Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Electoral System and the Cult of Personality

Gibraltar has had serious self-government since the 1968 Constitution. It has also had exactly the same electoral system since that date, despite endless promises from politicians over the years that they would reform it. Beyond vague references to the possible introduction of a system of proportional representation, which is not descriptive of a single system but rather a generic name for a variety of electoral systems, and vague promises to look into change, no reform has either taken place or is on the cards.

An opportunity to make a change at the time that the 2006 Constitution was under consideration was lost. There does not seem to have been any appetite either on the part of our politicians to make a change nor was it an issue, so far as is publicly known, that the UK government put on the agenda. The effect is that, once again, it is left for Gibraltar's elected politician to reform the system. They will not. It is not in their interests to do so.

It is not in their interest to do so because the existing system works in their favour and for their selfish ends and not for the achievement of the better government of Gibraltar. The 10 (previously 8) votes for one Chief Minister system means that we end up with a cult of personality, Sir Joshua Hassan, Sir Robert Peliza, Joseph Bossano and lately Peter Caruana. Most other candidates elected into government over the years have hung onto the coat tales of the personality in vogue from time to time and, guess what, they get status (the "Hon", wow!), a whopping salary and such power as the incumbent Chief Minister allows them to have.

It is not that each of these Chief Ministers have not done good things for Gibraltar. Each, in his day, has done much for Gibraltar, each has also made mistakes. The point is that one person alone cannot and does not have the ability to govern generally and have answers on every subject. Gibraltar prides itself on having excellent and well qualified individuals. The electoral system should encourage and not discourage, as the present system does, these individuals from standing for election.

Party politics means that potential candidates have to decide who they will support prior to standing for election. A decision that is not so much based on political ideology but rather on personality and on fine distinctions of policy based on the need to oppose or be different rather than policies that are designed exclusively for the betterment of Gibraltar and its people.

The electoral system that is in place at present encourages party politics. Undoubtedly party politics cannot be prohibited nor will it likely disappear. However, there are known and well researched electoral systems that encourage individuality and promote coalition politics. In Gibraltar there should be no fear of coalition government. Coalition government in a territory the size of Gibraltar with the talent that it has will promote better governance for the benefit of a wider electorate. It will provide more individual accountability. It will provide a wider choice of candidates. It will mean that elected members will choose the Chief Minister, making him more accountable. All in all it will deliver more democracy.

The belief that governance and the democratic process will be improved by imposing an eight year limit on the time that any one person can serve as Chief Minister is misconceived. Such a system institutionalises the cult of personality and is presidential in style. This is not our system of Government. It is the USA system. The USA system has checks and balances that we do not have in the form of a separate legislature and a Supreme Court with more extensive constitutional powers.

One additional change that would be necessary to improve the separation between the executive and the legislature, however, is to increase the number of MP's and place a limit on the number of ministers. This will ensure that MP's will counterbalance the power of the executive and help to prevent executive abuse.

What is strange is that the 2006 Constitution has come about without a review of the electoral system to enhance good governance. This begs the question that possibly the cult of personality also suits others better. It delivers one very powerful individual, the Chief Minister, with whom all international relations and defence requirements can be negotiated. Perhaps, the convenience of that system is what militated at the time of the 2006 Constitution against the type of change that is advocates in this blog.

Future promise by politicians that they will reform the electoral and ministerial system will not be credible unless the promise includes a detailed exposition of the proposed reform and commits to the introduction of the reforms within the first 2 years of election into government. Failure to reform the system in that time will allow the electorate to see the lack of sincerity and vote that government out of power at the next election.

I live in hope of electoral reform but not in expectation of it.


  1. There are definitely individuals which can be hand-picked to form a strong Government on all fronts, doing away with the tight control a CM is accustomed to. It is not to say that a CM should not have some sort of leadership, however he/she should give freedom to execute issues so that much more can be achieved.

  2. We should have a system that individual independent candidates stand for certain posts in government. For example Mr X stands for Health, Ms Y stands for Tourism etc. They present their own manifesto for 4 years. At the end of the 4 years if they have not done well, the electorate would kick them out. The post of Chief Minister with certain overall authority would also be relected or not on his own performance.
    Perhaps some sort of system along these lines may bring more individual accountability.

  3. Agreed that 8 year limit advocated by some is a non-starter. Why should a strong, popular CM be forced to step down for a lesser man...especially if the electorate would overwhelmingly wish him to continue??? One can even question the democratic nature of forcing such a change on the electorate.

    However, having individuals in Parliament to counter-balance the malaise in party politics or the centralisation of power would equally be a fallacy in Gibraltar. Primarily, because Gibraltar is a very small place and most players tend to identify themselves with either one party or the other (any third party being largely irrelevant under the current sysytem). But mostly because most of the so called independant MP's would be covertly put forward by the main parties to ensure their grip in Parliament.

    Alas all academic since LW is bang on. There is no appetite by those in control or aspiring to take over to dilute their own power.

  4. The fact that leaders hang on for so long says a lot about them (especially when they have been unsuccessful for so long) but says much much more about the quality and conviction of those that line-up behind them

  5. I agree with Anonymous 2010 00.50. on a Government elected from individual candidates who will stand for posts for whioh they are best suited. I have always advocated this, I feel that Gibraltar's best interest would be better served.

  6. all elected politicians need to feel that they rely directly on the electorate for their position.

    currently the gog ministers and opp members rely on the CM / leader of the opposition (hang on to their coat tails) and it is the cm/leader of the opp that rely on the electorate. Having candidates standing for specific posts might be a way of making all elected officials feel like they need their own votes.
    Perhaps we should have more frequent elections as well. Much of the important work done by government ministries/departments in Gibraltar is comparable to the work done by Councils in the UK (elected annually). Perhaps every year is too much, but 4+ years seems to be an excuse to let promises slip.
    Local media needs to be free - and to be seen to be free - of Government control. Re-introduce tv license fees - raise the cost so that gbc is totally funded by that fee and remove the administration and collection of the same from government by statute. That might encourage a slightly more animated news culture.
    Deal with Chronicle historic debts once and for all. make it run as a commercial entity with print shop and editorial as separate entities (so that the editorial business has no interest in government printing contracts).
    These ideas might help if they were part of our constitution/statute book. But we also need candidates who are standing because they want make a difference. Sometimes I wonder about the motives of our politicians. Right now we are in a situation where if three disgruntled Government ministers clubbed together, they could seriously impede the Government’s ability to legislate "give me money for projects x y and z or your new tax bill isn't going through". Government ministers do have power but it is never excercised in the above way - why shouldn't it be?
    Our opposition show little sign of change. Can you imagine any serious party anywhere allowing the same man to lead them through 4 consecutive election defeats? At least the GSD have a reason to keep Caruana on (he wins elections). If you saw yourself as a potential GSLP leader what reasons do you give yourself for keeping Joe on?
    ...some thoughts.

  7. I do not believe that a system in which one votes for ministers to specific ministries is workable or fair. The Proportional Representation system that works best for Gibraltar would be the Single Transferable Vote ("STV") system.

    STV works on the basis that voters vote for individuals in order of preference. Once each candidate reaches the necessary number of votes to be elected second votes are counted and so on. This means that individuals are ranked by popularity rather than simply being elected because they are in one party or another

  8. Dear Robert

    The only political party that is advocating a change to our voting system is the PDP.

    The PDP are in favour of proportional representation (PR), sometimes referred to as full representation, this is a class of voting system aimed at securing a close match between the percentage of votes that groups of candidates obtain in elections, and the percentage of seats they receive.

    Perhaps it is time for PR and let people like El Penique and Keith join the many exchanges in the House of Parliament!

  9. The STV system sounds interesting! A sort of popularity contest. That could work!

    Maybe GBC could even become the organisers, make it into a Reality TV like show and with that keep GBC staff busy and also help fill their empty schedules. Im sure they are up for it - they haven't got much else to do other than put together a 5*10 minute Newswatch, a 1*22 minute sports programme and a 1*30 minute religious yawn fest!

  10. The Chron today

    "He also defended resolutely the £44m on the air terminal which, he said, matched the money spent to correct GSLP projects such as the incinerator and faulty tower blocks like Harbour Views and Montagu."

    Tell me. Was it not the Montagu Group that developed Harbour Views and Montagu Gardens?

    And is it not the head of (or former head of) the Montagu Group that now heads up the Government's airport project (and many other projects)?

    Some people just seem to win whatever the weather.....

  11. Robert Vasquez has written some excellent articles on the democratic need for electoral reform in Gibraltar. He appears to have a marked preference for the single transferable vote of Proportional Representation. However, I do not think that his declared dislike of the system now in place clearly conveys to his readers the very deep-rooted failures of our “democratic” voting system.
    I will endeavour to bring to the many blog readers attention my long established belief of what the main failures are for the ordinary voters and my suggestions for a voting system.
    In the first place, our democracy is virtually non-participatory. Even the largest representative groups find it impossible to make any real impact on any matter in the face of a determined Chief Minister supported by his retinue of Ministers who owe him their seat in Parliament.
    Secondly, Ministers need not have any real ability or make any strenuous efforts in office to show the electorate he is worthy of re-election. His only need is to provide unconditional support for the Chief Minister in exchange for his fat monthly cheque and expenses. His Ministry and re-election are unquestionably in the hands of the CM.
    Thirdly, providing each voter with ten votes, when only nine elected candidates were required to form government, made matters worse last time. Government obtain ten Members, including an extra highly paid Minister, against seven members of the Opposition, with less than 50% of the vote. Their ninth candidate who clinched the result received less than 46% of the votes. Two members of the Opposition received more votes and some of today’s Ministers.
    In a small city like Gibraltar, even the single transferable vote of proportional representation would not cure our ills. In order to enable Gibraltarians to enjoy a more representative Parliament, each candidate should have to be electable on his own merits. I can only see two viable ways in which this could be achieved:
    1. Each voter should exercise only one single vote. The seventeen candidates with the highest number of votes would become the Members Parliament. This method will show the relative merit that the electorate puts on each individual candidate relative to one another.
    2. The electorate should be divided into nineteen virtual wards of as near as possible an equal number of voters. Any number of candidates could stand for election for each ward. One Member of Parliament would be elected from each ward. Virtual wards should be such that they would not be made up of any one particular financial or other class of persons.
    Both of the above cases will ensure that any candidate, who does not perform to his voter’s satisfaction when in office, will not fail to be rejected next time round. This in effect does provide voters, whether individuals or groups, with participation in the election of an individual person of their personal choice to represent them in Parliament. Subject to the availability of finance, independents should have the same opportunity of getting elected as any party member.
    In either of the above cases, the Member elected with the highest number of votes would be put to the vote for Chief Minister. If he obtains a majority of at least one he would be appointed Chief Minister, and would chose nine Ministers to form a Government from which he will appoint his preferred number of Members to form a Cabinet. A failure to obtain a majority will then require the next Member of Parliament to go through the same process and so on until Government and Cabinet have been created.
    I would add, that on the matter of good governance and because the administration of finance is of the utmost importance, Government and Opposition should each chose two members of Parliament, whether Ministers or not, to form a Supervisory Committee to examine all capital expenditure and major contracts awarded, with access to all Audit Records, and to Report to Parliament every six months.

  12. Hi Emilio:

    I really do think that I have clearly alluded to all the criticisms that you make of the existing electoral system in my pieces. In case I have not, I confirm my agreement with your analysys.

    I do not agree with the electoral system that you suggest. I believe that we needva system that mkes each MP answerable to all the electorate. This need is met by STV but I agree it is an important issue that requirescwide debate and expert advice before an improved system is introduced. What is clear is that improvement is urgently needed to give Gibraltar the democracy that it deserves and is the debt owed to us having remained so loyal to the UK and it's democratic credentials in the face of the years of aggression from Franco's Spain.

    What is unconscionable is that we should be denied democracy by our own elected governments, which is what has happened since the 1968 Constitution.


    "Look into my eyes, what do you see?
    Cult of personality

    I know your anger, I know your dreams
    I’ve been everything you want to be
    I’m the cult of personality
    Like mussolini and kennedy
    I’m the cult of personality
    Cult of personality

    Neon lights, a nobel prize
    The mirror speaks, the reflection lies
    You don’t have to follow me
    Only you can set me free
    I sell the things you need to be
    I’m the smiling face on your t.v.
    I’m the cult of personality
    I exploit you still you love me

    I tell you one and one makes three
    I’m the cult of personality
    Like joseph stalin and gandi
    I’m the cult of personality
    Cult of personality

    You gave me fortune
    You gave me fame
    You gave me power in your god’s name
    I’m every person you need to be
    I’m the cult of personality

    Neon lights a nobel prize
    A leader speaks, that leader dies
    You don’t have to follow me
    Only you can set you free"

  14. Hi Robert,
    Thanks for your comments. You believe we need a system that makes each MP answerable to all the electorate. My No 1 suggested system, that each voter should exercise only one single vote and that the seventeen candidates with the highest number of votes should be elected to Parliament, does precisely what you believe is needed. The disparity in the number of votes cast for each member would be large and very significant as to the merits and past performance of each individual candidate, whether prior to or after being in Government.
    Unfortunately, we are all subconsciously biased towards party politics and find it difficult to get away from the idea of voting for the whole government at one go. As you well know this only benefits established parties: it works very much against individuals and small groups, particularly in small places like Gibraltar. The single transferable vote would be of some help, but, it is still party biased and does little for independent,.

  15. Hi Emilio:

    Your suggestion does not increase representative government. It reduces is as voters will only vote for one candidate instead of all of the. STV delivers greater representation because voters have a say in all or most elected candidates depending on the exact STV version chosen.

  16. Hi Robert,

    Must disagree with you on the Single Transferable Vote. I have personally experienced it in Legislative Council Elections. The vast majority of the ballot papers(75-80%) would carry the names of the candidates of the two main parties, and strictly in the order selected by the party leader. Most of the remaining papers would carry the names of the more prominent and better known candidates, including independents who would be badly handicapped. Consequently the number of votes received by any one candidate would in no way reflect his or her merits.
    By my calculations the STV system would have made no difference at the last General Elections, neither Richard Martinez, nor Charles Gomez, and not even Keith Azopardi would have been elected. Do not forget that except for about 900 votes for Keith, as No.1 the remaining votes would be well done the ballot papers. Where is the more representative government?
    One man one vote appears to be the only answer to better representation. Just mention it to Peter or Joe and watch their reaction!

  17. Emilio:

    You may be right and certainly you speak from an experience that I do not have. We are both in agreement that the electoral system needs to be reformed to increase democracy in Gibraltar. The advice of the Electoral Reform Society of the UK may be of great assistance in this quest. I would recommend that they be consulted.

  18. In reality how much proportional representation can 30,000 people reproduce?

    I very strongly believe that party politics weakens Gibraltar, we only have to look at the division on National Day, an embarassment for us all. Such a small community, and depsite our brazeness it is small, needs to forge ahead in the same direction and not in 45 different ones. Furthermore the 'Cult of Personality' produces the sheep mentality so often seen in societies were the will of one is imposed (Gemrmany 33-45, Italy under Fascism, Mao in China, Idi Amin, funny how they're all dictators though in no way am I suggesting we have one here). Followers of one or another 'leader' will not put petty differences aside in order to further the gain of 'their' messiah. How much more impressive would it be in front of the whole world if we presented ourselves in front of the UN commitee as one united force and not as a fragmented unit? But we suffer from that 'small town' mentality where 'panzismo', to use the colloquialism, rules and one can mouth off willy nilly without really knowing what one is talking about.

  19. Hi Anonymous at 09:28:

    I think the problem is widely known, what is the solution? It is this that some is in debate ... what do you think the solution is?