There is no point in speculating at this stage about the nature and breath of the electoral reform proposals that the Prime Minister has announced, for public release prior to the resumption of Parliament shortly.
He has given, though, an inkling into the reform package he would be presenting: constitutional reform coupled with electoral reform with a view to strengthening the powers of the President of the Republic, likely abolition of the Best Loser system “in the interests of the country”, and wider representation of women in Parliament, among other things. Notwithstanding the well-orchestrated build-up and lobbying in favour of electoral reform by the Opposition, one should not forget that when it comes to political reform, it is the government that sets the agenda, not the Opposition. Any government will come forward with such reform at such time that befits its political agenda and that meets the demands of its political exigencies. So is it too with the reform proposals that will be tabled by the present government soon.
There is no doubt however that the timing of the reform proposals at this particular juncture when the MMM-MSM combine are about to “confirm” their “Remake 2” political arrangement — in the days to come, we are told — may give credence to the speculation about the short-term objective that would be sought to be attained by the Labour Party leader with a view to undoing the alliance between these two opposition parties. That is by selling to the MMM leader the proposition that a mixed electoral formula combining the First Past The Post system and a dose of Proportional Representation (as actively canvassed by the MMM) would henceforth guarantee a fair and better representation of the MMM, equal to its electoral weight, in Parliament. This would pave the way to some form of political arrangement between their respective parties for the next general elections – subject to an agreement on a repackaging of the Best Loser system into an alternative that would meet with the agreement of their vote banks.
We are not there yet, but we are hoping that our political leaders will not tinker with such an important issue as constitutional and electoral reform to meet short-term objectives at the expense of the public good. What may be good for the political leadership may not necessarily serve the interests of the Party — and of the country – especially as regards constitutional amendments with respect to the powers of the President of the Republic and of the Prime Minister. It is important that the proposed reforms be widely debated by all stakeholders and the public, so that they are fully informed about the long-term impact that any such reform will have. The best option would be for the governing alliance to seek the mandate of the people as regards its proposals at the next general elections before they are implemented thereafter.
There may be a temptation to undo the constructive work done so fair by what is known as the FPTP system in terms of economic, social and political stability. This is why the consideration of a dose of proportional representation to smooth out anomalous electoral outcomes of the FPTP, such as those that have materialized on a few occasions in the past, is apparently contemplated. It is imperative that we avoid getting into irreversible situations which will bring about a highly volatile situation in the country. It is also necessary and essential that we do not come to a point where too much power is centralised in a single or few hands.
There is a case however for electoral reform from other more important perspectives than that of simply increasing the number of representatives through a PR system. For example, it is very important to improve the way power is shared and exercised. Thus, electoral reform could address the issue of making political parties more democratic in their internal functioning and decision-making processes. As it is, the leader of the party leverages his position to exercise control over the members – into virtual submission to his will by virtue of the fact that he is the sole one to decide upon and distribute electoral tickets. If the BLS is dropped, and the ‘party list’ system adopted then he has a second lever: as the selection of candidates to balance ethnicity will be purely arbitrary and at the behest of the leader, which means accommodating occult interests to his favour. Therefore, instead of strengthening internal democracy in the party, it is the opposite that will effectively take place – a slide towards more autocracy, not to say dictatorship.
Electoral reform could also address another sore point, notably control over party finances and the urgent need to weed out for good the root of corruption of political parties through corporate financing of political parties. The disparate number of voters forming part of distinct constituencies needs to be rationalized to a more acceptable level.
A further matter of importance is the quality of aspiring politicians: what will encourage competent and truly patriotic younger Mauritians to join politics? The political class has been receiving a battering of late, with all manner of allegations about probity and attitude. It has been said that it is not that power corrupts: it is those who wield it who are corrupt. There are enough examples around the world to substantiate this claim, and locally too we are not an exception to the rule, with the added dimension of a superlative arrogance of power. Could electoral reform go in the direction of recruitment of future MPs à la Singapore, which we so much want to emulate?
An electoral reform cannot be used to accommodate private pursuits; it should be seen to be in the interest of the country as a whole and not be made to suit conjunctural situations on the political scene. Can we have genuine electoral reform?
* Published in print edition on 15 March 2014