A.Pursotham

Frank Talk

Which community does Paul Berenger “represent”?

A. Pursotham

According to press reports, Paul Berenger said that his new proposals on the Best Loser System (BLS) should “alléger la souffrance des Tamouls”. The same press reports further states that the Leader of the Opposition considers that the Tamils are suffering from the fact they are “represented” by only three MPs.

If the press reports are right, Paul Berenger must have added up all the groups and sub-groups representation in Parliament and concluded that the Tamils are the ones who are worse off in terms of representation.

Of course Paul Berenger’s ethnic arithmetic is not new. For instance, immediately after the Labour Party announced its list of candidates for the 2000 elections, Paul Berenger made a public statement criticising the party for not having on its list the number of candidates to which the Tamils were entitled to. Again Paul Berenger must have done the numbers and checked the entitlements.

What the Leader of the Opposition did not say is who voted for the three Tamil MPs. Is it only Tamils or is it a wider cross-section of the electorate in their respective constituencies? If, as is most likely, voters from all communities voted for those who were elected, then why would the MPs “represent” only one community? How would any community have X number of “representatives” in Parliament when MPs are elected on a constituency basis and not by the community to which they belong?

If each MP “represents” a particular community or should be counted amongst “representatives” of each community, then which community does MP Paul Berenger “represent”?

Of course, we know that in 1983 Paul Berenger did agree to take a seat in Parliament, though he had been defeated in his own constituency, because he was appointed as a Best Loser. Under our Constitution, Best Losers are appointed “in order to ensure a fair and adequate representation of each community.” Mr Berenger consequently agreed to serve as a Best Loser MP “in order to ensure a fair and adequate representation of each community.” How did he subsequently ensure the “representation” of the community whose adequate representation he was appointed to ensure?

For anyone looking at the “representation” of each community in the present Parliament, would it be right to include MP Paul Berenger as “representative” of any particular community for purposes of determining whether that particular community is going through a “souffrance”?

Ironically, the flawed reasoning of Paul Berenger about quotas and entitlements and whether “representation” is below quota or not proves the point which the Prime Minister and Rama Sithanen have been making. Indeed both Navin Ramgoolam and Rama Sithanen have argued that a fair balance can be subsumed in the system and the more so in a PR party list. Political leaders will, and already do, maintain an ethnic balance in nominating candidates for election and will be able to do so in a party list should proportional representation be introduced. The fundamental question raised by the two opposing views on BLS is whether our country needs constitutional provisions to ensure that no group feels left out or can the country expect that political parties will themselves ensure this for their own political fortunes if it is not for the selfless dedication to the national good.

The fact that the Leader of the Opposition concedes that the existing arrangements outside the purview of the Constitution allows for “representation” of different communities and that whilst Labour may have failed to put up the required number of candidates from a particular group in 2000 (he presumably must have complied with quota requirements for all groups) then he confirms what Navin Ramgoolam and Rama Sithanen have been saying all along: We do not need to inscribe communal representation in our Constitution. The political parties will take care of that. As Paul Berenger must have done since 1976 without the aid of any constitutionally entrenched provision.

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Regression: Substituting Arbitrariness for Constitutional Rules

Berenger’s latest proposals on the mode of appointment of Best Losers are preposterous. Forty-four years after independence, he wants to substitute party leaders for the Electoral Commission. Instead of having a constitutional body appointing Best Losers in accordance with clear rules prescribed by the Constitution, he wants the appointment to be made by party leaders. He wants to replace the rules known to the voters before they cast their votes by unfettered discretionary powers to party leaders. He wants to replace Rule of Law by Arbitrariness and Dictatorship.

Most of the MPs who voted against abortion were from the MMM. The MMM believes that MPs “represent” the communities to which they belong. The MMM set up the cultural centres which were then described by the opposition as the balkanisation of the nation. The MMM now wants to scrap the powers of a constitutional body and give these powers to party leaders not constrained by any pre-determined legal rules.

The divide between the conservatives and the progressives in Mauritian politics has not been clearer for decades.

A. Pursotham 

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