Electoral Discrepancies and Institutional Failures
MMM candidate Jenny Adebiro’s bid for a recount at Constituency No.19 has produced two results: first, the confirmation of Ivan Collendavelloo’s election, on the basis of valid votes. More importantly, though, it has laid bare serious anomalies and dysfunctions which casts even more doubt than it dispels on the integrity of the election process. The fallout is that now it becomes reasonable to speculate whether irregularities would also not have been committed in other constituencies around the island in the 2019 general elections. The more so since it has come out only this week that there would also be the same issue of the figures in the Recapitulation of Votes form not adding up in Constituency No. 15, similar to what happened in No. 19. If that were to be the case, another recount in No. 15 would be perfectly in order, but that will be for the court to determine.
The offices of the Electoral Commissioner, Electoral Supervisory Commission and Electoral Boundaries Commission receive an annual allocation from the government earmarked and voted for in the budget. Moreover, a special fund is made available during an election year. The latest information available online indicates that the organisation of the 2005 general elections cost taxpayers a total of Rs 128,466,059, including Rs44 M for ‘Election Fees’, and one can well imagine how much more had to be earmarked and indeed spent in 2019. That is the price that taxpayers are willingly prepared to pay so that a democratic state and the democratic ethos should always prevail, and that the country’s leaders and its institutions will deliver good governance when the people demand it.
Barring an element of mischief involving at times minor electoral trickeries to win an edge over the adversary, and the generalised electoral expenses above the ceiling authorised by the law by most if not all parties, it would now seem we may have hit the bottom insofar the organisation of free and fair elections is concerned. Unless the electoral Commission takes the necessary steps to convincingly demonstrate to the electorate that it could be trusted to provide “independent, impartial, ethical and professional electoral service to all stakeholders in the electoral process and to maintain strong public confidence”, as advertised in its vision statement. The more so given that the Court-supervised recount of last Tuesday has opened a Pandora’s box. It goes beyond simple arithmetic miscalculations – as evidenced from Recapitulation of Votes forms (in No. 19, and possibly in No. 15 as well) – to depict a sorry spectacle of failures, to say the least, that have marred the organisation of the 2019 elections with the discovery of ballot papers not bearing the official stamp of the Electoral Commission, one ballot of Constituency No.1 which has found its way into the lot of No. 19, and 73 ballot papers found to be missing – all of which are sufficiently serious to warrant a proper and objective police investigation.
Dharam Gokhool hit the nail on its head in this week’s interview when he states: ‘In our electoral system based on the principle of First Past The Post, every single vote counts. Is not 73 one too many? Such unresolved discrepancies will not only make people lose confidence in our democratic institutions, if allowed to go unresolved; they will simply destroy the very foundations of these democratic institutions and our Republic.’ He adds: ‘If anything, the recount and its sequel have further thickened the veil of mystery around the electoral processes in Number 19 and, by extension, in the 2019 general elections. Trust in our electoral processes has been seriously undermined.’
From the glaring discrepancies found in the Recapitulation of Votes form in possession with the Electoral Commission since counting day and results were proclaimed two years back, the opacity surrounding Computer Rooms, and now with the discovery of more serious discrepancies brought to light during this week’s recount — all this means is that there are some serious questions to be asked, and the Electoral Supervisory Commission had better come out of it unscathed by doing the right things – for its own and the country’s reputation.
One recurrent observation made in the columns of this paper and in other forums, political and civic, is that the real danger facing Mauritius is when politicians use their parliamentary position/majority to intrude and pervert the institutional set-up. Anybody who has good sense and cares deeply about the future of Mauritius should spurn the way these politicians have been emptying our various institutions – Parliament, Police, ICAC and other financial regulators and certain key public offices – of the real contents that have actually made them credible in the eyes of the public and internationally in our past history. Shorn of their essential contents, several institutions have been devalued, thereby undermining the very foundation on which the country rests. We simply cannot give up these values.
* Published in print edition on 4 February 2022
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