At the time of our independence there was already a sizeable number of Mauritians living abroad, especially in the UK – where they had gone to do nursing amongst other occupations – and Australia, where they had migrated driven by the false fear of a so-called Hindu hegemony which never came to be.
Yet, the framers of our constitution did not include in it the right to vote of those Mauritian emigrants. From time to time this issue is flagged, and currently there is a post going around on social media showing a poll among the diaspora which puts the Labour Party in the top position with over 50% of votes.
Our first point on this matter is that granting or not the right of voting to the diaspora should be something that is not done only for the sake of political correctness. Whatever decision to be taken in its regard must be after a deeply thought-through process that is part of an electoral reform exercise that is forever receding on the horizon. As it is, the present system is fraught with certain asymmetries that themselves need to be addressed. One of the most decried one is about representativity, so that there is genuinely a one-man one-vote principle.
It is well-known that the population size of different constituencies do not reflect this principle. A constituency with a smaller population e.g. 20,000 elects the same number of candidates, namely 3, as one that has 50,000. This is an anomaly to which attention has been drawn repeatedly, but no definitive solution to this conundrum has come about to date. This relates to the question of electoral boundaries, and there has to be serious reflection and analysis that involves multiple stakeholders – political parties, civil society entities, etc – in order to come to a sensible formula.
On the other hand, while there is no doubt that the diaspora keeps itself updated on local events, their source of information is the media’s version which may can only reflect one slice or one aspect of the total picture. Thus, if the diaspora is to vote based on this kind of information, its vote is bound to be skewed. There are many ground realities that will be out of bounds to the disapora, realities which may not be flagged in the media. And thus again lead to bias in voting pattern of the dispora.
Further, there is constitutional provision for any voter to have resided in the country for a certain number of years in order to be able to vote, a requirement which is to be found with practically all countries. Allowing the diaspora to vote will also require changes to be brought about in the Constitution, itself a complicated exercise. Overall, therefore, this is not as simple an issue as the sample and limited ‘poll’ that is circulating suggests.
* Published in print edition on 18 May 2021
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