Azopardi is new GSD leader, urges end to ‘corrosive infighting’
Keith Azopardi last night became the new leader of the Gibraltar Social Democrats having secured more than 60% of total votes.
He proclaimed it a “new start” for the party and called for an end to the internal divisions that had marred the leadership campaign in recent weeks.
His opponent Roy Clinton, who had held the post on an interim basis following the resignation of Daniel Feetham last July, took 39.37% of the total votes from across the party’s executive and its members.
The results were announced by Edwin Reyes, who headed the committee set up to oversee the leadership elections, to rapturous applause from members who had packed into the Charles Hunt Room at the John Mackintosh Hall and spilt out into the foyer outside.
Reflecting on his victory, Mr Azopardi thanked those who had voted for him and vowed to prove himself to those who had not.
He praised his rival Mr Clinton, highlighting in particular his positive campaign and the impact he made on social media.
“He deserved every single vote he got tonight and leaves his mark through this process,” Mr Azopardi said to applause.
“I think he will make an excellent Finance Minister in the future if we are returned to Government,” he added.
He described the leadership of a political party as both a privilege and a sacrifice and therefore thanked his predecessor Mr Feetham for his contribution to the party.
“When he took the helm it was an impossible task to follow Peter Caruana and yet he has brought us to this position where we can now take a further leap forward,” Mr Azopardi said.
He called for unity within the party, conceding that ‘corrosive in-fighting’ had weakened the GSD, and said: “We are all in the same team, we are not the enemy, let’s face the enemy when we need to and go forward together.”
“This is a new start for the GSD and let’s make the most of it.”
With a question and answer session of Parliament scheduled for Tuesday, Mr Azopardi said a new Leader of the Opposition will be selected before then.
Mr Clinton had acted as both interim GSD leader and Leader of the Opposition in parliament since Mr Feetham’s resignation earlier this year but, having lost the party leadership election last night, has indicated he will not continue in the parliamentary leadership role either.
Mr Azopardi also signalled that he will be reshuffling shadow portfolios, although Mr Clinton, a former banker, will retain the finance portfolio.
For his part, Mr Clinton echoed his opponent’s words and said: “From now on, it’s business as usual and we can take the fight to the GSLP/Liberals because that’s what we are here to do and that’s what we will always need to do together and I certainly will be supporting Keith and the party.”
Both men noted the “excellent” turnout of members last night as well as the interest generally in its outcome.
“I’ve been in politics a long time, normally when you have political events of this type you don’t get such a good turnout, we’ve had an excellent turnout,” Mr Azopardi said.
While Mr Clinton commented: “The turnout tonight was extremely encouraging and it showed the strength that exists within the GSD and I think that the party will go from strength to strength.”
A total of 235 votes were cast by party members which accounted for 60% of the leadership ballot, with the balance held by the GSD executive who cast their vote the evening before.
Around 30 of the GSD hierarchy – its executive members, MPs and life members - cast their vote in a secret ballot at party headquarters in College Lane.
This ballot was only counted last night alongside the main count which was overseen by former government minister and GSD MP Jaime Netto.
Mr Azopardi secured the majority of votes across both the executive and the members’ ballots.
Mr Azopardi’s campaign pledges included a “deep” policy review and establishing a committee in order to start preparing for the next general election now.
He will implement a nine-point programme to reinvigorate the party during the first 100 days of his tenure.
Mr Azopardi served in the first two GSD administrations, including a stint as deputy Chief Minister but left in 2005 following its merger with the Labour Group.
He later formed the Progressive Democratic Party but wound it up after it made no significant impact with the electorate at either the 2007 or 2011 general elections.
Some felt the PDP had split the opposition vote and possibly cost the GSD the 2011 election, which the party lost by a mere 200 votes.
Since his return to the GSD, Mr Azopardi has not shied away from addressing his split from the party.
Despite openly disagreeing with the party for some years, he claims to have never stopped being an “ideological social democrat”.
His return to the GSD was by no means a knee-jerk reaction to the resignation of Mr Feetham but something that had been in the pipeline and indeed the subject of discussions between Mr Azopardi and senior party figures since before the last general election.
“I had thought to return this autumn at some point,” he explained at a recent press briefing.
“I was going to return to assist the party in its task of rebuilding ahead of the next election,” he explained, adding that there were never any pre-conditions to his return.
“But of course I certainly could not foresee the turn of events that occurred during and after the budget that culminated in the decision by Daniel Feetham to stand down from the leadership of the party.”
“When that happened the party was thrown into flux and this leadership election became inevitable.”
“At that stage my return to the party was accelerated.”
“But standing for the post of Leader was not a decision that I had yet taken because as I made clear during the early summer I would have supported Peter Montegriffo had he decided to seek election as Leader.”
“In the event he did not and after taking private soundings from members - and discussing the matter fully with Roy - I decided to allow my name to go forward to replace Danny as Leader.”