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  1. Newstatesman Gibraltar
5 January 2016updated 11 Jan 2016 11:45am

2016 and a new government

 2015 saw a striking return of the GSLP/Liberal Alliance to the Gibraltar Parliament. Mark Montegriffo looks to the future.

By mark e.montegriffo

the New Year begins the GSLP/Liberal Alliance will be looking to its second term in office. Many people are still speculating on the reasons for their victory, as well as, for the defeat of the Gibraltar Social Democrats. The result has given a mandate for the Liquified Natural Gas power station and bunkering facility that was heavily criticised by the Opposition and other lobby groups such as the ESG. The result arguably legitimises, in the eyes of the majority of voters at least, the borrowing practices of the Government including the funding of projects via Government loan companies like Credit Finance. It also paves the way for a possible football stadium at the Europa Point or Lathbury Barracks site which has also come under great scrutiny.

This does not necessarily mean that the electorate voted with these issues in mind. The vote may have been proof of the success of the GSLP/Liberal Alliance machinery that accused the GSD of scaremongering. Perhaps the electorate rejected the GSD on a different basis – it could have been the radical change in candidates from the previous election, a disagreement on policy, or the GSD’s campaign and manifesto. Whatever the reason, the Opposition will be forced to having an internal dialogue about all of the above in order to stand in better stead in four years’ time thanks to the heavy defeat. Indeed, you can see a featured debate on the implications of the election at this level on the Gibraltar Politics website.

But there are wider issues beyond party politics that this election should raise in the consciousness of the electorate to do with representation and participation. This does not necessarily indicate a sense of apathy, rather a systemic failure of the political sphere of Gibraltar to open up to the wider population who are not always obligated with party affiliation. For instance, there has been no progress whatsoever in terms of the number of women in Parliament. Two out of the seventeen honourable members are women, just as was the case after the 2011 election. Out of the twenty candidates overall, 3 were women. This is not to say that parties are inherently sexist in Gibraltar, but that there is an issue with the way Parliament is configured, traditionally being made up of a majority of white male lawyers.

Furthermore, there is no Muslim or Hindu representation. Religious and cultural affiliations are hard to define, especially when there are no publicised surveys which can tell us which honourable members consider themselves Atheists/Secularists (another group who should be represented more) or Theists of whatever kind. But it should not undermine the issue of the lack of Muslims in Gibraltar Parliament. Once again, this is not to accuse anybody of islamophobia or xenophobia, but to highlight that the attitude of politics in Gibraltar needs to open up so people from all kinds of backgrounds can be embraced and nurtures to eventually become honourable members in their own right.

There is still scant representation of the Jewish community. Considering that the first Chief Minister of Gibraltar was Jewish, it is disheartening that there is only one Jewish honourable member in 2015, ironically being the daughter of the late Sir Joshua Hassan. Gibraltar has always been a safe haven for Jews in desperate times, yet there seems to be an unwillingness in the political system to encourage the talent in the community.

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Disappointingly, the working-class is under-represented in Parliament. As aforementioned, the legal profession consistently makes up a sizeable bulk of honourable members, including party leaders and Chief Ministers. While a career in areas of law and the court can be extremely beneficial during Parliamentary procedure and debates, there is no identifiably strong voice that has experienced the struggles of dead end jobs or caring for a low-income young family, which raises another group that is not widely represented in Parliament – the youth; every honourable member is at least in their 30s.

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Falling numbers

The percentage of the electorate that voted should also be a concern. The number dropped from 81.4% to 70.7% – the lowest turnout for decades. Among these votes were a relatively high number of a combined figure of spoiled votes, blank votes and illegitimate votes. While this does not usually have a noticeable practical effect on a change in attitude in part of the Government of the day, it does show that there is a section of the electorate that ultimately rejects the parties on offer as they feel they do not represent them or their views.

Understanding Gibraltar are an organization which aims to “Understand Gibraltar’s multi-cultural society and make it Understood” told me that “although minorities are often poorly represented in Parliaments all over Europe it would be another achievement for Gibraltar to encourage and promote political representation to every citizen no matter their background”. This is an extremely agreeable view and the idea that Gibraltar can become “an example to the world” by having political representation that is more encouraging to all different backgrounds, be those cultural, religious, sexual identification or socio-economic.