By Peter Ibbotson, Enid Lakeman & John Fitzgerald
Would peter Ibbotson please explain what sort of voting system he does think right? In his article published on the 25th May, he first points out (very rightly, in my opinion) the evil effects of French and Italian laws designed to secure that the political parties should not win seats in proportion to the votes cast for them. These attempts to reduce the representation of some parties below what is warranted by the popular support for those parties, Mr Ibbotson rightly denounces as “electoral jugglery”.
But he then draws the final conclusion that we must “resist to the last” not this jugglery but the very opposite — the Irish voting system which ensures that the parties do win seats in proportion to the votes cast for them!
The reason for this odd sort of logic appears to be Mr Ibbotson’s fear that PR would “weaken Labour representation in the Legislative Council”. Would it? If so, that can only mean that Labour has at present more than its fair share of representation. If Labour resists a change to PR, this means it is clinging to a privileged position in which it has more power than the electors of Mauritius wish it to have; as an active member of the British Labour Party, I find such an attitude most deplorable. I should like, on the contrary, to see the party take the lead in offering fair representation all round.
A similar comment applies to Mr Napal’s article on “Indians and PR”: it is unfortunate that PR was not adopted for Mauritius long ago but has been postponed until there is (or is alleged to be) a danger of Indian hegemony. The movement for a change thus comes to be represented as anti-Indian, whereas in fact it is only anti-the over-representation of Indians or of anyone else. Again, the best remedy for any anti-Indian feeling is for Indians themselves to take the lead in securing fair representation for all communities, including their own. In Eire (a state born in civil war), fair representation for all parties and religious groups has led to a harmony among them which is conspicuously lacking in Northern Ireland where PR is not used.
Secretary PR Society
(Mauritius Times – Friday 15 June 1956)
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Can anybody follow Mr Ibbotson’s reasoning in his article of the 1st June? First he tries to throw doubt on the sincerity of Mr Fitzgerald and myself on the ground that we have chosen to earn our living as paid employees of this society which advocates P.R. But it does not seem to occur to him that his own motives are much more open to question when he advocates a voting system which would give his own party a lot of extra seats (which, at least, has not that effect so far).
It is of course that consideration of party advantage which accounts for the 14 votes in the Legislative Council against proposed constitution: there are in the Council 13 members of the Labour Party which sees P.R. simply as something which will prevent them from having a majority of the seats when they are not backed by a majority of the voters. They were able to win only one other member of the Council to their side, and there is no evidence whatsoever that they are backed by public opinion.
In the second place, he points out that the Labour Party won 13 out of the 19 elective seats in 1953, and objects to having this reduced, by appointment of anti-Labour nominated members, to 13 out of 31; he says this destroyed the “majority which the electorate clearly desired it (Labour) to have.” But the electorate clearly did not desire anything of the sort: the number of votes cast for the Labour candidates (including the Independent not opposed by Labour) was only 131, 418; the number of votes cast against Labour was 161,322. How on earth can Mr Ibbotson twist that into a popular vote in favour of giving Labour a 2 to 1 majority of seats in the Legislative Council?
As a matter of fact, the appointment of the nominated members made Labour’s representation almost precisely what the electors voted that it should be — 13 seats out of 31, while the number of seats in proportion to the votes cast for Labour would be 14. What the P.R. Society wants to see is each party in Mauritius getting its fair share of seats as a result of the voting itself, without the necessity for adjustment by means of nomination.
Research Secretary of the Proportional Representation Society
(Mauritius Times – Friday 29 June 1956)
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Mr James Fitzgerald asks just what system of voting I think right. It is easy to answer that question. I like the single-member constituency where the M.P. or M.L.C. is elected by a simple majority. If I cannot have single-member constituencies, then I support the idea of multi-member constituencies, provided the Members are elected by a simple majority.
In short I prefer the system as it is operated in Great Britain; but if I cannot have that system, I would wish to have the system at present operated in Mauritius.
I do not however want any juggling with the electoral system, either on the lines of France and Italy — as I described three weeks ago — or on the lines of proportional representation. I object to the election jugglery in Italy and France because it was blatant interference with the rights of the electors to elect whom they chose. I object to proportional representation (a) in principle, and (b) in the particular cynical circumstances in which it has been proposed for Mauritius. I object to it in principle because it leads to the negation of good government and orderly social and political progress; and in the particular circumstances of Mauritius because it has been proposed simply to weaken Labour representation in the Legislative Council and hence to strengthen the power of the exploiters and imperialists who, never in the history of the world, have willingly and peaceably wielded power.
Mr Fitzgerald is very naive in saying that the Mauritius Labour Party “has more power than the electors of Mauritius wish it to have”.
On the contrary, thanks to the undemocratic existence of so many Nominated Members, the Labour Party — although it won a striking majority of elected seats at the 1953 elections — has far less power than the majority of voters wish it to have. And Mr Fitzgerald, claiming to be an active member of the British Labour Party, (incidentally he was elected to his membership of a county council through the British system of voting which is not P.R.), is willing for this frustration of the wishes of the electorate to continue! He refers to the lack of political harmony in Northern Ireland where P.R. is not used. He doesn’t say that P.R. used to be used in Northern Ireland — but it didn’t reduce the lack of harmony. No, give me the British voting system every time.
(Mauritius Times – Friday 29 June 1956)
* Published in print edition on 20 April 2018