The Malta Independent 21 May 2019, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Politics - Fighting over Gozo

Monday, 18 February 2019, 10:59 Last update: about 4 months ago

The two main parties took their teams to Gozo yesterday, as we report in today’s issue. In the run-up to the May European Parliament election and the local councils election, practically two general elections in one day, Gozo has become the most important prize.

Traditionally, Gozo has always been a PN stronghold but this tradition was reversed in the last general election when more Gozitans voted PL than PN.

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There were many reasons why PN was strong in Gozo. The party had strong roots there, reinforced by a natural conservatism and religious affiliation and the PN politicians were always near their constituents.

PN created a minister for Gozo and there was a time when Gozo, under Anton Tabone, was held up as a model for Malta with clean streets, flowers on roundabouts and a refurbished Gozo Channel with new ships.

Then Anton was gone and in came Giovanna Debono who worked the clientelar approach to politics like no other. In the end, she could not please everyone and she ended her political life in ignominy embroiled in a scandal.

Labour then came in but even then Labour had its bad days too until Justyne Caruana replaced Anton Refalo.

Gozo is a prestigious prize as whoever wins Gozo has a good chance of winning the country.

Meanwhile, Gozo has changed immeasurably. The church affiliation has been diluted with innovations such as divorce and LGBT-friendly laws.

Then again, Gozo has lost much of its workforce who have been forced to seek work in Malta. Each day, a shipload or two of Gozitans head for Malta to work or study there. Many of its students end up living in Malta and then, getting used to Malta’s attractions, end up living in Malta, to the despair of their families and the loosening of family ties.

Hence the immense pressure to create a permanent link between the two islands. They have to wake up really early to get to the ship and then travel on to the university of their place of work. And the storms in the Gozo Channel can be sometimes very fierce or even lead to the suspension of the ferry service. On reaching Malta, they have to spend more time in travel. This process gets repeated day after day. And after such a day, many who have no alternative residence in Malta face the same voyage in reverse. They can end up spending some four hours daily in travel because of this.

The two parties have in a way committed themselves to a permanent link in the 2017 election manifestos.

On the PL side, as witnessed yesterday, the decision has already been taken – the link will be a tunnel, not a bridge. The PN mumble some concerns about the rock underneath the seabed and the agricultural land that will be taken up at L-Imbordin, which is next to Manikata, where the tunnel will end.

Another discussion centred on whether the tunnel will be open for cars or whether a metro system will be enough. But such a metro system would mean more loss of time necessitated by changing from a car to the metro and then again to a car once they arrive in Gozo. Besides, as the prime minister noted yesterday, maintaining a metro system could make such a system too costly for those who use it.

This talk about the tunnel has put on the backburner all talk about an airlink, about which reams of words have been spent and also on improving and extending the Gozo Channel system.

Although, as said, the PN mentioned the tunnel or a permanent link in its electoral manifesto, and former minister Chris Said was a very vociferous supporter of the link, the party seems to prefer carping at this or other detail rather than come out strongly in support. It has now, as we report today, began to focus on other issues such as a regional policy for Gozo, apart from criticizing various other issues.

All this is a political campaign, preparing for the May elections. Apart from this over-riding issue of the tunnel, the two parties along with the smaller parties, are engaging in recruiting support on a personal basis.

 

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