The governing alliance should seek the mandate of the people at the next general elections for reform
One might be tempted to suggest that there is no point in labouring time and again the issue of electoral reform given that the prospects of it obtaining the necessary three-quarters majority in the House for its adoption are receding in light of the MMM’s leader displeasure with the Government’s proposals, at this stage, as reported by the press. Not so, for the current hiatus in the discussions which have already been engaged between the MSM and the MMM forms part of a long-drawn process, as had been the case in 2014 when the Labour Party and MMM leaders set out to work out and agree on the details of their Second Republic agenda over a period of almost one year.
One could therefore expect the discussions to resume given the political ambitions of both parties and the need to come together with a view to ensuring victory at the polls. What is at stake is power, for different reasons – avowed and unavowed –, and political survival, far removed from the concerns of the common man who is struggling to make both ends meet, and his worries about the present and the future. Political representation – the right type – emerging from a predictable and simple majority-based as opposed to the proportional system is what has ensured in some good measure the overall progress and stability of the country and of the people across the board, in spite of the anomalous electoral outcomes of the First Past The Post following two general elections.
It bears repeating that we need to exercise caution as regards the temptation to undo the positive work achieved thanks to the FPTP system in terms of economic, social and political stability through the introduction of a dose of proportional representation to smooth out anomalous electoral outcomes of the FPTP, such as those that have materialized on a few occasions in the past, notably the 60-0 and 57-3 outcomes. It is imperative that we avoid getting into irreversible situations which will bring about a highly volatile situation in the country.
There is a case for electoral reform from other more important perspectives than that of simply increasing the number of representatives through a PR system. It is very important to improve the way power is shared and exercised, for it is necessary and essential that we do not come to a point where too much power is centralised in a single or few hands. Thus, electoral reform could – in fact, should — address the issue of making political parties more democratic in their internal functioning and decision-making processes. As it is, the leader of the party leverages his position to exercise control over the members by virtue of the fact that he is the sole one to decide upon and distribute electoral tickets. If the BLS is dropped in favour of the leaders’ nominees – the so-called ‘Additional Seats’ being contemplated presently – then the leader obtains a second lever: as the selection of candidates to balance ethnicity will be purely arbitrary and at the behest of the leader, which means accommodating occult interests in his favour. Therefore, instead of strengthening internal democracy in the party, it is the opposite that will effectively take place: a slide towards more autocracy.
Electoral reform could also address another sore point, notably control over party finances and the urgent need to weed out for good the root of corruption of political parties through corporate financing of political parties. Another issue is of course the disparaties in the number of voters forming part of distinct constituencies, which needs to be rationalized to a more acceptable level. With official figures from the Office of the Electoral Commissioner showing 923, 316 individuals having registered as electors, it is expected that each of the 21 constituencies should have around 43,000 registered electors. But the statistics show that this is not the case, ranging from three constituencies (two in Port Louis, one in Rodrigues) with less that 30,000 electors to two constituencies (Savanne/Black River and Pamplemousses/Triolet) having over 60,000 electors each having the same number of elected representatives, that is 3. Clearly this is an anomaly which calls for redress.
An electoral reform cannot be used to accommodate private pursuits; it should be seen to be in the interest of the country as a whole and not be made to suit expediencies on the political scene. Although we would not go into speculating at this stage about the nature and breath of the electoral reform proposals that the Prime Minister will be announcing soon, we are hoping that our political leaders will not tinker with such an important issue as constitutional and electoral reform to meet short-term objectives at the expense of the public good. What may be good for the political leaders and their parties may not necessarily serve the interests of the country. It is important that the proposed reforms be widely debated by all stakeholders and the public, so that they are fully informed about the long-term impact that any such reform will have. In the larger national interest, it would not be amiss to engage international experts in electoral reform and give them sufficient time to receive wide-ranging Mauritian inputs, then come up with proposals which should then be subjected to the popular mandate. As we have argued time and again, the best option would be for the governing alliance to seek the mandate of the people as regards proposals for electoral reform at the next general elections, before they are implemented thereafter.
* Published in print edition on 21 September 2018