Doors slamming outside was the evident call to action. “They’re here” The mass began mumbling. I took my seat, nodding to my cameraman before losing sight of him entirely. The doors proceeded to open and party leaders trickled in. Applause, screams, whistles, boos and various other extreme expressions rocked the room as the students succumbed to the sweet validation of blind collectivism. And I would say that was precisely the moment where critical thinking went out the window. The moderator began the trend of the afternoon, calling for order in a Bercowesque manner as the die-hard “Abela (formerly Muscat) Youth '' repeatedly refused to stop egging on their glorious leader.
“In Stalin’s time…” I thought to myself “no one ever wanted to be the first one to stop applauding”. I glance over my shoulder in a bid to make eye contact with my cameraman once more, now lost in the ranks of the almost strategically placed “Abela Youth”. Bernard Grech’s appearance on stage was met by a valiant effort by his fanboys to outcheer the Labourites in the stands below, who responded with a sea of monotone “boos”. It was made evident to me by Grech’s body language that he wasn't expecting such a blunt reception, with his signature smile remaining somewhat forced for the rest of the event.
It was obvious that any aspirations for a civilised debate were flushed the moment PN and PL die-hards began treating the event like a football match. The interruptions got so bad at one point; that the moderator, a senior law student, was forced to remind the crowd (to no avail) that their behaviour was representative of the island’s highest educational institution.
Toward the end of the debate it was evident no one had really won, thanks to the lack of civilised discourse and order (something facilitated by the students). An obvious party left the debate at a loss though, and that was the institution that had offered to house it. The University of Malta was on that day represented by nothing short of a mob which knew as much about critical-thinking as North Koreans.
The University often prides itself on the fact that it produces a large portion of the island’s future leaders and lower-ranking political figures. But this event perhaps highlighted some of its shortcomings and perhaps the responsibility it shoulders in producing such embarrassing domestic politicians. Many politically active/vocal students we spoke to after told us that they had chosen to abstain from the debate for fears of it turning into what it did. When asked if they would be voting, many said no, adding that they had lost faith in the island’s educational and democratic institutions.
To me this signals that the state of the nation’s youth interest in politics has become a polarised spectrum ranging from overly-entrenched cavemen who know no better than to fall in line with their parent’s worldview for approval or promise of personal benefit, to the disinterested parties who have lost faith in the vicious cycle of Maltese bi-partisan politics.