The Committee set up by the government to provide an “effective remedy” (as enjoined by the UN Human Rights Committee further to the case brought before it by Rezistans ek Alternativ, which took issue with the disqualification of candidates who elect not to declare their communal appurtenance for electoral purposes) has not been able to come up with an “ideal solution” despite their best efforts , as conceded by Rama Sithanen himself during the week. Besides the need for an amendment to the Constitutional (Declaration of Community) (Temporary Provisions) Bill 2014 (as announced by the government’s unofficial spokesman with regard to electoral reform and matters thereof – the Leader of the Opposition – during a press conference on Wednesday), so as to allay the apprehensions of mostly the Sino-Mauritian community, which viewed with concern their possible exclusion from the Best Loser System (BLS) in the wake of the operationalisation of the Transitional Provisions, there are a number of other misgivings about these provisions.
One “unintended consequence”, as Mr Sithanen has also conceded is the creation of two categories of candidates. One category would be those who declare their community belonging, thereby qualifying themselves to a second chance to get into Parliament through the BLS, to the exclusion of those who do not. Secondly, the Transitional Provisions have been drafted specifically for the next general elections only, which thus and in effect qualifies them as a transitional remedy – pending such time as when the Best Loser System will be subsumed into a comprehensive electoral package. It therefore hinges on the probability that the next governing alliance, post-2015, will command the required three-quarter-strong majority for its enactment into law by the next dispensation.
We are not there yet, for there is to date no guarantee that the leaders of the two main political parties, principally guided by partisan interests and personal ambitions which may bring them at cross purposes, will be able to craft a unified vision for an alliance they might be contemplating for the next elections. Thus the possibility of the next government finding itself back to Square One as far as the search for an “effective remedy”, as enjoined by the UNHRC, is concerned – until such time as another transitional patchwork is worked out to meet yet other legal challenges.
Nevertheless the Transitional Provisions Bill will, in all likelihood, make it through Parliament thanks to the present consensual disposition of both the Labour Party and the MMM and the support of most the other parties represented in Parliament. But the two-month long deliberations of the Committee chaired by the Attorney General for working out the final “mini-amendment” demonstrates the political – and emotional – complexity of a multi-ethnic society like Mauritius.
At the cost of the repetition, we have to emphasize that making sense of the social, communal, caste and political sensibilities and the sensitivities of Mauritian society and finding the way through its complex electoral labyrinth should best be left to a Constitutional Review Commission comprising jurists, local as well as foreign, well versed in matters relating to electoral systems and reform, as has repeatedly been pointed out by our contributors over the past weeks.
In fact in our last week’s editorial we did allude to the remark made by Sir Victor Glover to the effect that it would have been preferable to have three to four Constitutional experts from abroad to assist the country in this matter. There is a real risk that if the country succumbs to the public pressure that Mr Paul Berenger is applying on a quasi-daily basis (because he seems to be a man in a hurry), a half-baked solution may cause more problems ahead.
Moreover the high-handedness displayed by the MMM leader during the past weeks with regard to a number of issues relating to the fight against corruption (the setting of a Serious Fraud Agency as the umbrella institution for all anti-corruption bodies, and to be headed by a foreign national), the energy sector (the “black coal” of CT Power will not do, it would seem), and the agenda and operationalisation of electoral reform, etc., raises serious doubts about the potential serenity and stability of the future alliance that is being contemplated – inasmuch as the stands taken on the issues referred to appear to be at variance with those of the present government.
Consequently, unless more clarity is forthcoming on these matters on the part of the leaders and preferably in a single voice before a formal alliance materialises, such incompatibility will not make for a durable partnership.
* Published in print edition on 11 July 2014