The Chief Minister of Gibraltar, the Hon Fabian Picardo QC MP, has today agreed with the Deputy Chief Minister, the Hon Dr Joseph Garcia MP, the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Dr Keith Azopardi QC MP and Independent MP, the Hon Marlene Hassan Nahon MP, that the Referendum on Abortion convened for next Thursday the 19th of March should be postponed.
The Government believes that there is no health risk with the Referendum proceeding, as the Director of Public Health has repeatedly advised that the nature of the voting exercise is safe. There is no intention to contradict the advice of the Public Health professionals.
The concern that has motivated the Government is that the advice to elderly people to stay home and avoid public places may appear to contradict the call to a vote by universal suffrage which could then lead the result of the Referendum, whatever it may turn out to be, to be called into question. This would potentially deprive the result of the Referendum of democratic legitimacy and, in that way, would defeat the object of the exercise of putting the issue to the people.
The new date for the Referendum will be fixed by the Gibraltar Parliament when Parliamentarians are advised that there will be no risk to any age group entitled to vote.
The Chief Minister has also spoken to the leaders of the respective campaigns in the Referendum, who have also agreed this is the best course of action at this stage.
Both campaigns have also agreed to suspend campaigning until the new date for the Referendum has been determined by the Gibraltar Parliament.
The Chief Minister has spoken this evening also to the Referendum Administrator to advise him of the decision to postpone the Referendum.
The Chief Minister has consequently signed an Order to revoke the earlier Order setting the date of the Referendum for the 19th March and in that way has postponed the Referendum date.
Mr Picardo said: “I want to thank the Referendum Administrator and his team for the work they have done to date on the organisation of this hugely important Referendum. I know that this delay will mean they have to re-do a lot of work they have already undertaken. I also want to thank the respective campaigns for their understanding and agreeing to suspend campaigning until we are able to fix a new date.
I have been in touch this afternoon with all the other party leaders. We have agreed this is the best course of action. This does not contradict the Public Health advice, as we are not doing something they advise us not to do, we are just taking a view as to the potential democratic legitimacy of the result, which must stand up to scrutiny. This could be affected by the apparent contradiction in asking a particular age demographic to stay at home whilst at the same time convening them to an exercise in universal suffrage.
Slowing the inevitable spread of the virus in Gibraltar requires us to act decisively and to adapt on a dynamic basis to the circumstances as they develop. I believe this is the right decision for the difficult weeks ahead.”