With a general election literally days away, passions are high and tensions are rising. Cultural polarisation seems to underlie the social fabric of our society, be it in the case of the village feast, a football team or a political party. This powerful undercurrent drives peoples’ interactions and seemingly overrides one’s decision-making process in times when one’s beliefs temporarily prevail over the self. Many a time, the end result is conflict and endless flawed argumentation, since the motivation is not logic and reason but rather a hidden political agenda.
The University General Election Debate was the perfect recipe for disaster. Although initially very well received, with over 600 individuals showing an interest within the first 24 hours of the Facebook event being published, the positive vibe was to be short lived. Little did the organisers know, when they voluntarily signed up to this logistical nightmare, that they would end up being thrown into the eye of a media storm, be faced with countless allegations of political bias, interference and manipulation, as well as finding themselves on the receiving end of multiple threats of legal action and prohibitory injunctions.
Nonetheless, each and every obstacle was strategically and successfully overcome. In just over two weeks since the snap election being called, Sir Temi Zammit Hall was packed with University of Malta students as eagerly awaited the majority of Malta’s political party leaders to step onto stage. Despite all the criticism the organisers had faced, it soon became evident to all that the debate was truly well planned and, to the nation’s surprise, the debate was not a repeat of its predecessors.
Save for the press, a few members of academic staff and the limited seats offered to the political parties, the rest of the audience was composed solely of University of Malta students, which more or less turned out to be politically balanced crowd. The tripartite structure of the debate allowed for pre-planned questions, social media questions and questions from the floor. Furthermore, the debate’s moderator maintained control throughout and enjoyed just the right amount of humour to keep the audience content. Last but not least, behind the scenes, the technicalities related to sound, vision and timekeeping were efficiently prepared and flawlessly executed.
The University General Election Debate also set a milestone online, being professionally directed, filmed and streamed live for the world to tune in. With more than a total of 1.4 million minutes of the debate being watched, the debate’s live stream reached over 220,000 people, with over 100,000 unique viewers. The debate was truly made available and open for all, with the video post collecting over 125,000 reactions, comments or shares.
Once the debate came to an end, the audience calmly exited the hall. There was no sense of tension, but rather a general feeling of relief, success and pride. The student body came together to show that against all odds, and despite our country’s polarised culture, educated and civil discussion is in fact possible. At times, belief is lost in our youth, but let this set a responsible example of how political discussion should be practised, taking us beyond the limits of bipartisan beliefs and towards the objective of mature, unbiased conversation.
The University General Election Debate was organised by the University of Malta Debating Union (MUDU) and The Third Eye.