Election Introspection - why outside observers can help us reflect

Jonathan Sacramento - Monday 23rd December

The observations by Democracy Volunteers  on our October election should leave Gibraltar feeling, justifiably, a little bit smug.

For an organisation which often makes findings about serious flaws in democratic systems, the most they could say about our election day process was that we should take greater care that mock ballot papers don’t get accidentally left lying around inside polling stations, and that party officials aren’t seen talking to voters within the station precincts.

It really has to be stressed that, in the context of some of their past findings in other elections elsewhere– namely the erosion of secrecy caused by families voting in booths together, and even findings of improperly sealed ballot boxes – the recommendations on the Gibraltar election are on the lesser end of the scale. It upholds the perception we’ve always had that we take our elections very seriously, and that they are conducted with great levels of care and attention to detail.

That’s not to say that some of the observations cannot lead to some reflection. The low number of female candidates (20%) compared to the high number of female staff in polling stations (78%) was picked up. As was the fact that there is nothing preventing an incumbent Government from announcing policy initiatives during the election period which has the potential to give them an electoral advantage.

It also speaks volumes that everyone involved in the election, from the returning officer, to the parties themselves, to the media, engaged actively with the observers. It shows confidence and pride in what we do here.

It’s the first time in living memory that such an observation has been conducted here for an election. But there was a team of observers here for the 2002 sovereignty referendum headed by the then Father of the House of Commons Gerald Kaufman, which found that “the meticulous way in which votes were counted exceeded requirements and went beyond requirements adopted for UK elections”.

If you will allow me a small indulgence, I take a huge amount of personal satisfaction from the observers’ findings about the media’s, and particularly GBC’s role in the elections. Being a moderator on debates is a difficult, and often thankless task. To be acknowledged by independent observers for a meticulous adherence to the standards of fairness and impartiality is extremely gratifying.

It is also welcome to note that politicians at the election engaged with the media positively. In a world where Donald Trump constantly harangues media outlets by describing them as ‘fake news’, and Boris Johnson refuses to be held to account by the national broadcaster during an election, I can confidently say that our politicians treated the media with respect.

Onto 2020

The new Parliament now has its first session under its belt before the Christmas period. It’s interesting to see new dynamics coming into play. The first session has thrown up some important issues to deal with, namely the mechanics for the abortion referendum, and the legal challenge to the far right in Spain. And it’s welcome to see that – apart from a rather odd meltdown over what seemed like a relatively innocuous motion on the Ombudsman’s 20th anniversary – proceedings have been carried out in a constructive and convivial manner. There will always be the occasional spat of course. Our Parliamentary system is after all an adversarial one. But so far it seems as if the spirit of the final moments of GBC’s leaders’ debate, where the leaders showed they CAN actually say some positive things about each other, is largely being reflected.

2019 has been intense. And 2020 will bring its challenges, which we can expect to be reflected in the political leaders’ new years messages. GBC News will be with you during the next few days, bringing you regular news coverage as well as our traditional review of the last twelve months.

From the GBC News team, have a great Christmas / Hanukkah and a happy new year.