Who, and what for, electoral reform?

Last week we took the position that there is no point in speculating about what the White Paper on Electoral Reform to be released shortly, as announced by the PM, will provide for in terms of changes to our electoral system – both in breath and in depth.

We drew attention to the statement of the Prime Minister that any such reform will have to be accompanied by constitutional amendments with a view to strengthening the powers of the President of the Republic, and the likely replacement of the Best Loser system with an acceptable alternative for those who seek a constitutional guarantee for minority representation.

What is of interest to us is not what the different parties directly concerned by the question of electoral reform will make of the White Paper which they are waiting for with bated breath. Short-term (political) objectives, such as undoing an opposition alliance, may be conjecturally important for some, but they should not come at a price that will not serve the long-term interest of the country, from the point of view of its political and social stability.

In any case, it looks increasingly unlikely that this (short-term objective) can/will be attained. It appears that the main opposition party, the MMM, which may now be very well aware that it cannot obtain what it wants to extract from the LP Leader, may already have made up its mind as to the political dispensation it will hinge its fortunes on for the next elections. That dispensation will make room for a “junior partner” – that is an MSM “reduit à sa juste proportion” – an idea that it is selling in the main to its own electorate (la base) which is naturally skeptical of and disinclined towards the MSM’s young leader Pravind Jugnauth. It has also been only too well-known that the overriding aim of the MMM’s (and its covert-overt constituency in the media) push for electoral reform is to ensure that it is always assured of electing an appropriate majority that would prove indispensable to form a government.

Whatever the expectations of each of the main political stakeholders, what is of interest to us is that we should not waste the opportunity that will hopefully be afforded by the White Paper to revisit and provide clarity on several aspects of public governance and the way politics is conducted here.

A broad sweep of thinking citizens reasonably expect that the White Paper will address a number of issues:

Should we have an Upper House? If so, we have to establish the rationale and raison-d’etre, consider its size and composition, the desirable profiles of its members and what will the mode of recruitment to that forum.

Duration of the mandates of the President and PM respectively. Our political journey so far seems to indicate that two terms of 5 years, each are sufficient and appropriate for the Prime Minister.

As corollary, a President, who is but a political nominee in our current system, cannot go beyond the term of the political dispensation that placed him/her there. And the President’s mandate should be limited to one term of 5 years.

Should we maintain the current system, is there a place for sharing of powers between the PM and the President? What for? What if the President does not espouse the political philosophy of the PM? Under such circumstances, isn’t there a risk of gridlock in the National Assembly?

If the PM is to stay in office beyond two terms, then according to democratic principles the majority should have the last word, and so it’s necessary that this question be widely debated.

Political financing by the State is another major issue that needs to be frontally addressed, and the limits and modalities of corporate financing be spelt out so that both State and corporate financing be thoroughly transparent. Here the German experience may provide some clues.

As regards the dispensation of justice, it has been obvious for a long time that an appeals entity cannot be made up of the same sitting judges that deliver a verdict. There is a need for an independent body of retired judges or those with equivalent legal experience and expertise to assume that responsibility.

On the other hand, what about Constitutional guarantees and security of tenure for specific holders of office, but at the same time provision for some form of accountability so as to ensure continuity in the governance of the country?

These are but some of the matters that we feel will have to be raised and discussed widely through consultations with a broad range of stakeholders, with sufficient time but within a specified timeline. The best will be to have a broad-based Constitutional Review Commission that will look into all aspects as we cannot tinker with such an important issue. And here, because this is such a crucial step in our country’s political life, we are not averse to having expert(s) in Constitution from elsewhere if need be.

The whole issue cannot be left to only political parties to decide upon. National level debates across the board must be held and then a final way forward elaborated.

 


* Published in print edition on 21 March 2014

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