When politicians contemplate changing the rules of the (electoral) game, different interpretations can be assigned to their political motivations. Opposition politicians and political analysts will no doubt give their own colouring to the latest initiative, but we are not concerned with that. What is important, in our view, is the need to do away with the inequities and dysfunctions of the present system.
If things are left unchanged, there is every chance that matters will be just the same come the next general elections. And the power situation will continue to be characterized by the same fragility that has the effect of throwing out of – or keeping away from – politics – all the good elements that may have a genuine interest to truly serve the country. Non-issues and side issues will become the centre of attention. Social parasites claiming to have their own fictitious following will force the politicians striving to be elected to indulge in the usual pre-electoral promises that cannot be fulfilled once they assume power. It is not in the interest of the country to perpetuate the renewal of a political system that results in third or fourth best solutions when we could have gone for first best options by selecting men of ideas and movers of real change rather than perpetrators of communal politics.
The recent debates (and haggling between the MSM and the MMM) in relation to the Government’s proposals for electoral reform have demonstrated yet again that the people should not look up to politicians in power or even those in the opposition to bring about what’s best for the public interest. Elections are too important in the life of a country, given their bearing on its development whether economic or in the socio-cultural field, to be left to politicians to concoct what they have become past masters at, as demonstrated in several instances down the years. Remember the Second Republic agenda in December 2014 that would have served the interests and political ambitions of the party leaders. And now what has been presented to the people lately with the Constitution (Amendment) Bill by the current government. Besides the need to accommodate the concerns expressed by the UN Human Rights Committee on our electoral system, especially the requirement for candidates to declare their community belonging, and the constitutional case lodged by Resistans ek Alternativ coming up next year, the proposal is mostly driven by the political imperative for match-making in view of the next general elections. The hatching period is not yet over, and with the Bill postponed for a later stage, one could well expect anything from the current crop of politicians in the “superior interests of the country” in the months ahead.
Let us look at the proposals of what the current Government has put forward. It has rightly stood the ground for ensuring that electoral outcomes obtained through the operation of FPTP should not be reversed or mitigated by the device of proportional representation or other form of proportionality. Rodrigues has paid the price for having been made the guinea-pig of electoral reform by the high priests of PR. This is why the L’Organisation du Peuple Rodriguais MP, Buisson Leopold, urged in Parliament last Monday that Mauritius should not at any cost replicate the electoral system (with the PR addition) of Rodrigues here — for good reason, since PR almost overturned the FPTP outcome in Rodrigues by narrowing the majority win from four seats to one seat in 2012 and from eight to three seats in the 2016 elections.
The MMM’s interest in PR has been since it has been campaigning for its inclusion in our electoral system to ensure a better representation for the party in Parliament due to its failure to achieve that same objective through the FPTP system — for no fault of its adversaries and their electoral support base — despite commanding at one or different times in our recent political history the single largest electoral vote bank in the country. Jean Claude de l’Estrac has revisited the 1982-2005 years in his latest publication ‘Jugnauth-Bérenger, ennemis intimes’, launched this week. A deeper examination of those “decisive years” which witnessed the beginning of the withering of the MMM as the single largest party to a reduced reflection of its past will reveal how that party gradually began to lose credence among a large swathe of the electorate and its own cadres due to its controversial – and objectionable – policies relating to language, culture, education, economy, etc. It has failed to live up to the ideals of most of the founder members of the party in terms of national unity, etc. Most have left in desperation and frustration when “pragmatism” and “scientific communalism” took over.
As regards the FPTP electoral system, if it has been the preferred option of a large majority of the population due to the predictability and fairness of the system, and ensured stability and progress for the country since the beginning, one unintended consequence is that it could spawn a political establishment cut off from the concerns and aspirations of the large mass of people and only intent on the promotion of its interest and self-perpetuation. That’s also not in the best national interest. What is also condemnable as regards the electoral proposals of the Lepep government is the device employed by the drafters of the bill to allow through the back door, in the wake of the elimination of the Best Loser System, a greater stranglehold of party leaders through the selection of PR and Additional seats nominees – without going through the electoral process! .
Another matter that is equally controversial and needs to be addressed urgently is the question of the financing of electoral campaigns. In his report on ‘Constitutional and Electoral Reform 2001/02’, Albie Sachs and his fellow commissioners wrote: “Even though we were only concerned with public funding of political parties by the State, we have thought it necessary to recommend that Companies should only be allowed to make donations in favour of political parties through the Fund as created by law… There is no need to insist on how powerful and rich corporations have, through financial pressure, tried the world over to influence those likely to exercise political decisions. This explains why many democratic countries have thought it wise to ban altogether any possibility of political patronage by powerful Companies. Suffice it to say that we had the advantage of receiving somebody who has exercised ministerial responsibility and who had the courage to invite us to recommend the banning of political patronage by the Chief Executives of important companies with shareholder’s money. He remarked: ‘They never give something for nothing’ ”.
Several high profile politicians from different countries have had their insider dealings with the private sector uncovered. Few of them have been successfully indicted when in power for having taken political bribes in exchange for favours. For, it is always difficult to prove the link between the financing received and the consequent favourable policy or administrative decisions taken. Thus, resounding cases involving abuse of office by corrupt politicians are not numerous. However, the sheer scale of spending that we see during the local political campaigns point to the invisible hand of private donors in the electoral game. This helps politicians to remain unaccountable as regards the financing of their real campaign.
Relying on state funding to eliminate the scourge arising from private sector financing will only work if it goes hand in hand with internal reform of the parties. As long as the leader has an iron grip on the party in all matters especially those pertaining to the allocation of tickets and ministerial portfolios, none of the proposed electoral reform changes will result in any really significant difference for the country, for the people. If they are serious about transformative change that will move the country forward politically, they will have to begin within the party structure and functioning. When, if ever, will they be ready to do that?
* Published in print edition on 14 December 2018