As Gibraltarians count down to the general election on October 12, latest polls predict a nail-biting finish that could see a change in government with a new Chief Minister and the end of the career of The Rock’s longest-serving Member of Parliament.
A joint poll by the public television broadcaster GBC and the Gibraltar Chronicle announced at the start of the final weekend of campaigning pointed to the election being on a knife-edge.
The Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD) are on 49.2 per cent and the ruling Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party (GSLP)/Liberals alliance are just half a percentage point behind on 48.7 per cent.
That would see GSD leader Keith Azopardi installed as new Chief Minister if he becomes the head of the party with the most MPs. In turn, that would dump the incumbent alliance leader Fabian Picardo from office after 12 years at 6 Convent Place, the government headquarters.
Voters on The Rock choose 17 members in a “first past the post” system for their Parliament, and the poll suggests the GSD are on course for nine of the available seats, compared to eight for the ruling GSLP-Liberals. At the last two elections, the alliance topped the polls with 10 candidates each time round and seven opposition MPs.
If the results of the October 12 elections follow the opinion polls, with only the top 17 candidates making the cut, then it would spell the end of the 51-year career of GSLP MP Sir Joe Bossano, a former First Minister in the British Overseas Territory from 1988 to 1996.
Now aged 84, Sir Joe, who has been elected at every poll since 1972, holds the record as the territory’s longest-serving elected official. He is renowned as a hardliner in dealings with Spain and is opposed to any sovereignty deal with its EU neighbour without the consent of Gibraltarians.
The Rock’s elections come as talks between Madrid, the European Union, UK and Gibraltar are stalled on a new post-Brexit relationship, while Spain held its own elections and is seeking to form a new government.
A series of spats over incursions into British jurisdictional waters in recent months have resulted in an escalation in diplomatic tensions between Madrid and London.
The most recent event occurred on October 3 when a Spanish naval vessel was intercepted by a British patrol boat and escorted from the area. That came as the Royal Navy conducted military manoeuvres in what it deems British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.
The dispute over the territory goes back more than 200 years following the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which the UK claims grants it sovereignty over the waters surrounding the Rock.
Spain refutes the British claims on the grounds that treaty only ceded to Britain the city of Gibraltar, the port and its inland waters and defences, not the seas around the outpost.