Gibraltar voters set to oust Social Democrats

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Voters in Gibraltar are set to oust the centre-right Social Democrats from power after 15 years in a general election on Thursday in the contested British overseas territory.

The party has the backing of 43 percent of voters against 52 percent for an alliance between the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party and the Gibraltar Liberal Party, a poll published last week in online newspaper Panorama showed.

The Progressive Democratic Party, founded just five years ago, has the support of the remaining five percent of eligible voters.

Under Social Democrat Chief Minister Peter Caruana, in office since 1996, Gibraltar has improved its relations with Spain and its economy has grown.

But the leader of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party, Fabian Picardo, has accused Caruana, 55, of being "autocratic" and has vowed to introduce a more open style of government if elected.

The 39-year-old Picardo was elected party leader in April, taking over from longtime head Joe Bossano.

Nearly 22,000 people are eligible to vote in the polls in the tiny British territory, which is located on the southern tip of Spain at the strategic entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.

Thirty candidates, 10 each from three political parties, are contesting the election for the 17-seat parliament. The results will be announced on Friday.

The Social Democrats captured 49 percent of the vote at the last election in 2007 compared to 45 percent for the alliance between the Labour and Liberal parties.

Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht but has long argued that it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty. Britain has said it will not renounce sovereignty against the wishes of Gibraltarians.

© 2011 AFP

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