Electoral Petition Dismissed

Editorial

Suren Dayal vs Pravind Jugnauth

The Supreme Court has today delivered its judgement in the case lodged by unreturned candidate Suren Dayal at the last general elections in Constituency No. 8. The petition called for the invalidation of the election of the Prime Minister and leader of the MSM, Pravind Jugnauth, and his two running mates, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun and former Minister of Commerce Yogida Sawmynaden, in Quartier-Militaire/Moka.

Unlike other electoral petitions lodged by a number of unreturned candidates in different constituencies, which were grounded on objections relating to, amongst others, the “glaring and unexplained discrepancies in the Recapitulation of Votes form that are on record and point to prima facie to mistakes in the counting process”, as noted by Justices Aruna Narain and Denis Mootoo in the case Adebiro O.J. v Collendavelloo I.L. & Ors, and the opacity surrounding the operation of Computer Rooms at Counting Centres, the main arguments put forward by Suren Dayal relate to alleged electoral bribery/corruption or the undue influence of electors in No8.

The five main grounds of the petition against the election of the three candidates in Constituency No. 8 included the promise of a substantial upward revision of the retirement pension to Rs 9,000 in January 2020, contrary to what was stated in the 2019-2020 Budget Speech which referred an increase of Rs 500, the accelerated implementation of the Pay Research Bureau report in favour of public sector employees as from January 2020, the promise to pay more than Rs 3 billion to holders of the Super Cash Back Gold plan and those of Bramer Asset Management Ltd, the announcement of the payment of a performance bonus to police officers, fire-fighters and prison officers. 

The petitioner also argued his case against what he considered to constitute the misuse of the state apparatus, more particularly of the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), which would have also contributed to unduly influence voters in general, including those in Constituency No. 8. Suren Dayal also took objection to the announcement made by Pravind Jugnauth at an official function organized on October 1, 2019 at the Swami Vivekananda International Convention Center, Pailles, on the occasion of the International Day for Older Persons, which had been broadcast live on television and taken up in the news bulletins of the MBC, relating to an increase in the old age pension from Rs 6,210 to Rs 13,500.

Our legal contributor Lex has clearly expoundedon the attitude and approach of our Supreme Court towards electoral petitions as illustrated in recent judgements. The Supreme Court, he argued, will not easily and readily upset the results of an election, which are after all the will of the people. ‘The Court will tread carefully and cautiously before upsetting the will of the electorate,’ although it did previously invalidate the election of Ashock Jugnauth who was elected at the 2005 general elections (in the same constituency which elected Pravind Jugnauth, Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun and Yogida Sawmynaden in 2019), following a case lodged by unreturned candidate Raj Ringadoo. Ashok Jugnauth was accused of electoral bribery in the form of a promised new Muslim cemetery and jobs to 101 healthcare assistants in exchange for votes in his favour. The Privy Council upheld the judgment. Furthermore, the election of Romriky Ramsamy who had defeated Gaetan Duval at the 1959 elections was invalidated on the ground that he did not inscribe his name properly on the Nomination Paper.

Not being in receipt at this point in time of the full text of the judgement from the two learned judges, we will abstain from further comments at this stage. However, our understanding of the ruling is that promises, however populist, made countrywide and any alleged and visible bias in national TV coverage, were not matters specific to one particular constituency and they accordingly dismissed the petitioner’s claims. That reading, if correct, may be unsettling since it would confer for instance unlimited abuse of national airwaves or populist announcements in the final weeks of electoral hustlings without much recourse since our Representation of Peoples Act has a very narrow approach to breaches in electoral etiquette or procedures. Furthermore, a decision announced so late in the day, three years after the facts, may severely limit any effective recourse to the Law Lords, in so far as this might be entertained by the legal team of the petitioner. There is much the body politic should consider reviewing to make the laws and processes overseeing our democracy more effective and commensurate with better practices elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

 


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 12 August 2022

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