If we genuinely believe in democracy, then we should accept that everyone has a right to be heard without being negatively labelled
Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
In a write-up on the submission by the Federation of Hindu Socio-Cultural Organisations to the Electoral Boundaries Commission (EBC) in the newspaper l’express of 26 Nov 2018, the expression ‘les lobbies sectaires’ is used twice. The Federation is reported to comprise 12 member organizations, of which only 4 — Arya Sabha Mauritius, Hindu Maha Sabha, Hindu House, Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation – are selectively mentioned. And yet, in addition to these and other Hindi-speaking member organizations, there are also the: Mauritius Marathi Mandali Federation, Mauritius Telegu Maha Sabha and Mauritius Tamil Temples Federation.
Applying the term ‘lobbies sectaires’ to a group or community tends to crytallise into a stereotype and is most offensive, as such an appellation hurts the sentiments of the people referred to. Anyone who reads that write-up would tend to conclude that only those organizations mentioned from amongst all the socio-cultural organizations that exist in this country – and are Constitutionally entitled to group together like-minded citizens and to ventilate their views on any subject of national or even sectoral interest – are ‘sectaires’, and that by implication the others are not. Again, if that was the intention, which we hope was not the case, it is even more incriminating.
After all, if we genuinely believe in democracy, then we should accept that everyone has a right to be heard without being negatively labelled. For example, the group Affirmative Action has made representations up to UN level, but at no time was it designated as ‘sectaire’ by that same press. Quite the contrary – it was presented as a group seeking justice for its constituency of Creoles. Why then do so for others who make similar representations to bodies set up under the Constitution to listen to the views of all stakeholders which they are duly mandated to consider? In the name of mutual respect, the decent thing to do would be to refrain from using such stigmatizing expressions which can be divisive and thus inimical to a spirit of national unity’.
As it is, whoever goes through that submission by the Federation will quickly come to realise that there is nothing sectarian about it; indeed, at no time is the word ‘Hindu’ ever used in the document. It is meant to ‘depone on our concerns’, given that ‘the EBC has failed to address and correct the discrepancies and disparity that the issue of Constituency boundaries has brought most specifically since the last two decades’. It is therefore focused on the issue of the size and delimitation of electoral boundaries so as to ensure a balanced representation of the people making up the constituencies.
Clearly, much thinking and deliberation has gone into the preparation of this document, wherein are cited among others, provisions of the Constitution, the Sachs Report, the Electoral Observers’ Report by the Electoral Institute for the Sustainability of Democracy in Africa in 2010 after the 2010 general election to the effect that the “number of inhabitants of each constituency is as nearly as is reasonably practicable to the population quota”.
Given the ‘crucial role’ of the EBC, the document draws attention to the fact that its members are appointed on a part-time basis, and express the wish that they ought to be instead on a full-time basis so as to be able to properly fulfill the complex task they are assigned. In fact, the conclusions of the document speak for themselves:
‘To suggest the way forward in view of a real drive and dynamism for change:
(A) We would suggest that the EBC has to start working on the legislative frameworks with the different stakeholders in order not to delay the acceptance of the 2019 report by the National Assembly and to make the adoption as an easy process and not to enter into the debate of leaving voters disenfranchised;
(B) Probably to also suggest that in future, if it has not been suggested already or is in the pipeline, the word ‘inhabitants’ be replaced by ‘residents’ to be in line with the criteria of ‘voters’ and so the necessary consequential amendment to the Constitution will be warranted.
(C) Hoping that the EBC has already prepared and obtained the necessary census data based on ‘inhabitants’ and ‘residents’ to be able to differentiate the density of all constituencies and to bring clear statistics and data to the public because perception is also very necessary;
(D) Work on realignment of the geographical area of each Constituency;
(E) A recalibration of the number of inhabitants/population quota is most necessary and urgent, after a proper census is carried out by the EBC itself. We should find a denomination in the calculation of our population census whether it should be for inhabitants or residents.
(F) A study as to why the residents of certain constituencies are not growing similarly to other constituencies whereas the trend is mostly the same level of growth in the remaining other constituencies. Could there be any reason for such migration from one constituency to another with a view to inflate the number of inhabitants/residents in another constituency and therefore which requires the need to take into account a voter’s quota and propose such amendments to the Constitution in the report;
(G) An analysis of whether gerrymandering is not being condoned by the present delimitation.
(H) Whether the EBC has considered introducing the element of a maximum quota and a lower quota in each constituency in order to bring some kind of equality.’
In the end, the document aims ‘to strongly push for solid reform for the greater interest of the people of this country. Should we fail in this exercise anew, we will be leaving our future generation with a delay of thirty years of no change. We want social reform and social justice for our voters.’
Thus, this is about ‘the greater interest of the people of this country’ and not about only a group or community. If the Federation were ‘sectaire’ this would have surely reflected in the document. As this is not the case, such an allusion is totally uncalled for, unjust and unfair, and we reiterate, should be avoided so as not to stereotype. And this reasoning applies to any other group or community seeking to ventilate its concerns, as indeed has been done and will continue to be done in future, given that social construction is always a work in progress.
In contrast to the Federation’s submission is that of the group ‘Fair Play’, which has also deponed to the EBC on Saturday last. Its spokesperson is ex-Minister Joseph Tsang Man Kin, whose imprint can be clearly seen in the document, as he has shared many of the ideas therein in interviews given to this paper earlier. Whereas the Federation concentrates on the constraints faced by the EBC and its method of working, Fair Play’s approach is an altogether different one. After an interesting discussion of some basics, it categorizes voters into three groups, namely Colonials, Post-Independents and Republicans. It proposes 80 ‘uninominal’ constituencies of approximately 11,500 voters each, which it feels will eliminate the need for any form of proportional representation such as the BLS, and makes proposals about financing of political parties, amongst other things besides. It is certainly as an interesting a document as the one submitted by the Federation.
We can only await the EBC report and the decision of the government subsequently before any further development takes place in this matter.
* Published in print edition on 30 November 2018