Polling stations busy and turnout up as election gets under way
By Eyleen Gomez, Priya Gulraj and Stephen Ignacio
Gibraltar is voting for a new government today and at 1pm, four hours after polling stations opened, turnout was ahead of the 2019 election at the same time by nearly two points.
Data from the Gibraltar Parliament showed some 6083 people had voted by 1pm, around 24.14% of the 25,200 eligible voters on the electoral register, up 1.81% over the same point in the last election.
By way of comparison, turnout at 1pm in the 2019 election was 22.33%, although the electoral roll was smaller at 24,189.
All through the morning, lengthy queues built up at many of the 15 polling stations around the Rock as people heeded the advice from Returning Officer Simon Galliano to vote early.
Among the early votes were the leaders of the two main blocs, the GSLP’s Fabian Picardo and the GSD’s Keith Azopardi, as well as Liberal Party leader Dr Joseph Garcia and Independent Social Democrat Robert Vasquez.
“So once again, we can see how very peacefully the people of Gibraltar come out to express their will, to give us their verdict on who should become the next government of Gibraltar,” Mr Picardo told reporters at Central Hall, his polling station.
“In that sense, they are looking at the track record of those of us who've been in government and in opposition, looking at the programs for government that both parties have presented, and looking at the slates that we have suggested should be ministers on Friday morning.”
“I have absolutely no doubt that this festival of democracy, as is the case every four years, or whenever there needs to be a general election or referendum, will go the whole day peacefully and in a way that we can all be proud of.”
“So you can see that here today, people are coming out in numbers to vote and express their will. And that is what democracy is all about.”
Mr Picardo also reflected on the campaign in the run-up to the vote today.
“I'm very pleased with the campaign that we've run. I think that we've run a very effective campaign these days,” he said.
“You run the traditional campaign, what you might call the analogue and paper campaign, and at the same time you run the digital campaign.”
“I think we've been very careful to run a very clean campaign. We've been the subject of toxic abuses by our opponents.”
“I think our opponents should reflect about the way that they run this campaign. I think the way that they run the campaign turns people off.”
“And I think we need to address those issues going forward because, frankly, less people will want to go into politics if they're going to be subjected to the sort of abuse that we are all subjected to.”
Down at Ince’s Hall, GSD leader Mr Azopardi also reflected on the early attendance at the polling stations.
“You can see that it's a big turnout, so that's a very positive outcome,” he said.
“We fought a very good, robust campaign where we've spoken about the issues.”
“We've kept it honest. We've pulled out the lines and I hope that people now come out in numbers and vote for change.”
“People ultimately will judge that contest. They will judge the campaign as a whole, they will judge the themes that we've run the campaign on, and the vision that the GSD has put out there so that Gibraltar can make the change that so many people want.”
“There's so many concerns that people have and that's why we've been pointing out these things…all those things that people talk to us about.”
“But I'm not thinking beyond the results. Let's see. Let's see what results people give us today.”
In Laguna Estate, Liberal Party leader Dr Garcia was early at the polling station to cast his vote.
“An election is always exciting and there's always a buzz throughout the campaign, particularly on polling day,” Dr Garcia said.
“I think we've run an excellent campaign. All the candidates have done very well in everything that's been asked of them.”
“And we've concentrated on the issues explain to voters about the possibilities on what the different outcomes might be and what the consequences are of voting one way or the other.”
“And now it's in the hands of the people of Gibraltar.”
“This is what democracy is all about people deciding freely and democratically who the next government should be.”
Independent Mr Vasquez was in bullish mood as he queued to cast his vote at the Ince’s Hall polling station.
“I'm feeling ebullient, I'm feeling very, very powerful. I'm feeling really good,” Mr Vasquez told the Chronicle.
“Because what I am seeing is that what I hear in the street from everybody that speaks to me, from people I know people and those I don't know, is that I'm getting a vote from them.”
“And I think it's time that we showed the parties that they are not all powerful, and that somebody like me can get elected in Gibraltar.”
Successive polls over the past week showed the narrowest of margins between the two main political blocs, the GSLP/Liberals and the GSD, indicating the hotly contested vote could go either way.
The polls also suggested a large number of voters could split their votes despite both parties calling for the block vote.
That pointed to the possibility of a nine/eight split in the 17-seat Parliament as opposed to the traditional 10 government MPs and seven in opposition.
On the street on Thursday morning, some voters expressed dissatisfaction with the current political system and a desire for reform.
“I’ve come out to vote because, particularly as a woman, women died to be able to give me the chance to vote,” said Gillaine Dellipiani Stagnetto said.
“But more importantly than that, to have my say about the current political system.”
“I believe that on Monday morning, the work starts to learn from what the current system has done to us as a community, and to begin the change the political reform that we so desperately need.”
“I back political reform 100%.”
“But political reform can come in many connotations, and it depends which one is put in front of us once this election is over.”
“I think public should have a say because it is us the public that is suffering the division, the bullying, the rhetoric, the adversarial politics, which doesn't mean we have the best candidates, it just means we sometimes end up with the ones with the biggest egos.”
Adolfo Canepa, a veteran of Gibraltar politics who served as both Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition, as well as Speaker of Parliament, said the run-up to today’s vote had been “the most lively campaign ever”.
He praised GBC’s coverage, which he said had been “more intense and wider than ever before”, as well as the “very lively hustings” and campaigning throughout.
“It’s going to be a close call,” he said.
“But look, it’s will of the people. And the people never get it wrong. They decide, they never get it wrong.”
Julio Alcantara, a former Mayor of Gibraltar, said the campaign had been “in part too vicious for my liking”.
"I can understand the stress and the pressure, but I can never understand bad manners,” he told the Chronicle.
"And what is at risk for us in Gibraltar is so precious and so important, that we ought to be given an honest, clear chance to understand the policies from either side, and we don't get that."
"Instead, we get somebody spending too much, too little, doing this, doing that."
"I'm not interested in that, I'm interested in their vision for the future of my country."
There was praise too, however, for all the candidates involved in the election, and recognition of the personal toll that involvement in frontline politics can take on individuals and their families.
“It's a very exciting day and I think it's very important,” said Katruska Haveland as she waited to vote.
“We're very lucky as well, to be able to come out and express what you feel and who you want to be governed by.”
“I think they all deserve a big recognition. They’re all very brave.”
“Especially in a place like Gibraltar, where we all know each other and we all criticise.”
Among the people waiting outside the different polling stations was a group of students from the Gibraltar College alongside their tutor Mark Montovio.
The students were monitoring the voting process as part of an initiative to raise awareness among youngsters on the importance of the general election to citizens.
“Well, basically we are trying to create an awareness in terms of what the rights and responsibilities are for a citizen,” Mr Montovio told the Chronicle.
“It's an important aspect of the developmental work we do at the Gibraltar College. And although many of them are of a voting age, some aren’t even registered and have no awareness of who's who.”
“And I think that as you can see, they've understood what the whole process is and that it's an important one, and they're actually looking forward to being registered and voting in four years’ time, which is great.”