People are no longer talking about the MedPoint affair. Even the Leader of the Opposition who brought up the matter on the table has other fish to fry. He is now preoccupied with electoral reform and has found out that both the leaders of the MSM and Labour would appear keen to talk about it. One is not certain why all the political leaders find it so critical to broach this subject at the moment but they are all having a go at it in separate discussions with the MMM leader.
The subject appears to have assumed all its importance after the break-up of the MSM from the Alliance de l’Avenir. Paul Bérenger stated immediately after the break-up was announced that he was planning to have talks with the other political leaders on this issue of electoral reform. Pravind Jugnauth was the first one to have volunteered to meet him in this connection. Navin Ramgoolam could not have said nay to the proposal as that would have been tantamount to putting himself on the touch line in the game of political football whereas the fun was to be seen kicking the ball in all possible directions.
The invitation of Paul Bérenger to discuss the issue of electoral reform was coupled with discussing also about what has been called a “second Republic”. The latter apparently consists of giving the President of the Republic more than nominal power which is more or less actually the case. For example, it is the President who might be called upon in the new situation to preside over the meetings of the Cabinet as it is done in France. However, the idea would still be to have the President appointed by the Assembly (as proposed by the MMM) instead of going for free election by universal suffrage (as counter-proposed by the Labour Party) as it happens actually in places where the President has effective executive powers in the running of government. This MMM proposal looks like a serious aberration therefore.
On the issue of electoral reform, the principal point would be to introduce a dose of proportional representation (PR). The percentage of votes secured by parties would partly determine their respective representation in Parliament. The question would also revolve on the threshold that should constitute the point of entry for getting members elected to the House and on the formula to be adopted to allocate seats for different parties depending on the share of votes obtained. The MMM has no doubt a case to press the point as it would want to improve the number of its deputies in the House: it will not want to be worse off than, let us say, securing 44% of the votes cast and having only 33% of the number of deputies which is what the prevailing First Past the Post system might yield to it. The non-MMM parties have generally done better without PR. So, the question arises as to why both the MSM and Labour have shown so much keenness to meet the leader of the MMM à tour de rôle to discuss this apparently pressing matter at this juncture?
It is clear that the break-up of the MSM from the Alliance de l’Avenir has weakened the comfortable majority of the government, so much so that certain members of the MSM have defected from their party to join the ranks of the government with a generous promotion. Faced with the situation, the Labour leader has had no choice than to look for alternative ways of consolidating his thin majority; thus from 35 – 33 before, he now appears to have managed to go up to a 37 – 32 majority. Even Cehl Meeah appears to have offered to join the side of the government. The government has to govern and it will do better the greater its majority. A comfortable majority will prevent it from being voted out but it will also give it the means to keep under control abusive demands from insiders.
Moreover, since Labour and the MSM draw their votes from more or less the same base, principally in the rural constituencies, it is not in the interest of the Labour leader to see a reinforcement of the MSM for future elections. He has succeeded in his strategy so far to keep the MSM and the MMM on sides opposed to each other to the point of making an alliance with the MSM for the last general elections, aided in this by certain blunders committed by Paul Bérenger. In so doing, he has, under the current voting system, “internalised” the threat posed by the MSM to Labour, sharing out with it key positions in the Cabinet. The MMM has had to face the consequences of this alliance of Labour with the MSM under the First Past the Post system with the results that we know. With the MSM out of this alliance now, and as a good opportunist, Paul Bérenger started launching invitations for the MSM apparently to discuss electoral reform. Any rapprochement between the MSM and the MMM even under the existing electoral system would pose a threat to Labour if only due to the negative consequences of incumbency. The Labour leader has therefore invited himself also to the debate launched by the MMM leader on the subject of electoral reform.
On the other hand, the MMM would find it interesting to discuss the issue of electoral reform with the MSM, which is what it has been doing from the start of the MSM break-up. The potential political alliance likely to emerge from such discussion should prevent haemorrhage from the MSM’s ranks, with political power still in sight for its supporters. This situation will also be seen by the MMM as a way of keeping Labour under check. If MSM supporters see a possible strengthening of their party in negotiation by the side of the MMM, it will help them to cling on rather than let the party implode with a significant migration of its supporters to Labour. The MMM has no interest to see Labour become as dominant as it had become when the MSM was together with it just now. It will therefore keep the MSM it by its side if only to signal to Labour that it has the “MSM Joker” with it. But the MMM will not go as far as announcing an alliance with the MSM until the ICAC investigation on the MedPoint affair is completely out of the way. It will prefer to wait for the court (or the DPP) to thrash out whatever indictments the investigating body could bring up.
We see therefore a number of political opportunists in front of us. Each one will move his cards according to whether he secures the advantage he wants to get or not. If the MMM were to secure an electoral reform that will allow it to punch at least as much as its current political weight in terms of votes cast in its favour, it will have nothing to lose, being likely to emerge as the dominant political force in a three-cornered fight. That will be so especially if it has in front of it two weakened adversaries in the MSM and Labour each one going its own separate ways. From the day of the MSM break-up, the MMM has been pushing the bargain to the maximum by leveraging the MSM against Labour. This is why it is important to bear in mind that an eventual Labour-MSM alliance cannot be ruled out altogether in the face of excessive demands for electoral reform by the MMM. This is a situation in which each one wants to walk away with the prize, leaving the casualty behind to cope for itself.
Thus, Paul Bérenger’s agenda for electoral reform appears to have become a priority for the country. Pundits will give their views on the various arithmetical permutations and combinations available to get to a formula for PR that would suit distinct parties’ electoral conveniences and hopefully bring like-minded parties into coalitions with each other. The country, on the other hand, would seek a stable environment which should not embark us on a system of volatility of the voting system, create untold divisions, make governments inherently unstable and have the potential to send an explosive cocktail of trivial parties to run the business of the House. We should not jettison something which is performing howsoever imperfectly to replace it by something else which satisfies the conveniences of individual parties but ends up destroying the peace for ever. There is no need to jump from a made-to-measure hospital deal to a made-to-measure political deal among parties, in which the population will be the real losers for a long time to come. People did not fight to get universal suffrage just to leave it behind for political parties to decide what suits the political parties best. They need to approve first small changes that may be proposed from time to time to repair major flaws but do not have to pick up the bill when political parties have to be reconciled with each other.
* Published in print edition on 19 August 2011