Electoral reform: The Need for Fixed-term Parliaments in Mauritius

The power to dissolve parliament, to hold snap elections or to postpone the holding of general elections can no longer be left at the sole discretion and prerogative of the Prime Minister

By Pradeep Jeeha

In the early days of this legislature the newly elected “Lepep” Government (MSM-PMSD-ML) capitalising on its Dec 2014 electoral victory, dissolved all the municipal councils elected in 2012 for a six-year term and called for fresh municipal elections. It went on to win all the municipal seats. The village council elections held in 2012 were not nullified and so the village and district councillors carried on until 2018 – the year in which fresh village council and district elections are due.

Backed by their numerical strength, the Government conscious of a growing public resentment has by a simple parliamentary majority in the national Assembly decided to postpone these elections to 2020 – and that also to be held only after the general elections are over. The Prime Minister further nonchalantly boasted in Parliament that he would hold the next general elections in 2020 when in fact the National Assembly will automatically stand dissolved on 19th December 2019.

With this nth amendment to the Local Government Act to postpone the holding of the local council elections for the nth time, it is high time that serious thought be given to the need of having a fixed-term legislature in Mauritius for Local Councils as well as for the National Assembly. In any respectable democratic society, no government irrespective of its parliamentary majority should be allowed to tinker with the holding or non-holding of democratic elections. The power to dissolve parliament, to hold snap elections or to postpone the holding of general elections can no longer be left at the sole discretion and prerogative of the Prime Minister.

Similarly no minister should have the power of tinkering with the holding of local elections. The dissolution of the National Assembly and of local councils must be taken out of the realm of party politics, and the concept of having a 6-month interim government after dissolution of the National Assembly is no longer justified in a democratic society.

As matters stand today, the National assembly is dissolved by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister who has a strong de facto control over the timing of general elections. The holding of general elections every five years has become the norm since the constitutional amendments of 1982. But the timing of local elections has been overlooked, and the Prime Minister’s prerogative to call for snap elections has not been touched. It is therefore urgent that the holding of local elections after a fixed term be also entrenched in our Constitution.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. In the U.K. this is a reality since 2011. Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, the UK parliament, which is considered as the mother of all parliaments, is subject to a fixed-term tenure (FTP) whereby general elections are now held on a fixed date every five years. General elections can be held on any other later date not exceeding two months of the statutory fixed date provided that both houses of Parliament have approved the same. In all instances, UK voters now know with certainty that Parliament stands dissolved within 25 working days of the polling day.

Parliament, not the Prime minister, may call for an early election on a motion which on a division of votes requires a majority of two thirds of MPs (inclusive of vacant seats). The only other instance that calls for an early election is where Parliament votes by a simple majority in favour of a motion of no confidence against the government which is not reversed within 14 days. Furthermore the Electoral Commission has been empowered to start monitoring electoral expenses of political parties and candidates as from the 55th month from the date of the last general elections.

The Election Commission of India is also working along these lines with a view to introducing fixed-term parliaments in the Indian polity. At a time when we are taking about electoral reform, Mauritius cannot stay behind unless a few people still want to perpetuate an outdated system which serves only their interest when they are in power.

* Published in print edition on 7 December 2018

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