Opposition MP Marlene Hassan Nahon resigned from the GSD yesterday, in a shock decision that she attributed to ‘toxic’ tensions within the party.
Ms Hassan Nahon, who intends to remain in Parliament as an independent MP, said she had been undermined by some of her fellow GSD MPs and complained of friction with party leader Daniel Feetham.
The GSD expressed regret and surprise at her decision, adding her reasons were not substantive and appeared to be “wholly personal and at most procedural in nature”.
It also questioned the timing of the resignation just weeks from the referendum on EU membership, the main focus of current political activity.
Privately, GSD sources suggested the resignation had been prompted by the fact that Ms Hassan Nahon had not been formally appointed deputy leader of the party.
In any event, the tone of the exchanges yesterday left no doubt as to the strength of feeling on both sides.
In a statement, Ms Hassan Nahon said she believed in a collegiate approach to politics but that the GSD no longer corresponded to her political values.
“I believe the GSD party is today being led in an authoritarian and divisive manner, something which I feel is becoming a toxic environment for me,” she said.
“This situation is impeding me from progressing with my ideas and beliefs and has been causing a lot of friction between myself, the Leader of the Opposition, and others in the party, making my job and my duties practically impossible to carry out.”
“Furthermore, over the last few months and on numerous occasions, I have found that any effort to reason with, and/or advise Daniel Feetham, has been interpreted by him and most importantly ‘others’ within the party, as an attempt to undermine his leadership.”
“This could not be further from the truth. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I had no personal ambition to be GSD leader.”
Ms Hassan Nahon said her position within the party had become untenable and left her no option but to resign.
She informed Mr Feetham of her decision yesterday by letter. She also communicated the decision to the Speaker, Adolfo Canepa, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Governor Lieutenant General Edward Davis.
“We are living in complicated and difficult times,” Ms Hassan Nahon said. “Today’s government may be doing its best to navigate current issues, but Gibraltar desperately needs a clear agenda for progress and change.”
“An Opposition that is not open, plural and cohesive will never be able to attend the needs of our community.”
“In order to rise to the challenge we need dialogue and democracy and not partisanship and paranoia.”
Last night the GSD expressed “regret and surprise” at the decision.
The party said Ms Hassan Nahon, who first stood for the GSD in the 2013 by-election, was a member of its executive and had “ably” stood for election defending the GSD’s policies and manifesto.
“The party is therefore, in these circumstances, at a complete loss at the reasons she has given for her departure,” the GSD said in a statement.
“The sum total of those reasons can only be described as wholly personal and at most procedural in nature.”
“The GSD cannot therefore identify any substantive policy reasons which justify her resignation from the party which has given her so much public and electoral support on two occasions in under three years.”
“It also comes barely a month before the most important decision facing Gibraltar in over a generation, which we should all be focusing on.”
“Ms Nahon now therefore sits in parliament with the currency which has been granted to her on account of the GSD votes at the last election.”
In her resignation letter to Mr Feetham, a copy of which has been seen by the Chronicle, Ms Hassan Nahon laid out in emotional detail why she was resigning, going further than in her statement and claiming some GSD MPs had sought to undermine her.
She complained Mr Feetham had shunned her attempts at meaningful dialogue and shown “utter disrespect” towards her “on countless occasions”, to the point it had become “unacceptable and intolerable”. Her point of view and opinions, she added, “were always falling on deaf ears”.
Ms Hassan Nahon also singled out Opposition MPs Trevor Hammond and Elliott Phillips, who she described as ‘yes men’ who were “poisoning” Mr Feetham against her “…in the hope that one day, you will bequeath your GSD crown to one of them.”
“But that is not a game I am willing to play and to this end, and considering the agendas and egos involved here, I have no option but to leave the GSD,” she wrote.
“I owe the electorate a duty to represent them, and the chaotic and uncollegiate way that this Opposition is being run is, to say the least, counterproductive to the work I am duty bound to carry out.”
The GSD made no public comment on the resignation other than the statement, but party sources said Ms Hassan Nahon’s letter was laced with “jealousy” at not being officially named deputy leader of the GSD after coming second in the line-up at the last election.
Ms Hassan Nahon in fact referred to this issue in the letter to Mr Feetham, adding that “nothing could be further from the truth”.
She claimed Mr Feetham had unofficially informed her by email last February that she was to act as his deputy in his absence, but that she had not made more of that message “…partly so as not to rub anyone up the wrong way and partly because I had no real interest in being your Deputy.”
Ms Hassan Nahon will continue in Parliament and said yesterday that she had no desire to relinquish her commitment to the community, despite resigning from the party in which she was elected into Parliament.
She wished her former GSD colleagues the best for the future and hoped they could enjoy “a respectful albeit distant” relationship on the Opposition bench.
“I intend to work alongside the present Government whenever circumstances require it, and as much against it whenever warranted,” she said in her statement.
“My main objective and focus will always be to represent people’s causes and needs to the best of my ability within my role as an MP.”
“If, in time, it becomes apparent that the people of Gibraltar want me to continue to represent them beyond the next three and a half years, I have no doubt their voices will be heard, and I shall make any subsequent decisions if and when the time comes.”