Sir Peter Caruana, Gibraltar’s former Chief Minister who led the GSD in government for 16 years, said yesterday he would back Keith Azopardi’s bid to become the party’s next leader.
In a statement, Sir Peter praised GSD interim leader Roy Clinton but said Mr Azopardi was the “better and stronger” of the two candidates contesting the leadership.
Mr Clinton said he respected Sir Peter’s views but voiced “deep regret” that, as a GSD political heavyweight, he had not remained impartial.
Sir Peter said the leadership election triggered by the resignation of Daniel Feetham last July signalled the GSD’s continued “solidity and political maturity”, adding that members hoped both Mr Azopardi and Mr Clinton would serve the party irrespective of the outcome.
“Together they are a solid core of a future electoral team,” he said.
The statement will come as a blow to Mr Clinton, a former banker who is focusing his campaign on party members whose votes will account for 60% of the leadership ballot, with the balance held by the executive.
Mr Clinton said he had discussed the statement “full and frankly” with Sir Peter on Wednesday evening, and had hoped he would not take side in the contest.
“Sir Peter naturally always has had the best interests of the GSD at heart as its elder statesman and certainly is held in the highest esteem by me despite us not always being in agreement,” Mr Clinton said.
“In respect of my candidature for the leadership of the GSD, I have not sought the endorsement of any former GSD ‘heavy weight’ since I strongly believe that any candidate should be able to stand on their own merits alone.”
“It is of course a matter of deep regret to me that Sir Peter has been unable to remain impartial during the leadership election process but I respect his decision to make his personal views public.”
“I trust that the GSD executive and membership will vote according to their conscience and consider the exciting manifesto that I offer the party for renewal.”
“I have a long standing commitment to the party and in addition the skills and experience necessary to meet the challenges that Gibraltar faces currently and in the future.”
In his statement, Sir Peter said Mr Clinton had shown “considerable skill” in filling the leadership gap left by Mr Feetham’s departure from the post.
He also praised the manner in which Mr Clinton had “masterfully articulated” issues about public finances in a way that was accessible to the wider community.
But he said Mr Azopardi – who served in the first two GSD administrations, including a stint as deputy Chief Minister – brought valuable skills and experience as the GSD prepared for the next general election.
And while Mr Azopardi had left the GSD over a point of principle following its merger with Mr Feetham’s then Labour Party, he had not abandoned the party’s vision and values, Sir Peter added.
“I believe that Keith Azzopardi is the better and stronger of the two candidates for leadership of the GSD, and I therefore support his candidacy,” he said.
“He has experience of party political leadership, of ministerial office in both social and economic ministries, of public finances and is also an experienced and committed constitutionalist.”
“He is thus well experienced and equipped to lead Gibraltar domestically and to uphold and promote Gibraltar’s self-government and external issues, which are vital to Gibraltar’s long-term economic and political prosperity and security.”
Yesterday Mr Azopardi welcomed Sir Peter’s intervention.
“I’m very grateful to have Sir Peter’s endorsement and for his kind words about me,” Mr Azopardi said.
“If I’m elected, I intend to apply myself with hard work to ensure we carry forward the core values of the party into the future.”