On a Matter of Principle

Any proposal from any political party or alliance should be open to scrutiny and analysis. This exercise, to be worthy of consideration, should be based on a principled approach, not on biased or vague emotions. It is in this context that Mauritius Times has gone at length to evaluate the proposals made by the Labour-MMM alliance for Constitutional changes in the forthcoming elections.

The concern about and emphasis on this issue should be placed in context. Ever since the election for independence, Mauritian voters have consistently been asking for more decentralized decision-making and accountability from individual political parties and from government and opposition. This is a reasonable and legitimate expectation, given the fragility of our social construct.

Everybody should feel that s/he is being fairly treated in national matters, unhindered by the discretionary or arbitrary exercise of power. This happens when there is an institutional framework which operates on pre-determined known rules, not on rules that can be hammered out to suit conjunctural conveniences on an ad hoc basis. Any departure from such a predictable, and desirable, governance structure for our country will be liable to social and political instability.

No political arrangement, even if it is bound to win at the polls, can overlook this aspect of our national aspirations. The question was therefore whether the proposed Constitutional changes tended to reinforce this element of predictability of the system or go counter to it. Anything going counter to this element of predictability would be introducing the element of instability in the polity. It has appeared, to us at least, to our regular contributors and to several of our interlocutors that the proposals being flagged in this context amounted to a move more towards concentration of powers than towards improving accountabilities in the public domain. In our view, the rules of the game are being modified only to suit conjunctural political conveniences or exigencies.

Our next view has been that the 30-30 ticket-sharing arrangement between Labour and the MMM does not carry the best ingredient for political stability, now and in the future. There is an inherent risk that one of the two parties could secure a larger number of seats in the House and feel therefore that it, not the other, should be in command. This would be especially so when serious policy differences come up.

The situation of potential conflict and political instability arising from such an arrangement will be aggravated in the event of a conflict of personalities. We have therefore expressed the view that the Labour Party should have had a leading role (the controlling share, as it were) by means of having a bigger number of tickets allocated to it. This view however has not been heeded. Time will tell whether there was wisdom in the parity of ticket allocation between the two parties.

We have stated that when this kind of obvious disparity in fact in the matter of ticket allocation is combined with what has been called ‘Electoral Reform’, involving the allocation of additional seats to parties through the mechanism of a party list system of proportional representation (PR) in the Assembly, it has the potential to further turn a majority win by the Labour Party under the existing First Past the Post System (FPTP), into a minority situation, effectively a defeat for the party.

Given the differences in the numbers of voters in different constituencies and, further, the implication of the use of wasted votes to allocate the PR seats, this newspaper has demonstrated, by actual examples from competent analysts, that the PR will help the losing party secure even more seats to the detriment of a party like the Labour Party winning in the larger constituencies under the FPTP system. The proposed PR system constitutes a trap to turn a FPTP majority into minority, with obvious consequences for political stability and good governance. Again, our words of caution that the so-called ‘Electoral Reform’ should be reviewed have not been heeded.

It might have been assumed that a President with added powers under what has been called ‘Second Republic’ would be able to overrule any such seditious tendencies by the political party in alliance. We hold the view that a President who does not command a majority in the House would ultimately be rendered powerless even if the amendments being proposed in the context of the Labour Party-MMM ‘Electoral Alliance Agreement’ would enhance his Constitutional powers. To our mind, the President of the Republic should at all costs be empowered by a comfortable majority in the House to enable him to set the political agenda and withstand any pressures brought to bear upon him and that go against the interests of the country. The 30-30 ticket-sharing arrangement does not allow for this to happen. It is loaded with instability and fraught with serious political risks for the Labour Party itself post the forthcoming elections and thereafter made worse, post-Constitutional changes, through the operation of the proposed Wasted Votes-based PR system.

We have therefore come to the conclusion that the arrangements made will be to the detriment of the Labour Party and for all the values that it has stood for since 1936. We have also pointed out that once the Constitutional changes have been made to altogether alter the political setup, it will be next to impossible to marshal another ¾ majority in the House to go back to a better system like the FPTP along with the Best Loser System.

As for the setting up of the Second Republic, with the provision for a one-round presidential election, it can be safely assumed that it’s quite unlikely that any of the candidates would secure a majority of more than 50% in a widely contested election with a number of ethnic/communal/caste-based groupings and other smaller parties, as well as the LP and MMM in opposition to each other at a later stage

We have consistently maintained that one does not proceed to make such a critical leap in electoral/Constitutional reform on the basis of discussions between two ageing leaders, excluding all others, without any consideration for the views of the people at large. We maintain that considerably more time must have been allowed to consider in depth the proposals made, seek the appropriate expertise to perform scenario simulations, present these to the public, and then after factoring in the responses decide on the way forward.

In other words, the detailed proposals, including the fine print, regarding the electoral reform and the Second Republic, must first be made available to the electorate so that it can analyse them coolly before going to vote. This has clearly not happened, and is a great disservice.

It is the soundness of this country’s future governance that needs to be guaranteed. Until concern for that as a primary issue is expressed in as many words by the leaders of the two parties in Alliance, and the necessary steps taken to address it expertly, voters are advised the greatest caution as they envisage to present themselves at the booth on 10th December.

Our duty has been to lay down the foibles and serious implications of the Constitutional changes underlying the present elections. The spin-doctors, the fence sitters and those who have chosen to remain quiet will assume their responsibility. We feel that we have assumed ours by drawing attention to the inherent risks contained in the proposals made by the Labour-MMM alliance and this is where our responsibility, as a newspaper witness to the political history of this country, stops. It is for voters to draw their own conclusions and make their choices freely.

 

* Published in print edition on 5 December 2014

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