Electoral reform, again


By M.K.

The question of electoral reform has again been raised, during the last week, by the press in the context of the constitutional case lodged by Resistans ek Alternativ. ReA is challenging the constitutional provision that requires the declaration by electoral candidates of their ethnic appurtenance, which is meant for the purpose of the Best Loser system (BLS). The point that is being canvassed is that a favourable judgement of the Supreme Court would challenge the BLS which is founded on the ethnic classification of the population and the declaration of ethnic appurtenance of candidates and elected members. Thus the need to introduce some form of electoral reform that would shield future electoral processes from any constitutional challenge.

From what we hear, this imperative for electoral reform would be providing a last-ditch opportunity for the Government to rope in the MMM in an electoral arrangement for the next elections on the basis of an electoral reform package that would be less rigid than the one presented in December 2018 and would suit in good measure the political/electoral objectives of the MMM. What was presented to the people by the current government in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill went beyond 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. It was also driven by the political imperative for match-making in view of the next general elections. However, failure to work out then an agreement with the opposition, especially the MMM, pushed the government to postpone the Bill to a later stage, with debates not going beyond Second Reading in Parliament.

Readers will remember that the current Government stood its ground by ensuring that electoral outcomes, obtained through the operation of First Past The Post (FPTP), would not be reversed or mitigated by the device of proportional representation or other form of proportionality. Rightly so, one may say, given that Rodrigues has paid the price for having been made the guinea-pig of electoral reform by the high priests of PR. This prompted the L’Organisation du Peuple Rodriguais MP, Buisson Leopold, to urge that Mauritius should not at any cost replicate the electoral system (with the PR addition) of Rodrigues. 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 dates from the time it has been campaigning for its inclusion in our electoral system, with a view to ensuring a better representation for the party in Parliament given its failure to achieve that same objective through the FPTP system – despite commanding in the past the single largest electoral vote bank in the country. The FPTP electoral system has been the preferred option of a large majority of the population due to the predictability and fairness of the system, and has ensured stability and progress for the country. However, one could argue that that system does not make for equal representation in Parliament of different political parties in proportion to the votes cast in their favour, since the winner obtaining the greatest number of seats gives it a parliamentary majority. There is debate as to whether that is in the best national interest. But what was also condemnable in the electoral proposals of the Lepep government in December 2018 was 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. This would be made possible by their selection of PR and Additional seats nominees – without going through the electoral process!

Once again one cannot help to point out that this seems to be a last-ditch measure to push electoral reform for political convenience. As we had argued regarding similar attempts in the past, electoral reform is such a serious and important matter – as it impacts the country’s development in all its dimensions: social, political, economic, cultural etc – that done in this way it amounts to no less than playing with the future of its people. There is no reason to rush through a process that has been years in the making – with no viable end in sight to date. We reiterate that it should be left to a properly constituted Electoral Reform Commission, with assistance from experts from an international pool if need be. The country and its people deserve no less if their collective future is not to be compromised!

* Published in print edition on 20 September 2019

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