GSLP/Liberals win in knife edge election
By Gabriella Peralta and Priya Gulraj
The GSLP/Liberals secured a fourth successive term in office in Thursday’s general election, winning by 1.9% ahead of the GSD at the end of a nail-biting count in John Mackintosh Hall.
The tight race saw the alliance win 49.9% of the vote and the GSD 48%, with Independent Social Democrat, Robert Vasquez, unable to secure a seat in parliament.
Mr Picardo had focused the Alliance campaign on the UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar’s future negotiations with the bloc, insisting the GSLP/Liberals were the best team to finish the negotiations.
And in a victory speech early Friday morning, he sent a firm message to Spain’s caretaker prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, that Gibraltar was ready to conclude the agreement.
“Pedro, it is time now that you too should form a government, and together we should finish the treaty that we started,” he said.
For the first time in the years since constitutional change in 2006, a government was formed on election day with just nine seats in Parliament.
Former minister Vijay Daryanani failed to secure enough votes to become one of 17 parliamentarians.
The Alliance’s five new candidates, Gemma Arias-Vasquez, Nigel Feetham, Christian Santos, Pat Orfila and Leslie Bruzon, all won seats in Parliament and are now ministers in government alongside veterans Mr Picardo, Dr Joseph Garcia, Dr John Cortes and Sir Joe Bossano.
Mr Picardo walked into the John Mackintosh Hall victorious, holding up eight fingers as an exuberant crowd of supporters chanted ‘four more years’.
The overall turnout was higher than the previous two elections, with 74.2% of the electorate coming out to vote, up from 70% in 2019 and 2015.
It was a moment of relief for Mr Picardo, who was sworn in as Chief Minister just hours after the count concluded at the end of a nerve-wracking night.
“This has been a tough one, but we've been through tough ones before and prevailed,” Mr Picardo said.
The move to an electronic-assisted counting system sped up the process and also saw rolling results throughout the night, leaving candidates on the edge of their seats.
The count was tense for both parties who were neck and neck in the polls, with the GSD tipped to win in GBC’s exit poll.
But as the count drew on it became clear the GSLP/Liberals would govern, with a reduced slate, for another term.
Moments after winning the election, Mr Picardo delivered a promise for change, recognising how fractious and divisive the election campaign had been.
He said Gibraltar has been “misled” to believe there are issues that need to be dealt with.
“Nonetheless, things will change,” Mr Picardo said.
“Not only will there be five new ministers, it is also true that the way that ministers do things must change and adapt too. And change we will.”
“We will consider even further democratic reform, although we have delivered more democratic reform in the past 12 years than any party in our history. But we are not afraid of changing and delivering more.”
At around 6.30am to a packed John Mackintosh Hall, Mr Picardo told representatives of both parties that there is “nothing to hide”.
He promised as from April 1, 2024, the accounts of all government companies showing their assets and liabilities will be published online.
He added other mandates in need of reform include housing, and that further investment was planned for health and education.
“Today, in a tough fight, we have prevailed,” Mr Picardo said.
“Faced with untruths about our record, we have prevailed, and faced with challenges we have prevailed time and again, and we will do so every time standing together.”
Mr Picardo also expressed solidarity with Israel and said the Moorish Castle will be lit up in blue. He said he had only been able to take that step after the polls closed at 10pm last night.
The GSD, led by Keith Azopardi, took eight seats in Parliament.
Mr Azopardi topped the GSD poll closely followed by Damon Bossino, Roy Clinton, Craig Sacarello, Edwin Reyes, Joelle Ladislaus, Giovanni Origo and Atrish Sanchez.
Youssef El Hana and Daniella Tilbury failed to secure a seat, gathering around 7,000 and 8,000 votes respectively.
As the night drew, the rolling results left candidates at the bottom of the rankings tense, with slight changes in the line-up as the votes were tallied.
“When we finished the leader’s debate, I thought that's the end of a really tough and long campaign, but I certainly wasn't expecting a really tough and long election count,” Mr Azopardi said.
“I mean, it's been a roller coaster tonight from the beginning, right through to the frantic reloads of the election page that I'm sure I wasn't the only one doing.”
Mr Azopardi reflected on what he saw as a vote for change, and congratulated Mr Picardo.
“Many people will be disappointed by [the vote], and not least me,” Mr Azopardi said.
“Of course I'm disappointed, but I'm disappointed as the mouthpiece, I guess, for all those people in Gibraltar who felt that there needed to be change and robustly put our campaign forward to try to achieve that change.”
“True to our values, we didn't succeed, but we firmly believed that Gibraltar needed a new way and as I said before, those serious issues do remain. They don't magically go away.”
Mr Azopardi said the Opposition MPs will take their roles seriously, acknowledging significant challenges on the horizon.
He said the party would work with the incumbent government on any matter of public or national interest.
“[Mr Picardo] knows that we will stand shoulder to shoulder with him on any important matter should he request our we will be robust in criticism, of course, because that's our role as the Opposition,” Mr Azopardi said.
“That's the role that we've been given and we will be there.”
Independent Social Democrat, Robert Vasquez, received over 3,000 votes, coming in last and unable to win a seat.
Mr Vasquez said his vote showed an appetite for a wider selection of candidates in future.
“I would hope, wish that both parties would look forward to unite Gibraltar,” Mr Vasquez said.
“Because one thing that I think has come forward in today's election is that we are very divided. It's nearly 50/50.”
“It's nine elected into government as opposed to 10 and eight elected into opposition. That's never happened before and I just hope and pray for the sake of Gibraltar that… our political classes do unite and try and achieve a system that will help us all go forward.”
The GSD’s Youssef El Hana had a difficult campaign after issuing an apology for social media posts spanning several years referencing Israel and Palestine.
“This has been an experience like no other,” Mr El Hana told the Chronicle.
“It's the first time I ever put my name forward and it was a historic moment to even get through selection process with the GSD and to present myself to the general election.”
“But aside from that, we gave it our all.”
“It's been an extremely, extremely busy and hectic month.”
“We left everything on the line, we did as much as we could and at the end of the day, democracy people spoke and it was very close.”
Mr El Hana was subjected to public scrutiny after comments he made on the Israel and Palestine conflict resurfaced online.
He said he apologised “wholeheartedly” for those comments made.
“This abuse has been disgusting,” he said, adding that he was “afraid” for his own safety and the safety of his family.
The Liberal Party’s Mr Daryanani said that despite his personal disappointment he was pleased for his party.
“Of course one is disappointed, but I think what is more important is the fact that the GSLP/Liberals are back in government for a fourth term,” Mr Daryanani said.
“It was extremely important that we won these elections.”
“These were crucial elections for the voter with the EU treaty, the manner in which Fabian and Joseph have led on this and they need to get this job done, they need to get this over the line.”
“And I'm absolutely delighted that the people of Gibraltar have chosen them to lead on this, make sure that we can get.”
During Mr Daryanani’s one term in office he faced the unprecedented challenge of the global Covid-19 pandemic, directly impacting two ministerial portfolios he held, those of business and tourism.
He underscored the importance of marketing Gibraltar to the global market.
Reflecting on his time in office, Mr Daryanani said: “It is an absolute privilege to serve for the people of the world.”
“Not many people get the opportunity to do that, I was one of a few.”
“And like I say, I will never forget my four years there.”
“Meeting the people that I've met, the friends that I've made, the civil servants. I will never forget my time there.”
Prof Tilbury said she has respected the decision of the people of Gibraltar.
“The people have chosen,” Prof Tilbury said.
“I believe in democracy and if this is what the people want, this is what they get.”
“So of course it is disappointing, but it is my first election and I did get more than 8,000 votes which for a first election is not bad.”
Prof Tilbury said that, along with her colleague, Mr El Hana, she too was subjected what she described as a “dirty tricks” campaign.
“I tried to keep the legal wranglings out of the campaign, and we will be pursuing that, but obviously it had an impact,” she added.
“But I respect the decision of the people and I just hope this is for the best of Gibraltar because ultimately that is all I want, for the best of Gibraltar.”