Friday, September 30, 2005

Azopardi leaves ruling party in opposition to Feetham merger

F Oliva reports

GSD resignations trouble

Keith Azopardi
Former deputy Chief Minister and GSD (Gibraltar Social Democrats) stalwart Keith Azopardi resigned from the party yesterday over the merger with Daniel Feetham's Labour Party.

He said the unification was a mistake that was not supported by the membership, and questions that any ‘common ground’ exists with the Labour Party at all.

“All evidence points to thinly veiled political expedience behind this,” he remarked.

“Labour have been the strongest critics of the Government on many issues, from their support for integration, their rejection of the House of Assembly constitutional reform proposals and major differences on taxation policy,” he told the Chronicle yesterday minutes after announcing his decision.

Mr Azopardi argued that at best, the merger had been divisive for the GSD and argued that there was more common ground with Dr Garcia’s Gibraltar Liberal Party than with Labour.

The move that had been widely anticipated for months, confirms the serious political fracture in the ruling party, with the resignation of two significant members of the executive committee in the space of one month – the other being lawyer Nick Cruz who also voiced strong opposition to the merger.

Meanwhile asked about his relationship with the Chief Minister, Mr Azopardi said that beyond political differences there was now “a different slant on their general approach to people” that separated them.

Changed GSD

Mr Azopardi anticipates a fundamental change in political direction of the ‘new’ GSD/Labour formation.

He said that in addition to the newcomers, some veteran colleagues of the executive were close to retirement and would be replaced by hand-picked substitutes to the detriment of the party’s original philosophy and values established over the years.

Executive committee members and party activists were aware his departure was on the cards, and Mr Azopardi predicts that his exit could trigger off a further trickle of high-profile resignations in the immediate future.

He ruled out joining any of the existing or newly created political groupings in Gibraltar, but in reply to questions said he wanted to continue playing a part in local politics, and noted his great political affinity with Nick Cruz who also recently resigned from the GSD executive.

Mr Azopardi said the decision to leave had been a difficult one because he had worked very hard during his years as a government minister, and felt a great sense of bond with many people in the GSD and the political ideas it had represented.

Asked whether his resignation would affect his membership of the Constitutional Reform committee, Mr Azopardi said he did not expect this to be a problem, in the same way as Daniel Feetham’s inclusion had not been affected when he joined the GSD.
However he said that if either the Chief Minister or the Leader of the Opposition thought differently he would leave the committee.

Reform of the House of Assembly

On domestic issues Mr Azopardi says the emphasis has been on securing financial accountability but this had meant not enough progress had been made on democratic accountability in Gibraltar.

Debates of the House of Assembly, he continued, need to be more contemporaneous and other reforms to working practices – such as the enlargement of the number of seats to ensure that the executive cannot ‘steamroll’ its programme – have to be considered.

“There have to be checks and balances on the power of any government as is the case in every other parliament where the government as such is a parliamentary minority.”

Mr Azopardi also pointed to style of government issues and favours more decentralisation, delegation, and where possible consultation and the inclusion of the opposition in legislative initiatives that are not controversial in party political terms.

“We should give the opposition more advanced notice on legislation and discuss issues like for example, EU directives related to traffic.”

More consensus between the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on visits to the UN that would allow both to go as one team should also be possible, he says.

Mr Azopardi also calls for a “lowering of the tone of acrimony” that dominates political exchanges on the Rock. He believes fundamental differences are good in democracy to ensure there are true and genuine alternatives, but dislikes unnecessary animosity.

“This undermines any effort to present a united front, even on domestic issues such as health, education and internal economic affairs to maximise the efficiency of public administration.”

He would also like to see a more “radical approach” to the reform of public services.

“We need a global, structural view of objectives to ensure efficiency rather than a piecemeal approach where an increase of allowances in one sector then has a knock on effect on another which has to be addressed.”

Mr Azopardi would also like to see a more vigorous pace to the continuing constitutional reform discussions with Britain.

Related Articles:

16 September 2005 - Constitutional talks at Caleta get under way

16 September 2005 - Cruz quits party and ponders his political future

05 August 2005 - Feetham joins ruling Social Democrat Party


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