Electoral Reform & Second Republic

have to be put to the people clearly and sanctioned by them

The leader of the MMM appears to be in a hurry.He stated that all that has been agreed upon between himself and the Labour leader about the proposed ‘electoral reform’ can be speedily drafted up and put for approval by the House. He could see no reason why this work should not be clinched up quickly. At some stage, when the Labour leader appeared to be vacillating over certain modifications to be introduced as regards the eligibility threshold for proportional representation (PR) in the new system, Paul Bérenger was plainly annoyed and stated that he would not discuss with Navin Ramgoolam any more until the latter presented a draft bill on ‘electoral reform’ for approval in the House. Yet, the Prime Minister was taking a principled approach on the issue, notably that such a major piece of legislation could not be undertaken without the prior approval of the people in a democratic election process.

This week matters took a new turn. The Prime Minister, after having prorogued Parliament, set up a panel made up of the State Law Office, Satish Faugoo, the Attorney General, Sir Victor Glover, former Chief Justice, Alan Ganoo, Deputy Leader of the MMM and Rama Sithanen, former Labour Finance Minister, together with members of the State Law Office, to draft the bill on ‘electoral reform’. This panel is meeting as from yesterday. Sir Victor had stated earlier that if the parameters of the reform have been agreed upon by the leaders of the political parties, it should take no more than two days to draft the amending legislation.

The leader of the MMM is interested fundamentally in securing a dose of proportional representation in the voting system. The aim is to thereby correct the outcomes of elections based on the heretofore First Past The Post (FPTP) system which does not throw up a matching number of parliamentary seats obtained by different parties in relation to the number of votes secured by them. The constitutional change to carry out the ‘electoral reform’ proposals agreed between the two political leaders, requires a three-quarter majority of members voting in favour. It is believed that if all Labour and MMM members of the House would vote for it, this three-quarter majority would be secured. This is why the leader of the MMM is pressing Labour to act and get the ‘electoral reform’ proposal approved. In his hurry to get to his electoral objective, he has blazed a trail: he put an end to his party’s long-standing alliance with the MSM without any compunction, despite getting the approval for it in the MMM politburo, not once but twice.

The panel having been set up, the technicians will not take too long to produce their work. But this is not all. It’s quite likely that the larger the number of PR seats conceded under the new system, the more the MMM will secure advantage over Labour in terms of representation in the House. It is therefore critical that the number of PR seats be limited to ensure that this does not happen. Especially given that those who vote for the MMM have historically not splintered their votes, which is not the case for political parties other than the MMM.

The two protagonists appear to have reached an understanding therefore that this ‘electoral reform’ will also comprise a second chapter in what is being called the ‘Second Republic’, basically a sharing of power between Paul Bérenger and Navin Ramgoolam. Paul Bérenger would rise from his position as Leader of the Opposition to become Prime Minister while Navin Ramgoolam would accede to the position of President of the Republic against the backdrop of a Labour-MMM alliance. We have said it, and we repeat, no matter the power vested in the President under this scenario, it is the one party that will command a clear and loyal majority in the House that will set the agenda. Moreover, a re-balancing of power between the President and the Prime Minister may be desirable, especially if it is accompanied by cast-iron rules securing the independence and higher public accountability of the country’s key institutions. There must be explicitly laid-down safeguards against abuse of power and due processes to be followed to take corrective action. A departure of this magnitude from the existing system to the one proposed necessarily has to be put to the people clearly and sanctioned by them in prior general elections. It is not an internal matter among political parties.


* Published in print edition on 16 May 2014

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