Electoral reform: proceed with caution and consistency

In line with the stand we have taken so far, we are not concerned about the histrionics of any of the leaders involved in the negotiations regarding electoral reform and the proposed Second Republic.

What is important to us are the fundamentals – which have been expressed in a number of articles in this paper over the past weeks – that will ensure our country’s political stability and social peace as well as economic growth: inclusive growth that is.

Berenger’s zigzags after his two meetings with Ramgoolam on this issue and his apparent exasperation with the latter’s ‘lack of seriousness’ therein have morphed into doubts that he has expressed only this week about the probability for the electoral reform to go through in Parliament, given the likely opposition from within the ranks of the Labour Party. Hence the examination of a fall-back position by the Committee being presided by Attorney General Faugoo, which would allow would-be candidates to put in their candidature without having to declare their communal appurtenance. In the wake of and perhaps drawing a lesson from Modi’s thumping victory in India on the sole strength of the BJP, Navin Ramgoolam has only yesterday expressed his preference for going alone to elections as he abhors having to lean on political crutches. Replying to a question from the press about the likelihood of a LP-MMM alliance, he said he would instead wish to have the whole cake to himself.

We reiterate that these histrionics are irrelevant to the fundamental questions that should interest Mauritians and the future of Mauritius. It is likely that Navin Ramgoolam is biding his time and is engaged in a demarche to tire out his opposite number in the current negotiations, with the ultimate objective of obtaining a deal that would best serve the interests of the Labour Party. He is very well placed to understand that what Paul Bérenger is trying to impose on the government is Proportional Representation in our electoral system that would in effect skew the balance of power in Parliament and in the country. On the strength of a 50:50 electoral alliance between the two parties this would effectively reduce the LP to the status of Junior Partner – even if the LP Leader were to assume the role of President with enhanced powers. As clear as the light of day, this would amount to a powerless President without the necessary majority in Parliament to ensure that one of the two has the upper hand. We need not climb to the mountaintop to see that such a political arrangement would in all likelihood give rise to political instability, given their strong personalities and different political cultures. But even otherwise too, regardless of personalities and cultures, because distortion of the power balance is inherently unstable.

It is evident, therefore, the ‘conditions objectives’ for a LP-MMM alliance to take place on the terms wished for by the MMM are not present.

Moreover, the proposed reform is already meeting opposition from a wide cross-section of Mauritian society, both from those that will be directly affected (the small parties) and from concerned members of civil society for what they are consider are good reasons. These have to do with the threshold of 10% agreed upon by the LP and MMM for eligibility to PR seats, which would shut out from Parliament small parties and other voices from the national debate on all matters that concern the people at large. There is also dissatisfaction leading to opposition to the way these negotiations are taking place, only between two leaders. It gives the impression that they would be cutting the reform cloth according to their political coat.

At the cost of repetition, some of the fundamentals that should interest Mauritius must again be emphasized, starting with an electoral system that would ensure fairness and equity, and accountability, as mentioned in the White Paper made public by the Prime Minister himself. Are these issues of fairness, equity, and accountability being addressed? Reference has also been made to the matter of electoral financing, and the supervision and holding of elections. Very importantly, there are strong views for more democracy within parties, otherwise the hold of leaders with the party list will be consolidated. This will inevitably lead to a biased selection which not only will not reflect the will of the people but will hold the leader, and by extension the party, hostage to the vested interests represented by such selected members. That is why we have consistently maintained that there must be a special body set up to consider both electoral reform and the second republic. It must be given sufficient time to hear and consider representations from the public and stakeholders at large, including political parties, and then come up with what transpires form these representations.

The alternative is to come up with a proposal on electoral reform and a second republic at election time, and let the people decide one way or another, and then proceed accordingly.


* Published in print edition on 23 May 2014

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