Electoral system: Caution is still necessary

At his press conference following the meeting of the Bureau Politique of the Labour Party as Guy Rozemont Square yesterday afternoon, the Prime Minister first said that free and frank discussions had taken place on several of the issues in relation to electoral reform and an alliance between the Labour Party (LP) and the MMM of Paul Berenger.

He announced that he had received the final draft of the Electoral Reform Law which had been submitted by the Committee set up for this purpose and chaired by Attorney General Satish Faugoo, and that he would be meeting Paul Berenger at Clarisse House on Saturday morning to discuss and fine-tune details of the proposed alliance.

As far as electoral reform is concerned, it is clear that all the legal and constitutional technicalities and other hitches will need to be ironed out so as to ensure a smooth transition towards a reformed electoral system. This is expected to bring on board a dose of Proportional Representation besides the 60+3 First Past The Post-elected Members of Parliament. The mechanism that will achieve this will simultaneously subsume the BLS and thus eliminate the need for candidates at elections to declare their community category according to the current classification. This measure will be in line, according to the PM, with the UN requirement which Mauritius has to fulfil.

No details have emerged about the stage at which the negotiations regarding an LP-MMM alliance have reached. However, it would seem that the Labour leader has obtained the approval of the Political Bureau of the Party to initiate alliance negotiations with the MMM, as he plans to do on Saturday morning. It is to be noted, though, that thanks to Paul Bérenger’s own admission such negotiations have been afoot for many weeks now, concurrently with the talks with respect to electoral reform.

It is clear that electoral reform and the setting up of a Second Republic will only come about only if and when a political deal is agreed upon by both the LP and MMM leaders. Constitutional obstacles in the way of the proposed electoral reform will surely be taken care of. Hopefully too their long-term implications properly examined to ensure that the serenity that this country has known during the last 50 years is preserved. In other words, as the PM himself observed during the press conference, the proposed electoral reform law will be thoroughly examined in light of any further inputs that will follow its circulation, as confirmed by the PM, so as to pre-empt any ‘unintended consequences’, to use his words.

But over and above the constitutional technicalities, what is of paramount importance is the political soundness of the terms of an electoral alliance between the LP and the MMM which will put in place a different political construct and a new power-sharing arrangement between a Labour Party President of the Republic and an MMM Prime Minister.

The point has been made in different quarters and in this paper itself that the country is in need of a strong government (this however should not exclude empathy), which supported by an agile and competent Civil Service and forward-looking (and less egoistic private sector), will engineer the country’s economic development towards a much higher level comparable with, why not Singapore, despite the constraints and limitations of size, geography, demography, etc. In this perspective, we have no quibble with the PM’s statements to the effect that what is sought through the electoral reform and the alliance is a strong government that will ensure national unity and stability, attract investment and bring about peace and serenity in the country.

There are presently different windows of opportunities opening up to make that possible: a new, perhaps more sympathetic, government in India, vast trade and business opportunities and potential with the African continent besides South Africa, China and generally with the BRIC countries.

Strong political leadership will also be required to deal with the hordes of vested interests that have come to plague public governance at different times and in different sectors of Mauritian society, whether with respect to issues relating to education, monetary policy, etc.

The prerequisite required to make things happen so as to produce outcomes in the best interests of the country is clear-headed and firm political leadership at the helm of the affairs of the country. Despite the confidence of the PM, more clarity is required about the form and nature of the proposed arrangement of power sharing, because it must be certain that this will not lead to two centres of power being at cross purposes with each other. That is why the terms of an eventual electoral alliance due to be negotiated will require deep and serious thinking for, beyond the interests and political ambitions of the respective political leaders, it needs to be reiterated over and over that it is the stability and progress of the country that is at stake.

We have said it earlier that Navin Ramgoolam is very well placed to understand that some measure of Proportional Representation in our electoral system may, in certain specific circumstances, skew the balance of power in Parliament and in the country. Moreover, on the strength of a 50:50 electoral alliance between the two parties this may effectively put one of the two major parties – the LP, for example – in a minority situation should things not work out as planned.

We may be moving in the right direction for the country, but at this stage it is premature to be euphoric, and much caution is still necessary as we tread on this path.


* Published in print edition on 6 June 2014

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