In the course of a recent visit to Rodrigues, the Prime Minister had discussions with the Chief Commissioner, Serge Clair, of the OPR party, about the impact on the electoral outcome of the proportional representation (PR) in place in the Rodrigues Regional Assembly Act.
It came out that the adjustments recommended by the PR system had the effect of trimming down a comfortable majority the OPR had won the last elections with into a single vote majority for his party. The PM expressed the view that the PR system can seriously undermine an electoral outcome and should therefore not be a linchpin of the country’s electoral system.
On the PM’s return from Rodrigues, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Paul Bérenger, raised a question in the matter. The PM confirmed that in his opinion the PR system should not be allowed to overtake First Past the Post (FPTP) results in our elections, as it was borne out in the case of Rodrigues. Mr Bérenger was obviously not happy and expressed his own view that the government was not living up to its electoral promises during the 2014 campaign.
It is well known that the Rodrigues Regional Assembly Act was passed during the term of office of the MMM-MSM government of 2000-05, granting an element of autonomy to the island. The MMM leader was thus able to introduce formally the element of PR in the case of Rodrigues elections in a government on which it had considerable sway at the time.
It may also be recalled that the MMM joined into an alliance with Labour for the 2014 elections and that this alliance involved an understanding between the two parties about a considerable amount of PR to be introduced in our election system by way of constitutional amendment if the Labour-MMM government came to power with the requisite majority. Voters were able to see the danger and the Labour-MMM alliance was thrashed at the 2014 polls.
Labour which has always thrived on the FPTP system gave way probably because it had considerably undermined itself vis-à-vis its own electorate, but also because it may have believed that the PR provision in the Labour-MMM manifesto would cause MMM traditional supporters to back the alliance with force. Nothing of the sort happened.
Mr Bérenger might have been hoping that he might get from L’Alliance Lepep what he missed out in the 2014 general elections. Were that to be the case, he would be able to reunite the opposition forces under the banner of the MMM next time along with what he habitually calls a “good electoral reform”. That would include not only a strong dose of PR in the electoral system but also a party list system whereby party leaders can pick up and choose those they want to be in the House.
SAJ must be aware of the havoc such a system would wreak in electoral outcomes, a sample of which has been seen in Rodrigues in the last regional elections over there. He therefore informed the House, in reply to Mr Bérenger’s question, that Sir Victor Glover had been entrusted to review the existing system in Rodrigues, possibly to ensure that the winner under the FPTP system does not see its majority drastically trimmed down or, worse, become the loser after the allocation of PR seats.
On the other hand, the argument has frequently been made by parties losing in the polls that their representation in the House doesn’t reflect the share of votes they’ve secured in the polls. It is the reason they’ve kept insisting on PR to be introduced in the electoral system. This is one imperfection one might have to live with if only one considered that constituencies which send three deputies each to the Assembly are unevenly sized amongst themselves and that it all involves a game of give-and-take.
At a time countries fragmenting themselves are visited by all sorts of devastations, Mauritius would have to avoid falling into this kind of chaotic situation by pooling votes according to Opposition sought-after PR with underlying divisive politics. There is more political stability to be gained by sticking to the FPTP system than under the divisive politics of PR. Even if coalitions of governments have been thrown out by turns during past decades, we have nevertheless not prioritized the interests of single political parties over superior national pursuits.
It would be good not to toy with ideas like the PR that run the risk of tearing the country apart for the sake of political gains by individual parties. Despite its shortcomings, the FPTP system has given the guarantee of some sort of a greater stability to the country. Maybe a very small amount of symbolical PR could allay fears of devastating defeats by political parties but there is no need to push such a symbolical thing too far as to allow it to interfere with FPTP results.
* Published in print edition on 22 July 2016