The Political Conundrum

The petition made by Resistans ek Alternativ, a political group, before the UN Commission on Human Rights and the response of the latter have taken local politics into a conundrum that is yet to reach a healthy and democratically sound finality.

The quest of Resistans ek Alternativ was to seek redress against the Constitutional provision to the effect that a candidate was declared ineligible to take part in general elections unless he/she declined his/her ethnic/communal affiliation under one of the four heads provided in the Constitution.

The matter had gone as far as the Privy Council which ruled that it was for the Mauritius Supreme Court to give its ruling on the matter. Before the latter could hear the case however the government, being the respondent before the Court, indicated that it was contemplating an electoral reform and asked that the matter be considered in the light of that forthcoming reform proposal. Accordingly, the Court’s hearing was postponed to yesterday 8th May.

At this hearing, the Attorney General informed the Master and Registrar of the Supreme Court yesterday that an electoral reform was under process and that it will be implemented before the next elections. The matter is due to be heard again on 10th June.

The reform proposal has yet to be tabled before the National Assembly which involves a Constitutional amendment with a three-quarters majority in the House. The government does not have such a majority on its own. It follows that the necessary amendment to the Constitution can be effected if it has the support of MPs from the Opposition. Of the Opposition parties, it is the MMM that has sufficient numbers of MPs to bring in the required majority.

It turns out that the proposed amendment to satisfy the quest of Resistans ek Alternativ would have the effect of setting aside the Best Loser System (BLS) which is the Constitutional mechanism in place to ensure adequate communal representation in the House. To offset this loss, the ‘electoral reform’ contemplated by the government in this context involves the introduction of a dose of Proportional Representation (PR), something that the MMM leader has been looking for since a long time in order to give his party a better representation in the House than what he has been able to secure under the First Past The Post (FPTP) system currently in force.

Under the proposal made by the Prime Minister (PM) on 24th April, the PR would combine a Party List whereby leaders of political parties would set out a list of those to be picked up after the elections on the basis of votes cast for each party. It is said that this mechanism would help maintain adequate representation of different groups of the population in the House in the absence of the BLS. Here, the differences between Labour and the MMM have been on the numbers of PR, the MMM asking for more than the numbers proposed by the PM. The PM has put a condition that parties would be eligible to the PR system provided they secured a threshold of 10% of votes cast. In the course of further conversations lately with Paul Bérenger, he would have suggested that eligibility under the PR should be restricted to parties securing 8.5% of votes cast plus at least one elected member.

Coming out from his last but one meeting with the PM at Clarisse House, Paul Bérenger revealed that, apart from the electoral reforms which the PM had come up with in his statement of 24th April, they had been discussing in parallel about what is termed a ‘Second Republic’. This is about how power will be shared between himself as Prime Minister and Navin Ramgoolam as President of the Republic. Information has been gradually released on this project. It appears that the arrangement will be for Paul Bérenger to become PM for 5 years and for Navin Ramgoolam to become President with enhanced powers.

However, Paul Bérenger came out looking flustered up after his last meeting with the PM on these subjects, stating that the PM would have suggested to him that the President should be elected (whereas he was of the view he should be appointed by the House) and that he was averse to it as it might create communal divisions in the country. He stated he would be having no meeting with the PM on this matter and other issues until a Bill was presented in Parliament. Navin Ramgoolam came up later on to state his faith in democratic principles inasmuch as he held that a President wielding extensive powers has to be publicly accountable and therefore elected under universal suffrage.

After the statement in the Court yesterday by the Attorney General in the matter of Resistans ek Alternativ v/s the State to the effect that a Bill for Constitutional amendment will be presented before the next elections, it is emerging that work has been going on to draft the Bill canvassing all these matters and that it will be presented for approval by the House. In concrete terms, an overhauling substantive change to the Constitution, encompassing both electoral reform and the so-called ‘Second Republic’, would be contemplated without seeking a prior mandate for the same from voters.

When all this is said and done, the question arises whether the contemplated changes will really contribute to enhance the overall governance structure of the country. It is uncertain that it will bring up our best and most independent minds to take charge of the affairs of the country in accordance with the highest principles of democracy. It is also uncertain that the country’s institutions will be allowed to do the work for which they are designed in the best interests of the nation, putting things back in order in an objective manner.

It does not indicate how political parties will make themselves accountable both to the people who have elected them with a specific mandate and whether they will be ruled in future with the expected amount of internal democracy as it would have been in the best interests of a truly democratic setup. It does not address the critical issue of how political parties will make their finances transparent and be publicly accountable, rising above individual and private interests and free of lobbies funding them. It is important to keep in mind that when the impediments to social and democratic economic progress will raise their ugly heads, it will prove almost insuperable to gather the necessary majority to reverse a situation that would have already gone out of hand.

M.K.

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