Gibraltar's aspiring leaders, Fabian Picardo (GSLP) and Keith Azopardi (PDP), in recent interviews published in the Chronic have supported and espoused the need for greater democracy in the manner in which Gibraltar is governed. Such promises have been made in the past without results. Following the introduction of the 2006 Constitution, which increased the number of members in Parliament and introduced provisions allowing Parliament to increase its own membership, there was talk of having backbenchers. This has not materialised. Instead we have more ministers and so a larger executive that is identical in make up to the legislature, thus providing no separation of powers.
Fabian Picardo in his interview in the Chronic published on the 4th August 2010 said "Now I have a strong pull to be much more democratic and modern in government than we have seen hitherto, either from the GSD, the GSLP first administration or the AACR . I really think that people need to be much more involved in the civic and political life of our community and that government is not the preserve of the 10 ministers. I am keen to see some of the things that were in my early political work, in Joseph Garcia's early political work and in Keith Azopardi's early political work in relation to increased "democratisation" make their way through into the reality of a modern post-GSD Gibraltar political life to make us much, much more accountable to citizens. I will call this the "democratisation agenda" ..."
Keith Azopardi in his interview in the Chronic published on the 16th August 2010 said " ... there is a stream of good people out there who aren't involved in politics. Some because they don't want to, some because the system in Gibraltar does not allow for their participation. For example, if you look at parliament there are plenty of people who could voice opinions and have constructive suggestions to make on legislation, without wanting to be a minister. The current system does not allow that - to have people sit on the backbenches and contribute ideas. One of the main policies we have is our democracy agenda which we would like to implement in government. This includes looking thoroughly at the way we are governed, to improve it, so that we have better participation of the citizen, so that we have more accountability of ministers and the government, so that we have a better way of influencing the way day to day decisions are taken."
So one has a "democratisation agenda" and the other a "democracy agenda" -two politicians in opposing parties in agreement on such a fundamental and important subject as making Gibraltar more democratic. Forgive me for expressing some cynicism. I have been observing politics in Gibraltar for 34 years. I have heard it all before. High sounding principle is no substitute for hard nosed, clear and specific policies fully developed and included in an election manifesto. The party or candidate, who has the courage of conviction to do this, will carry the necessary credibility to gain popularity from the electorate. General statements and platitudes and vague promises will not do it. I suspect strongly that voters share my cynicism of such general promises of democratic reform.
Any system that is developed has to balance two opposing but critical considerations. On the one side, the need for stable and strong government, on the other, the need to ensure democracy and the necessary checks and balances. This is not an easy conundrum to resolve. It is a problem that needs careful thought and specialised expert advice.
These two opposing requirements also need to be balanced with a need for more direct representation of individual voters. Gibraltar's voters have no individual who can be approached and directly represents them. This in itself is a factor that militates in centralising power in a Chief Minister. Voters will continue to perceive (rightly so) the incumbent of that post to be the only person that can help to deliver their very personal needs. This is not a very wholesome situation and is susceptible to corrupt practices.
One thing, at least is certain, if the GSD has not reformed the system to make Gibraltar more democratic in the many years that they have been in Government, it is hardly about to start doing so, even if it so states in its manifesto. So for the GSD, I suggest that it only has one path that it can tread. They either do reform the system in the next few months or voters will know that they do not have any intention of doing it, despite its past references to having an intention to reform the system to provide greater representation.