Azopardi presents GSD slate with message to voters: ‘I’m different to Fabian Picardo. That’s the point.’
The October 12 general election represents “a philosophical choice and a crossroads” for Gibraltar, GSD leader Keith Azopardi said on Tuesday, as he presented a “diverse, representative” slate of candidates he hopes will take the party into government.
The GSD election team includes four MPs and six new faces and was selected by the party executive from a field of 18 candidates after a competitive internal process on Monday night.
The four MPs in the last parliament - Keith Azopardi, Damon Bossino, Roy Clinton and Edwin Reyes – will be joined by Youssef El Hana, Joelle Ladislaus, Giovanni Origo, Craig Sacarello, Atrish Sanchez and Daniella Tilbury.
In presenting the candidates, Mr Azopardi had tough words for the GSLP/Liberals, whose electoral campaign so far was “based on lies”.
This was the GSD’s first press conference since the election was announced last week but Mr Azopardi dismissed any suggestion the party had been slow off the starting line.
While the GSLP/Liberals have been hosting twice-daily press conferences and pushing out their campaign messaging across multiple platforms, the GSD has so far focused primarily on its internal selection process.
Mr Azopardi said the GSD would run its campaign differently to the GSLP/Liberals and would not seek to match its output, but rather focus on key issues.
“My style as GSD leader, as you will have seen over the last six years, is not to engage in a battery of press releases on every single minute detail, but to pick and choose what I have thought have been the important issues on which this community felt strongly and on which we needed to say things because it was important to do so,” he said.
“We're going to run our campaign in the way that we want to run it and not in the way that the GSLP/Liberals want to run this campaign.”
“We will deal with the issues that they have raised, which have been outrageous slurs, but we're going to run our campaign the way we’ve designed it and that's what we intend to do.”
“It's a marathon, not a sprint, and the next two and a half weeks are the most important.”
The acting Chief Minister is “a master of spin and social media”, Mr Azopardi added.
“At the end of the day, I have my qualities, people will make a judgment."
“I am not selling myself as Mr Picardo. I'm not because I'm different.”
“This is precisely the selling point. I am different to Fabian Picardo. That's the point.”
“If you want entertainment, go to the theatre. I'm not here to entertain you.”
The GSLP/Liberals had launched a campaign “based on a series of lies”, Mr Azopardi said.
“It has no other word for it, and twists of the reality, whether it's on sovereignty or whether it's on women's rights or the rights of the LGBTQ community, they are just what they are, lies.”
He singled out, for example, the “nonsense” on Andorra and the suggestion that the GSD was soft on Spain.
“Anyone who knows me and knows my track record in politics over the last 30 years knows that it is an outright and outrageous slur and lie to say that I am soft on sovereignty,” Mr Azopardi said, citing as an example the campaign against joint sovereignty when he stood “should to shoulder” with Sir Peter Caruana, the then Chief Minister.
“There is not an inch that we will give as a party to Spain and we proved that over 16 years in government, of which I was a part of for eight.”
Mr Azopardi said the GSLP/Liberals were seeking to distract from “the real issues” in this election.
He pointed to “terrible domestic failings” across different areas ranging from housing to public finances.
“Lack of transparency, opaqueness, the inability, the simple inability, or perhaps worse still, the unwillingness, to tackle the issues of waste, abuse and corruption and the failures that there have been on a number of other fronts,” he said.
This general election, Mr Azopardi added, “is a philosophical choice and a crossroads” for Gibraltar.
“It's a philosophical choice because I think we've gone back to the themes of 1996, the reason why this community wanted change,” he said.
“Of course, we don't have people rioting in the streets and we don't have that element of social crisis.”
“But the themes that brought us to cobble a diverse team together in 1996 to want to achieve change are back.”
“The clamour for change of 1996 was all about the culture of fear, it was about the lack of transparency, about the opaqueness, the web of companies, the jobs and contracts for the boys.”
“All those themes have come back, but they've come back in subtle and more dangerous ways.”
And he added: “There are many people who come to us who feel abandoned by this government.”
“They feel abandoned because the public services do not work or they do not work as well as they should.”
“They feel that this is a Gibraltar of the few and not the many.”
Mr Azopardi said the GSD selection process had been “…the most competitive...I have ever been a part of.”
He told reporters it underlined "the momentum for change" in the community.
“The team that we have in front of you today, selected democratically without interference from the GSD leader, reflects an act of pure democracy in action, where people chose carefully in a tough selection, where easily other people could be round this table and the contest was hard," he said.
“The team that is before you is a diverse team, representative, we think, of all sectors of this community with different backgrounds, different ages and different outlooks,” Mr Azopardi added.
“It is what the GSD has always been about, a pluralistic party representative of this society.”
Of the GSD line-up, only Mr Azopardi and Mr Reyes have previous ministerial experience.
But the GSD leader played down the significance of this, adding that when the GSLP/Liberals were elected in 2011, only Sir Joe Bossano had ministerial experience, even if many of the other alliance candidates – unlike the GSD newcomers - had served on the Opposition bench.
He said that traditionally, most election line-ups included people with limited parliamentary or ministerial experience and that this had never been a problem in the past, adding that governments were supported by experienced civil servants.
“Would it be better if everyone else had experience? Well, maybe,” Mr Azopardi said.
“But ultimately, I don't think that's a bar.”
Daniella Tilbury, a seasoned academic with wide international experience particularly on environmental issues, said she had entered politics because “we deserve a much better government, a much better Gibraltar” that was forward-looking.
“And that sounds like big words, but the reality is that there's a lot of things that need fixing,” she said.
“And for me, I think under the right political leadership, we can unleash a whole range of possibilities.”
“And I really believe that. I really believe Gibraltar is a small place that can thrive if we protect our identity, if we share our passion for what we believe is true, and we displace money and greed from the core of decision making.”
Craig Sacarello, a businessman who is also involved in charitable work, said he was motivated to enter politics because of “corruption I perceive there to be” and “systemic failings” that allowed abuse.
“This is what I hear on the street, the feedback direct from the electorate, and I think that what we stand for is a politics of opportunity for all,” he said.
“We want to return Gib to safe hands, a safe pair of hands.”
Mr Sacarello, who stood with Together Gibraltar at the last election, flagged too “the long-term picture” and the need to move away from “very short-term politics”
“What is Gibraltar in 10,20, 30 years’ time?” he said.
“What do we need to do to start preparing our youth, to look at our skill sets in the labour market and refocus them on where they need to be in five and ten years?”
Joelle Ladislaus, a lawyer who previously stood with the GSD at the last election, said she had experience in law in a range of areas from crime to family practice, dealing routinely with issues that had a “very social impact” and were “close to my heart”.
“For me, a government is about integrity, it's about transparency, it's about sincerity, and it's about all the things that the current government unfortunately doesn’t stand for,” she said.
“And this is what I want to see. I want to see that change in government.”
Giovanni Origo, a 29-year-old lawyer, said his age and recent experience of studying for seven years in the UK would enable him to relate to a large cross-section of the community.
He is an active sportsman with expertise in finance and banking.
“I think that my youth puts me at an advantage,” he said.
“I think I'd be relatable to large parts of the electorate”
“I put myself forward to the party to be at their use and hopefully get the best out of me for the best of Gibraltar.”
Youssef El Hanna is a teacher by profession and has been involved with the GSD since he was a teenager, having set up the party’s youth section alongside Mr Origo.
He reflected on how he was born in Morocco at a time when the GSLP was in government and there was “a discriminatory law” that did not allow his father to have his family with him in Gibraltar.
During a visit to Gibraltar at the age of three in 1997, he was diagnosed with cancer and was allowed by the then GSD administration to remain in Gibraltar, where he was treated.
“Gibraltar, for me, is life and death,” he said, reflecting on that experience as a child.
“Representing the people of Gibraltar, for me and representing our country is something that has always played part and parcel of my existence.”
“And the pride I have for this place is something that will never die.”
Atrish Sanchez, who has campaigned widely on disability issues, said there were “several key social policy areas that demand substantial improvement” and that “Gibraltar needs change”.
“As you all know, there are several social policy areas that are very close to my heart,” she said.
“And I also believe that politics would greatly benefit from a more genuine and compassionate human approach and that there is ample room in politics for that type of authenticity.”