Binding Boundaries

Mauritius Times – 60 years ago

By Somduth Bhuckory

When the public sittings of the Boundary Commission were over, the Commission issued a public statement in which it was said inter alia: “The Commission have not as yet reached any decision but they have prepared two draft schemes – one for forty single-member, and another for eleven three-member constituencies. These schemes are entirely the personal work of the Commissioners and no one, official or non-official, has been consulted about them. The Commissioners are very conscious that, as strangers to Mauritius, they lack the local knowledge which Mauritians themselves possess, and they have therefore placed copies of the two schemes at their office for public inspection and criticism.”

Having dealt with their schemes and their lack of local knowledge, the Commissioners went on to invite criticisms in writing. They said that their schemes were available to the public at the Commission’s Office on certain specified days at certain specified times. The closing date to send the written criticisms was the 26th.

It is these schemes that have appeared in the press last Wednesday, just one day before the closing date. After having a look at the maps and after going through the figures, we don’t see how the public can be helpful to the Commission. We maintain that the task that faces the Commission can be tackled by the Commission only and nobody else. The two maps are fascinating indeed. Used to seeing the island divided into nine districts, everyone is eager to know the proposed boundaries. But there is more eagerness to know the outcome.

* * *

It can easily be seen now that it is impossible to have forty single-member constituencies satisfying the conditions laid down in the London Agreement and included in the terms of reference of the Boundary Commission. Assuming that the proposed boundaries are reasonable geographical boundaries which can be expected to endure for a reasonable number of years, let us consider how far the forty single-member constituencies will afford each main section of the population “adequate opportunity to secure representation”.

The census of 1952 on which the demarcation is based classifies a total population of 501,415 as follows:

General…………………….148,238

Hindus………………………258,381

Mohamedans………………76,746

Chinese……………………….17,800

To reflect the composition of the population it follows that out of 40 elected members there must be 12 of the general population, 21 Hindus, 6 Mohamedans and 1 Chinese.

Now, the minority communities which are seeking representation more than any other are the Muslim and the Chinese communities. As regards the Muslim community, we find that in only one constituency it has absolute majority and in only one relative majority. So, this community will have “adequate opportunity” of returning only two members. As regards the Chinese community, we find that in only one constituency it has absolute majority and in only one relative majority. So, this community will have “adequate opportunity” of returning only two members. As regards the Chinese community, we find that it does not have either absolute or relative majority in any of the constituencies. So, this community will be denied the opportunity of returning a single member.

The scheme is quite fair as far as the General Population goes. The General Population has absolute majority in 8 constituencies and relative majority in 3. The Hindus have more than what is required: they have absolute majority in 25 constituencies and relative majority in 2.

Is not the foregoing analysis sufficient to show that the proposed boundaries do not guarantee the “adequate opportunity” they must in order to be acceptable? The conclusion is therefore clear: we cannot have single-member constituencies. The conclusion, by the way, does not surprise us at all for we reached it long ago, when the London Agreement was published. We said then that we could not expect the Boundary Commission to square a circle.

* * *

So, it can safely be predicted that what is coming our way now is the List System. Once that the Commissioners are satisfied that they cannot demarcate the single-member constituencies they have only to “demarcate boundaries for 11 three-member constituencies, which shall be roughly equal in the number of voters, basing them as far as possible on present divisions used for purposes of central or local government.”

From the alternative scheme of the Commission, we find that the proposed three-member constituencies have a total population varying from about 40 thousand to about 52 thousand. Well, this is roughly what is desired. In this case, let it be remembered, the Commissioners have not to see whether the main sections of the population will have “adequate opportunity to secure representation” or not.

It will not be long now before the Commission reports. This is how the Commissioners have planned their work. We quote from the communication issued by the Secretariat dated the 15th of July and signed by the Commissioners: “We shall carry out our consultations in two stages starting stage I in Mauritius at the beginning of August and we hope to conclude stage II not later than October 4th. The Secretary of State has asked us to report if at all possible before the end of October.”

Once the Boundary Commission reports in favour of the List System, it will be interesting to know the reactions. Hon Mohamed has repudiated the London Agreement and a large part of the Muslim community has already expressed its intention of boycotting the elections. The Chinese community has not gone so far as that, it has only asked for its representation. The Parti Mauricien will not lose anything in accepting the List System and so it is very likely that it will keep silent.

The question which has started to loom large is: What will the Labour Party do? Its spokesman has criticized the List System without repudiating the London Agreement. It is no secret today that the Labour delegates had exceeded their mandate in accepting the List System as an alternative. Knowing full well that the List System is bad, will the Labour Party accept it? And if the Labour Party does accept it, will the rank and file support the Party?

4th Year No 164
Friday 27 September 1957


* Published in print edition on 11 May 2021

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