By T.P. Saran
This is the final year of its mandate and the government therefore has only so much time to fulfil the promises that it had made to the people, measures that were supposed to genuinely improve their living and working conditions. But these aside, however, there are a couple of pending issues, one of which has been dragging for so long that it makes one wonder how serious the party politicians are about what they themselves have been bandying about for years now: electoral reform.
In the main, though, it is the MMM that has been pushing for this. Probably its leader Paul Berenger is keen to bequeath it as his final legacy before the curtain falls for him. And what he has been most vocal about is the introduction of a dose of proportional representation, PR. Being given its history of successive defeats at general elections, it is no big deal to infer that this is a device – colourable? – designed to ensure the MMM’s presence in any future government. Besides, this would save it the uphill effort that needs to be made every time to contract an alliance, which is never certain.
For, however much they deny it, and history is witness to the fact – coalition governments have been the rule in the country. And therefore, there will be alliances, whether these are finalised before or after the elections, since none of the three major parties – MSM, LP, MMM – are likely on their own to get a sufficient number of elected members to constitute a majority that would allow them to form a future government. And what will drive the process of alliance formation are the hard negotiations that will be involved.
As far as the MMM goes, it will definitely try to impose PR as a condition for an eventual alliance which is only possible with the MSM, because the electorate of each party will surely not be willing to contemplate again an LP-MMM combine, having rejected such an option in 2014.
The only merit, if we may put it this way, of that option, was that although the negotiations between the two leaders were protracted – taking almost a year during which Parliament did not sit –, at least they had the sense to present their project of constitutional reform to the electorate before the holding of the last general elections.
This brings us to two essential points about any electoral reform: one, that it cannot be a matter of agreement between two or more leaders or parties; for such an important issue, the whole population must be involved over a sufficient period of time through discussions that will seek the participation in appropriate forums of all stakeholders in civil society – such as smaller but important parties like Resistans ek Alternativ and Lalit, NGOs, various interest groups and so on. Secondly, whatever is proposed must form part of the programme or manifesto that will be presented to the electorate. That is, it is the electorate that will decide whether or not they approve of any proposed electoral reform, clearly spelt out in a definitive vote at a general election.
Then only will the new government have been mandated to implement the reform. Otherwise, it would have no justification for doing so. In 2014, the electorate rejected the ‘Second Republic’ formula presented by LP-MMM.
Because of the multitude of tasks to be completed that await the government before the next general election, there will not be enough time to engage the population in the wide-ranging and complex debates that are needed for any electoral reform. The people’s concerns are more bread and butter issues, what with factories closing and workers being literally thrown out on to the streets. A final year of election when people are frustrated with the incumbents in power is by no means the kind of atmosphere in which to bring such an earth-shaking issue as electoral reform before the people.
If at all, let the parties and leaders organise their thoughts and come with their own formal proposals to be presented eventually to the electorate. And then do according to the outcome of the election. That is the only way forward for electoral reform.
* Published in print edition on 19 April 2019