Analysis: Election Roundup – Day 16 – Leaders’ debate overshadowed by new revelations

It was supposed to be the day of the debate. And it was, with the five political leaders sharing ideas and exchanging blows in front of a hall full of University students.

But, all throughout the discussion, which lasted more than it should have and by the end of which we were all getting bored, little did we know what was to come a few hours later.

Simon Busuttil revealed new allegations regarding the relationship between OPM chief of staff and former Times director Adrian Hillman, a relationship which had already surfaced at the height of the Panama Papers scandal and which had led Hillman to leave his position.

Busuttil took the matter further yesterday, saying he will take documents which prove money was passed on between the two to a magisterial inquiry. We do not know which one yet – there are two going on, one regarding allegations that Mrs Michelle Muscat is the owner of Egrant, a company opened in Panama, and another initiated after previous allegations made by Busuttil that Schembri took kickbacks from Brian Tonna from the sale of citizenship.

Both Schembri and Hillman are denying the allegations made by Busuttil, but these will no doubt throw more fuel to the already big blaze that is the whole Panama Papers saga. There will be questions, but probably few answers, as Busuttil has already made it clear that he will only divulge information to the magistrate, while Schembri and Hillman will not appear in public and will continue to hide behind press releases.

Going back to the leaders’ debate, it was Arnold Cassola and Marlene Farrugia who were the most efficient in passing on the message. They were crisp in their delivery – possibly aided by the fact that they had fewer minutes than the top two – and they came out in bursts of phrases that were much closer to the target. Cassola then came up with the comment of the day, when he rebutted a Muscat jibe with a witty reply which had all of us in the newsroom – we were following the debate via internet – in a fit. “You tell me I’m using my mobile? Then what about you who have been receiving messages telling you what to say from Kurt Farrugia?” Hilarious. If Muscat denied it, his answer was not heard.

Both Muscat and Busuttil disappointed. Muscat seemed off form, although more to the point; but he kept insisting on a clean debate which exposed how fearful he was of the event, unlike his presumptuous behaviour four years ago when he was Opposition Leader. Busuttil, characteristically, took too long in his interventions and in fact ran out of time.

Henry Battistino, for his part, seemed like a fish out of water against four political heavyweights. The occasion was too big for him.

The rest of the day included a Labour focus on gay rights and, hear hear, the fact that PBS does not consider the court case involving a Pilatus Bank employee – the now famous whistleblower – as news. Rightly so, the PN accused the national television station of gatekeeping.

There was also another attack on the police from Simon Busuttil and the shooting down of PN tax proposals by Muscat.

In the TV debate organised by th Broadcasting Authority, PN deputy leader Mario de Marco tried to appeal to diehard Labourites by saying the PL today is not the same party they supported under Dom Mintoff and Alfred Sant.

We’re halfway through. Things have just begun.