Debating local council re-formulated boundaries


By M.K.

The hottest subject of public debate in Mauritius during the past two weeks has been about a possible manipulation of electoral boundaries, taking advantage of the recent enactment of the Local Government Act 2011. The discussion was provoked by the MSM which has been speaking about intentional regrouping of certain wards on a communal basis by the government, in the wake of the enactment of Local Government Act. This party has officially protested against the matter to the President of the Republic, asking the latter to review the new dispositions of the wards as laid down in the Act, in accordance with the powers vested in him. Taking its time, the MMM on its part reacted on Saturday last. While it claimed that gerrymandering would effectively have taken place, it laid stress upon political rather than communal manipulation underlying the exercise. It did not go further apart from asking that the correspondences between the Ministry of Local Government and the Electoral Commission (EC) should be made public. This would show whether the EC has acted impartially in the delimitation of electoral boundaries under due process and not under the influence of any interested party.

In fact, it is the job of the Electoral Supervisory and Boundaries Commission (ESBC), an independent body involved in the electoral process, to decide, on its own initiative, on the delimitation of wards and constituencies from time to time. It performs this duty within a laid-down legal framework, submitting itself to due accountability to those it is required to consult with before finalizing its proposals. In the present case, the EC invited the ESBC to consider, along with it, the delimitation proposals made by the Ministry in the Local Government Bill 2011. This is what comes out from a Communiqué dated 29th February 2012 issued by the EC.

According to the Communiqué, the Electoral Commissioner’s Office (ECO) was approached in the present case in June 2011 by the Ministry of Local Government, seeking its views and comments on proposed delimitations of the five Municipal Councils and their Wards, Villages and District Councils in the context of the proposed new Local Government Bill. Despite the delimitation proposals from the Ministry not being within the remit of the Electoral Supervisory and Boundaries Commission (ESBC), the ECO decided to refer the matter to the ESBC. In this context, new proposals were submitted to the Ministry by the ECO in the light of certain criteria. The proposals, according to the EC, are reflected in the First and Second Schedules to the current Local Government Act 2011. However, the whole matter has become yet another issue politically. The President of the Republic has been seeking the views and opinions of those concerned to ascertain the propriety with which the reconfiguration of constituencies has been done in the context of the new Local Government Act. It being given that the law has only recently received the President’s assent, the question arises as to whether the Office of the President did not at the time of giving his assent satisfy itself that due processes had been complied with by all concerned.

This kind of backtracking is a matter of embarrassment, especially in view of the fact that it is the MSM, the President’s former party, that has raised the issue with the President and that the President himself is being cited as likely to be called upon to assume high office in the event of an impending remake of an MMM-MSM alliance of 2000. This imbroglio suggests that there are surely certain boundaries that ought not to be crossed if good governance is to prevail.

* * *

Remake of the MMM-MSM Alliance of 2000

Here is another matter that gained currency sometime after the MMM’s leader swung position last year about who really should carry the can for the MedPoint scandal. It is known that at first, his prime suspect in the case was the MSM but, after he received more information from third parties on the scandal, the MSM has apparently become companionable and a potential ally of the MMM for the next general election.

However, the case being instituted by ICAC in this connection against the MSM’s leadership has not been sorted out yet. This explains partly the long-drawn-out hesitancy of the MMM’s leader towards getting into an alliance with the MSM. But he must be having other reasons as well. Under cover of meetings with the Labour leader on the subject of electoral reform, he has been gauging the chances of forming an alliance with Labour rather. It is publicly suspected that those meetings he had would really have been occasions for him to test Labour’s readiness to accommodate the MMM in an alliance with it. The electoral reform appears to have been dashed due to an excessive emotional pitch created by the need to set aside the Best Loser System. The consequence is: Labour and the MMM have lost their common ground in the process. Not that it cannot be resuscitated, if need be.

The latest device, as if a final word of rejection were being said on the Labour-MMM alliance in the making, has been the MMM’s leader’s statement that the Central Committee of the MMM (CC) be called up to pronounce itself on 3rd March to decide whether it endorses an MMM-MSM remake of 2000 in principle. This in-principle decision is to be carried out by secret ballot. It may be recalled that the politburo of the MMM had accepted the idea of a remake of the sort last year. Now, it is the turn of the CC. The CC secret ballot vote is being taken 10 days after it was first announced. This gap may look strange and it might have been calculated to rekindle Labour’s interest to form an alliance with the MMM in the interval, giving the MMM what would have been denied to it in previous rounds of discussions.

Such is the nature of political posturing that has captivated minds over a long stretch of time over here. The MSM must be feeling singularly humiliated, which should explain why it has not pronounced a word about what the MMM leader has been cooking up at its forthcoming CC meeting to gain political mileage. The MSM badly needs to enter into an alliance with one of the two major parties without, however, being in a position to dictate terms to whomsoever. Besides, a remake of 2000 would require the President of the Republic currently in office to step down in order to lead a conjectural alliance that would be agreed to by the MMM’s CC and, that too, only in principle, implying that it can be repudiated at any time with dire consequences for the President. He will have to relinquish many actual real levers of power in his hand if he were to join the political fray in the event of a favourable in-principle decision by the CC. The MMM’s CC has a history, notably in 1982, of being capable of overturning the power and prestige of high offices of the State. That might not have been the last time it did such a thing.

This futile game is something quite unlike nation-building. It is the sheer pursuit of power. For the MMM, this pursuit is justified inasmuch as whatever alliance will emerge for it out of the sinuous concoctions of political alliances being chased up, the vested interests backing the party should be in a position to dictate the country’s agenda as it suits their private objectives. The vested interests are not limited to the local economic elite; there are international ramifications coming from certain global leaders in whose company our political leaders are very fond of finding themselves. Those foreign leaders’ industries enrich themselves at our expense.

We have been down that road before. It has been a void, something that has not broken new and inspiring grounds for the country as a whole. This futile pursuit has surfaced again because those in whom the people have vested power have not lived up to their responsibilities. It is said that where delivery by the political class falls behind expectations, the quest for personal security by political leaders comes on top of the agenda. We deserve to be spared of this predicament.

* Published in print edition on 2 March 2012

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