Less than two weeks from today, a new government will be in place. The uncertainty of the electoral outcome has kept increasing as we near the last part of the election campaign.
Voters have realized that this election has much more at stake than either of the several folkloric elections we have had since Independence, involving as it does shifting alliances among our political parties. People understand that there is more to it than what they thought at first about the implications of what have been termed ‘Second Republic’ and ‘Electoral Reform’. Equally, they understand that it has consequences for future elections in ways quite different from what it was with several decades of past elections.
This newspaper has analysed those implications at great length, drawing attention to shortcomings of the proposed new system after the elections. It has pointed out important risks associated with the proposed constitutional changes. Well-advised observers of the local political scene giving their views in the columns of this paper have observed that the introduction of the specific type of contemplated proportional representation (PR) in our First Past the Post (FPTP) system, if the MMM-Labour alliance were to secure a three-quarters majority in the House, has the potential to overturn the customary outcome and stability of the FPTP.
The analysis given by Manoj Gokhool, Chairman of UK based Centre for Electoral Psychology, in his interview with this paper (MT, 14/11) has demonstrated that a party like the MMM which wins in small constituencies (with a smaller number of voters) and loses in big ones (with a larger number of voters) stands the chance of having more (wasted) votes counted for the purpose of allocation of additional seats in the Assembly under the Party List PR system. As a result, such a party having received fewer votes overall compared with another major party, such as Labour, might secure more seats in Parliament under the proposed ‘Electoral Reform’. That would be even truer under a 30-30 sharing of tickets between the two parties, which is presently the case. This has implications for the country’s future political stability.
Another reason for uncertainty of the electoral outcome of December 10th is to be seen in the numbers of traditional supporters of both Labour and the MMM who might turn away from the parties they have respectively supported in the past. The general feeling among such voters is that their parties no longer stand for the values they were believed to be defending. The ballot box will resolve this problem on 11th December.
Various scenarios could play out post elections. One is that the Labour-MMM alliance could still win but not with the 3/4 majority the leaders of the two parties have been hoping for in order to be able to carry out the contemplated Constitutional changes. That would happen if voters’ attention will be focused on their proximity with individual candidates from their fold – communal or caste belongings – without due consideration for the proposed Constitutional changes. In such a case, the Alliance will have scored an ordinary victory for an electoral alliance of that nature, without having the necessary numbers to alter the Constitution. It will be status quo ex ante except that Labour would now be pressurised by its electoral ally, the MMM, to accommodate the demands of that party.
Another possibility is that the alliance could secure both a win at the polls and the required majority to carry out the required changes in the Constitution. In this case, the two parties would be expected to carry out the mandate they have given themselves, amending the Constitution to bring in the ‘Second Republic’ and the ‘Electoral Reform’ and holding out risky one-round presidential elections subsequently. Everything will be different thereafter with a quasi-impossible chance to reverse afterwards the changes introduced in the Constitution. The kind of political stability and social cohesion that have enabled us to make social and economic progress in the past under the FPTP cum BLS may no longer be there anymore. It remains to be seen whether a scenario of this sort will effectively play out on the 10th December.
Yet another scenario is that voters would have decided to vote contrary to their heretofore party affiliations, shifting their votes away from both Labour and the MMM in sufficient numbers to give the MSM-PMSD-ML alliance a win at the polls. This might be a simple win at the margin with both alliances coming almost even in terms of numbers elected and nominated under the BLS. In such a case, the intended Constitutional changes will not take place. Such a result could serve as a strong signal for any political party not to think of introducing the type of Constitutional changes contemplated by the Labour-MMM alliance.
The twelve remaining days before elections actually take place can change the electoral outcome one way or the other. Politicians may choose to remain on the safe side by not discussing issues which have the effect of shifting whole swathes of votes either way. Non-issues such as who-did-what-to-whom-in-the-past to eke out some sort of support for victimhood suffered by the protagonist or who-will-give-more-benefits-to-which-political-lobby-group or which-superhero-from-which-political-lobby-group has been presented as candidate in distinct constituencies, etc., will therefore be more dominant in public discussions than core issues like the proposed Constitutional amendment and absolute powers sought to be conferred on the President for a term of seven years.
As some observers have pointed out, this election will be far different from all those we have had in view of the risks posed by the proposed Constitutional changes accompanying an all-time shift of the levers of political power to one side. Mauritius waits with bated breath to find out whether it will regain its past serenity or whether these elections will be the occasion for politics to become an altogether different ball game in future.
* Published in print edition on 28 November 2014