It is over a week since the 2011 Election was called. The period for campaigning is the minimum possible under the 2006 Constitution, yet the campaigning has not started. The initiative on policies has been taken by the GSLP/Liberals but not on the announcement of its candidature. The Alliance has for various weeks been issuing press releases setting out its stall on governmental reforms and good governance. Thus it has been filling a massive void left during the 16 years of GSD Government. A void that exists despite the GSD manifesto promises to tackle this central and important subject. The GSD promised to do this in 1996. They have failed, so KEEP TRUSTING?
Let us have a quick tour of party bylines. The GSD's is "Keep Trusting". The GSD site is full of boasts of what it considers to be its achievements over 16 years. Its glossy publication, distributed recently, also does the same. This strategy is weak. It is paternalistic. The slogan says it all. We know what is best for you, so just vote for us, go home and do not worry, we will deliver, but deliver what? That is the core question that the GSD needs to answer if voters are to flock to vote for the GSD. In this regard, the GSD have greater difficulties than the other two parties. It has been in government for 16 years. Elections are about the future not the past. What is the GSD going to do in the next 4 years? Why has it not done it in the past 16 years, especially those policies that it promised to do in its past manifestos?
The GSD manifesto at the last election promised everything but has it delivered? In my view, it has not delivered on many fronts. I list a few, wrongly prioritising capital expenditure, i.e. a beautiful (cannot be denied) but expensive to run, man, illuminate and cool air terminal in preference to an essential power station and sewage treatment plant. Additionally throwing money at social services without a root and branch review of the system to tailor make it for Gibraltar, which should be possible due to its size. The GSD's failure to deliver democratic and governmental reforms. The centralisation of power under the GSD conjoined with the scant regard it pays to Parliament. The lack of regard paid by the GSD to fairness in the grant of contracts, employment and promotion and in appointments and removal from public positions. These are all breaches of central promises made by the GSD in 1996 and subsequently.
One interesting development manifested itself on Main Street on Saturday. One constant criticism of the GSLP by GSD diehards is that the GSLP has extremist (and in GSD eyes unsavoury) elements amongst its supporters. Well is the GSD immune from this? Clearly not, Mr John Culatto, a self-confessed GSD supporter, has taken it upon himself to make the most outrageous and extreme assertions about the GSLP/Liberals. I will not waste words by repeating what he is preaching, most of you will know already.
Mr Culatto's views may be an extreme manifestation of GSD religious and reactionary beliefs. However, I am not prepared to accept that, in slightly moderated terms, it does not reflect, in part, the religious thinking of many GSD supporters. This extreme Christian influence within the GSD was very evident from the stance of the GSD on the gay rights issue. Whatever one's religious beliefs might be, the only place these should have in lay government is as a guide to moral standards. Such beliefs are not the holy grail of religious sectarian politics. Criminalising certain acts is not a solution. Criminalisation can be the cause of much hardship and suffering. Let us not forget the English Catholic martyrs who were put to death due to a bad law.
The slogan for the GSLP/Liberals is "Change you can Trust". The retort from the GSD is no change for the sake of change. I agree with this retort. Change has to be because it is needed and it is right. Right because there is a need to re-invigorate government. Right because complacency and security in office has led to failures of implementing manifesto promise. Right because the manner of government requires those who govern us to be reminded that we live in a democracy. Right because the policies it espouses will improve Gibraltar. Right because the candidates that a party fields promise more than those of another and all candidates promise delivery of policies. It is not for me to tell anyone what is right. I can but suggest what type of factor, in my opinion only, should be looked at before voters decide who to vote for.
The matter of candidature is important for the GSLP/Liberals, so I will proffer an opinion on this subject. There is a danger that we may fall into the trap of criticising that the GSD Government is too centralised in one person, Peter Caruana, and yet shying away from voting for the Alliance because of personality politics arising from a prejudiced view of its leader, Fabian Picardo. This is hypocrisy at its best. It is visiting the sins of the GSD upon the Alliance, without evidence or giving them a chance. Simultaneously the sin of the GSD are forgiven because of a negative perception that the GSD is an evil but the lessor of two. If this is the state of democratic politics in Gibraltar, it is an unbearably sad state for Gibraltar to be in, after it fought so bravely for democracy during the closed frontier years
One should and must take a holistic view. The Alliance is promising wholesale governmental reforms. It is promising Cabinet government. Yes it is possible that the Alliance will not deliver this but that failure will not be down to one person, Fabian Picardo. It will be down to a collective failure of the entire candidature of the Alliance. It is this failure that has manifested itself in the GSD. In order to avoid a repeat with the GSLP, one has to look at its individual candidates. If they come through as strong characters, that is the greatest safeguard to, first, avoiding rule by Fabian Picardo (so the issue of personal mistrust is mitigated) and secondly ensuring that those policies that are promised are actually delivered.
The slogan chosen by the PDP is "The Real Change". Unfortunately, a highly optimistic slogan for two reasons. First, its policies do not sufficiently distinguish it from the GSD to actually make it the real change. Secondly, the current electoral system does not militate towards that type of change becoming a reality. So does having the PDP with a full candidature improve democracy? Undoubtedly, in my mind, it does. It does because, in the worst scenario, it stimulates debate and ideas and so agitates innovation in the other two parties. It does so, further, because the PDP provides a home for voters who are disillusioned with the GSD but cannot find a home in the Alliance. It does so because the PDP increases the choice of individual candidates for those of us who wish to vote for persons and not parties. It does so because it shows that our democracy is vibrant. I have nothing but praise and respect for those who are standing as candidates for the PDP in the knowledge that the party's and each candidate's chances of success under the present electoral system is minimal.
So there we are, keep trusting, change real or fictitious? That is what the parties think is the core of the forthcoming election. Keep the past or trust in the future? Well bring on those party manifestos, so that we can decide on policies and not solely on personalities, rumour and innuendo. Gibraltar deserves to be governed by the best of the available choice. Gibraltar deserves a better electoral and parliamentary system and to be governed by the Rule of Law. I want to vote for the people who, I believe, will deliver that. I do not believe the GSD has delivered on democracy despite its promises in 1996 to do so. It is sad for them because it should have delivered on this promise. If it had it would not be faced with the nigh on impossible task of having to convince the electorate that it will do so in the next 4 years. The evidence is that the GSD cannot be trusted on this core and centrally important issue for Gibraltar. I make no apologies for being a democrat. I am repelled by the use of that word in a party name , if in practice it fails to deliver democracy, especially after it has so fervently promised to do so.