View From the Public Gallery

Leo Olivero

We inherited our system of parliamentary democracy from the British, when we were a full-blooded British Colony. Over many years the administration of domestic local affairs gradually transferred initially in piecemeal fashion to the people of Gibraltar to what it is today. 

Progressively we were had handed as much self-government as the current constitution allows. In fact as a society Gibraltar has taken massive democratic strides to reach we are now!

If you think that the British people themselves first experienced modern parliamentary democracy in 1832 when the Reform Bill was enacted by Parliament. Before that time, though parliaments existed in a number of countries, they were not based on the modern concepts of democracy we cherish today.

In those days Kings use to exercise enormous power through the practice of appointing any person who was thought to implement their whims. The self-proclaimed kings’ divine right authority was widely employed.

In fact we should be grateful to Greek philosophers, particularly Plato and Aristotle, who use to ponder and theorise on different forms of state governance. In Plato’s Republic we find references to equal rights and opportunities of office, appointment to which was by lot to ensure fairness. In Aristotle’s Politics we discover the important consideration that the people are sovereign and that the majority should govern.

We Have Evolved as a People!

Our forefathers always relished self-determination and most of us still do. But have we reached the ultimate state of self-determination as a people, is an issue still open to political debate. Though most are aware of a level of dependence on a major power, which nowadays has slowly diminished.

Gibraltar today can boast has as much self government as it has have ever had. In this short time through our democratic ideals are high and growing. Not only have the people of Gibraltar evolved, but we also have more individual rights, we determine our own future and make alliances according to our political and economic circumstances!

If one were to be honest you would have to say that there has always existed (good or bad) political systems of checks and balances to ensure that abuses and corruption do not take place. Political parties in fact have been there to ensure that no one takes advantage of their authority and power.

But despite all this, can we really say that democracy in Gibraltar is well served?

It might be necessary at this point to distinguish between myth and reality when discussing democracy. A high incidence of elections and a widespread belief that the system is democratic does not mean to say that it actually is. If you also think that low-income groups, minorities and, until recently, women (in historical terms) have had little say in who gets what, how and when!

Political commentators agree that by their very nature, complex modern societies with vast government bureaucracies cannot be truly democratic in the classical direct sense!

Safeguards and Political Reform

If places like the United Kingdom and the USA who are considered to be bulwarks of democracy and who some believe, also have shortcomings in their democratic ideals, so just imagine other countries so much lower on the democratic scale!

Looking at Democracy, I don’t think it’s enough to periodically hold elections every 4 years or so that people’s representatives are chosen, the majority of whom then go on to take decisions for us after exhaustive debate and much in-house fighting.

‘Democracy and the Politics that surround it should in my view be gauged by complete administrative transparency, strict accountability, easy access to all information pertaining to public affairs, freedom of speech and beliefs, equal opportunities to all citizens, full respect for minority rights and other pertinent rights that are commonly accepted by all democratic countries’ I’m not saying this is not happening in all the areas mention, but I am just stating a point!

To be fair, the Gibraltar government started the long process of improving the democratic deficit by putting together the Commission on Democratic and Political Reform who will at some point make its recommendations to Parliament.

There have also been a number of important consultation processes where the public, individuals and groups have been given the chance to give or put forward their views on a variety of important issues that affect most of us.

Political Responsibility!

Ministerial responsibility is a constitutional convention applicable to governments using the Westminster system. In this system, a Cabinet Minister bears the ultimate responsibility for the actions or omissions of his/her ministry or department.

Gibraltar follows this system in the sense that the Standing Orders and procedures of the Parliament are not too far removed, practically the same from the British model.

Bitter Political Relationship!

The democratic problem, which in my opinion Gibraltar is faced with, is not one between Government and individual persons, because I think that personal and collective rights in that respect, has a good foundation. But a more pertinent question with far-reaching consequences is the ‘bitter relationship’ between the ‘two major political parties’.

Both main parties are strong and well organised; they have their own administrative structures; they are equally equipped with all the means of modern communication and have a party structure. Thus, the two big parties can influence public opinion and, if they choose to do so, can give a biased and a distorted picture of the whole situation. But the Third Political Party also has the potential to cause a few up sets in the next election!

But often seeing the goings on in Parliament, some of the public ends up rather perplexed and confused. It becomes extremely difficult for a person to form an educated assessment of a politician’s performance both in government and opposition if one follows what the two main parties are saying.

Modern Democracy!

The difference between today’s politics, which has become somewhat outdated and modern political democracy if I can call it that, which favours a shift from ‘representative democracy’ to ‘direct democracy’ which I spoke of yesterday in my panorama report. And why modern democracy is giving more and more weight to the proposition that every adult person’s judgment about the conduct of public affairs is entitled to be given equal weight with that of every other person.

The Elections and Nabbing the Undecided Voter

Elections in Gibraltar are hallmarks of democracy at work, as they are in the US and European Union. Europeans are said to vote primarily for their party preference while the Americans tend to support the individual candidate with less emphasis on party affiliation. In Gibraltar we tend to follow the European modal.

Our political development has not reduced the sharp keenness that characterises the local political scene, as it does in many other countries abroad. Although Politics often becomes lax as one party tries to outwit the other with claims and allegations, which more often than not mars proceedings.

To some politicians, quoting out of context also becomes par for the course as they seek to make headway in their personal efforts to get elected. The media and certainly political writers like me in Panorama and people on social media add spice to the campaign, with politicians often seen engaging and shadow what is said, good or bad about themselves or their party, that is a fact!

The problem for politicians and parties is how to woo undecided voters into their ranks. The need to win over these people is in my opinion, even more pivotal in this forthcoming election. Which is why none of them look kindly on the other parties that are out to get the votes of those who may feel disgruntled with their performance?