Diaspora & Right to Vote

“Voting depends on residence. Even in some countries where the diaspora has the right to vote the electors must be physically present in the country to cast their vote. This is the case of Singapore”


Much has been made recently about the Mauritian diaspora’s “right to vote” in local elections. The inclusion of a country’s diaspora in its political processes represents an important tool to maintain connections with its citizens abroad. For the diaspora, voting is also a means of preserving national belonging and identity. The issue however has constitutional, philosophical, political as well as practical implications. It is a particularly complex question in so far as Mauritius is concerned given the country’s political history, its plurality, etc. LEX sheds light on the issues involved.

* In November 2019, 838 foreign nationals residing in Mauritius – 523 Indians, 68 South Africans, 36 Pakistanis, 67 Britons and 45 Bangladeshis – registered on our electoral lists might have cast their votes in the then general elections, and possibly helped produce an electoral outcome that would not affect them directly. Is that acceptable?

The question is not whether this is acceptable. The Constitution provides that any Commonwealth citizen of not less than the age of 18 years, and who has resided in Mauritius for a period of not less than 2 years immediately before the date for the registration of electors may be registered as an elector. Equally, a person who is domiciled or resident in Mauritius at the date of registration may be registered.

* Our Constitution also provides in Section 33 (‘Qualifications for membership’) that a person who is a member of the Commonwealth shall be qualified under some conditions to be elected as a member of the Assembly – and therefore eligible for the post of the Prime Minister. What could have been the inspiration behind these provisions when our Constitution was being drafted?

This is in line with the philosophy behind allowing any Commonwealth citizen to be registered as an elector. Any elector can be a candidate at an election if he/she is a Commonwealth citizen of not less than 18 years old; provided he/she has resided in Mauritius for a period of, or periods amounting in the aggregate to, not less than 2 years before the date of his/her nomination for election; and has resided in Mauritius for a period of not less than 6 months immediately before that date. One important qualification is that the person must be sufficiently proficient in English. 

But realistically can we imagine a Bangladeshi or a South African standing as a candidate and as a leader of a party and get elected? Already a Mauritian who satisfies all the constitutional conditions cannot aspire to become Prime Minister for reasons that we all know.

* The fact that a number of Bangladeshis – only 45, if we go by the 2019 electoral lists – were seen participating in the elections has provided new fodder to those have been claiming for the Mauritian diaspora’s “right” to vote. On the face of it, that makes for a convincing argument, isn’t it?

 It appears to be ironical that a foreigner who is a Commonwealth citizen and who satisfies the constitutional requirements has the right to vote whereas a Mauritian citizen living abroad has no such right.

* The issue of making it possible for the Mauritian diaspora settled in different parts of the world to participate in the electoral process back home has constitutional, philosophical, political as well as practical implications. Which is by far the most important consideration we should at?

The philosophical consideration is when you give the right of vote to a Mauritian living abroad, he has a better sense of appurtenance to the country. He/she would take a keener interest in the affairs of the country.

The political consideration is to what extent the votes of the diaspora will influence the outcome of the election locally. Do not forget that electors in Mauritius can be influenced till the last minute and votes, whether we accept it or not, are bought. Will the diaspora also succumb to such nefarious and illegal influence?

The Constitution and the Representation of the People Act will have to be reviewed and amended if the right to vote is extended to the diaspora.

* Besides the practical and financial implications with regard to the registration of diaspora voters (apparently in the range of 200,000 to 500,000), the easing of the voting process at our embassies/consulates, etc., there is the issue of eligibility. How do we define who becomes eligible to participate in local elections?

Eligibility for those in Mauritius is already provided in the Constitution. The same age eligibility will have to apply to the diaspora. Then thought must be given to other factors as they would not be resident or domiciled in Mauritius.

* What about the second and third generations, that is the children and grandchildren of the first generation who left to settle down abroad for economic or political reasons?

Up to what generation will that right be extended remains to be seen. Are the children of the first emigrants or their grandchildren or great-grandchildren concerned with what happens in Mauritius? Most probably many of them have never set foot in Mauritius.

* In an earlier opinion expressed on this subject, Rama Sithanen had argued that the Mauritian diaspora (unlike the Americans who regardless of their adopted country, pay taxes in the United States) pays its taxes elsewhere, so how can it vote in Mauritius? What’s your take on that?

The non-payment of taxes in Mauritius is a solid argument against granting the right of vote to the diaspora. After all how will the country benefit if the vote is extended to the diaspora?

* There is also the issue of the electoral outcome which might be overturned in the case of marginal constituencies and even nationally. Would that be fair to the local population whose lives are directly affected by what comes out of elections?

This a possibility as the tendency to vote on communal or caste lines is very much ingrained in our electoral philosophy.

* To make it possible for the diaspora to vote, it would be necessary to amend to reform our electoral system as well as redefine our electoral boundaries in case a separate constituency is required for the diaspora. That sounds easier said than done?

The qualifications of electors as defined in our Constitution will have to be amended. The registration clauses contained in the Representation of the People Act will also have to be overhauled. At present the registration of electors takes place when registration officers visit households and gather all the data. In addition, there are registration offices in different localities to enable people to register. Objections can be taken against registration. How will the list of electors of the diaspora be compiled? Will it be online? How do we check the eligibility criteria? How will objections to registration be done?

* The European Court of Human Rights had earlier ruled against an Englishman who had sued the State to claim his right to vote after spending 15 years outside the country. The Court had stated that the right to vote is conditioned by residence in the country. Wouldn’t it therefore be much simpler to grant the right to vote to those of the diaspora who decide to come back to the country and settle down for good?

This seems logical. Voting depends on residence. Even in some countries where the diaspora has the right to vote the electors must be physically present in the country to cast their vote. This is the case of Singapore.

* Published in print edition on 18 May 2021

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