A Recipe for Instability

Electoral Reform & Second Republic

By M.K.

The leader of the MMM is very good at preparing public opinion. He has always been. During the past three months, he made it appear to followers of the MMM that it was in their best interest to rally in a coalition with the MSM led by Sir Anerood Jugnauth. As we said last week, he appears to have been disappointed with the failure to destabilize the majority of the present governing alliance – a task he had assigned to SAJ in this so-called ‘remake’.

This failure to bring down the Labour-PMSD government – not so much the alleged wrong-doings of MSM parliamentarians Shawkutally Soodhun and Maya Hanoomanjee – would explain the MMM leader’s decision to place his newly concocted alliance with the MSM for cooling off in the fridge. He did not dare go as far as to announce in clear terms that, for all practical purposes, his latest arrangement had become part of history already.

For, simultaneously, he started speaking about the MMM having reached a “99% consensus” with Labour for an “electoral reform” which both parties would be in favour of. This reform would involve a combination of the existing First Past the Post (FPTP) system as the core determinant of the electoral outcome, coupled with Proportional Representation (PR) at the level of 20% of votes cast along with the maintenance of the Best Loser System (BLS), albeit with a lesser number of BLS appointees (4 instead of 8 at present). According to Paul Bérenger, this formula had already been agreed to between the two parties, notably Labour and the MMM.

As we stated last week, nothing was forthcoming from the Labour side about this proposed deal. It is only on Wednesday last that the Labour leader stated that the BLS was incompatible with a PR system. So, we do not know which is which: did they agree to a deal including the BLS to find out later that it did not fit into the scheme or was the BLS out of the picture completely giving the PR system the primacy over it?

However, along with the subject of “electoral reform”, the MMM leader distilled information that discussions also involved the establishment of a “Second Republic” on the back of an MMM-Labour electoral deal. According to the MMM leader, there would be a 50-50 sharing of tickets between the two parties along with the new “electoral reform”. In this scheme of things, there would be a division of responsibility at the top of the political hierarchy between the President (with a 7-year term) and the Prime Minister. The President would have the power to dissolve Parliament (currently, it is the Prime Minister who has this power) and be directly in charge of certain portfolios which apparently would be out of bounds for the Prime Minister. The President who would, under this scenario, be vested with those executive powers would be elected by a parliamentary majority headed by the Prime Minister.

The speculation has gone round that, under such a scenario, Dr N Ramgoolam and Paul Bérenger will be holding the presidential and prime ministerial positions respectively. Our correspondent, D.E. V., has highlighted (in today’s issue) the real dangers posed by this sharing out of tickets combined with PR once we have an Assembly in which the President’s party does not command an absolute majority. Power will shift in the circumstances to the one who commands the majority in the House and the country will face situations identical to what the PR system has done in Rodrigues, thinning down even a generous FPTP majority secured by the OPR in the elections to a slim difference of one vote in the Rodrigues Regional Assembly.

One can easily imagine the instability such a situation would give rise to. The tussle for a unilateral pole of power will eventually be settled by the party having majority in the House. Against this, there exists the risk of an uneasy “cohabitation” between the President and the Prime Minister but with the latter (in case he commands the majority in the House which is a real possibility along with PR) having the upper hand to dictate the policies the President should endorse. It will, in any case, be disastrous to have two distinct centres of power. It may be recalled that the country was saved from this cumbersome situation once when the MMM politburo decided to dictate its agenda to the government back in the 1980s.

On July 29th last, a deadlock emerged in Romania following a referendum to “get rid” according to The Economist, of the country’s “abrasive, polarising and allegedly abusive president”. Even though 87.4% of the votes cast went in favour of removing the president from office, the fact that less than 50% of voters turned out to vote in the referendum, made the outcome invalid. The centre-left government of the Romanian prime minister has in the meantime moved in to take over state institutions and ignore rulings of the country’s Constitutional Court which it considers as a Stalinist institution. Europe is heavily embarrassed with this political instability in one of its member countries, not knowing how to go ahead with a Euro 5 billion ‘loan’, being considered along with the IMF and the World Bank, to the country already hit by severe drought and the euro crisis. The Romanian president does not appear to have respected the rule of law but the rule of law may be coming to his rescue despite a massive popular disapproval of his self-advancing methods.

One cannot knowingly travel in the direction of creating similar instability with the attendant risk that sooner or later, attempts are made by local politicians to shift the blame, when things go wrong, to the other side. The PR system has shown that it contains an inherent risk of creating this sort of instability, especially in environments where the electorate is gradually tilted by diverse electoral tactics to swing to one side rather than to stick to its anchor. There are self-seekers aplenty who, for personal gain, can have recourse to the most odious forms of blackmailing in this country. They can help swing the pendulum to a position from which it cannot be brought back again and one has to be wary of such potential dangers. Even if the FPTP system which is in place since independence, has yielded outcomes from time to time that under and over-represent political parties in the Assembly, this is no reason to invite an important element of instability in the electoral system by creating two potentially contending poles of political power in the country by means of a conjunctural share-out of power.

* Published in print edition on 3 August 2012

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