Genuine Electoral Reform

Editorial

From what has transpired in the press, it would appear that the ministerial committee chaired by the Minister Mentor, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, would soon be proposing a series of amendments to our electoral law with a view to eliminating the compulsory declaration by candidates of their ethnicity in the context of the Best Loser System, as required following the ruling of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) in the matter raised by Rezistans ek Alternativ.

It will be recalled that the Committee took up the issue at its 105th session, held from 9 to 27 July 2012, and made its views known to the State party. It has thus been reported that the total membership of the House would be raised to a maximum of 89 MPs, from the present 70, of which 62 will be elected on the basis of the First The Post system (FPTP), 12 through the operation of Proportional Representation (PR), and a further 7 nominated by party leaders. This remains to be confirmed.

It is to be hoped the government will make public its reform package in good time for public debate on such an important issue as electoral reform, so that all stakeholders and the public are fully informed about the long-term impact that any such reform will have. This is especially so given that when it comes to electoral reform, any government will undertake such reform at the time of its choosing, that is at such time that befits its political agenda and satisfies its political exigencies. But, as we all know, what may be good for the political leadership may not necessarily serve the interests of the country.

From the beginning this paper has taken the view that the introduction of PR into our electoral system will be detrimental to the long term interests and stability of the country. We have witnessed attempts on numerous occasions in the past, especially with a view to satisfying short term political exigencies, to alter the original political balance resulting from the outcome of the FPTP – which has ensured the progress of Mauritius in terms of economic, social and political stability – through proposals that would include a dose of PR.

It is imperative that we avoid getting into irreversible situations which will bring about a highly volatile situation in the country. This is the more so as the enactment of such a provision would require a three-quarters majority in the House. Such a majority can only be marshalled in normal circumstances by an alliance of the two major parties of the island, and it is unlikely to be undone if the maintenance of the reformed electoral system would suit the political interests of one of the parties concerned – in this case the MMM.

Sir Anerood Jugnauth has had the right approach so far as regards PR, for having taken the view that it may, as has happened in the case of the Regional Assembly in Rodrigues in 2012, alter electoral outcomes based on FPTP, and thereby render the governance of the country more complicated.

The 2014 electoral programme of the Alliance Lepep does make mention of a proposal to introduce PR (it’s not explicit about the dose thereof), the eligibility ceiling placed at 5% of national votes, and the maintenance of the Best Loser system. We can well understand that the context and the circumstances of what remains of the Alliance Lepep have changed significantly today — thus the temptation to sell to the MMM leader the proposition that a mixed electoral formula combining the First Past The Post system and a dose of PR (as actively canvassed by the MMM since so many years) would guarantee a fair and better representation of the MMM, equal to its electoral weight, in Parliament. This would thus pave the way to some form of political arrangement between their respective parties for the next general elections.

What the country is in need of instead is a genuine reform of our electoral system, as canvassed in this paper since long, rather than the mere increase of the number of MPs through the introduction of PR. For example, it is very important to improve the way power is shared and exercised and to undo the system that centralises too much power in a single or few hands.

From this standpoint, electoral reform could thus 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 – into submission to his will by virtue of the fact that he is the sole one to decide upon and distribute electoral tickets. If the BLS is dropped, and the ‘party list’ system adopted, then the leader has a second lever as the selection of candidates to balance ethnicity will be purely arbitrary and at the behest of the leader. Therefore, instead of strengthening internal democracy in the party, it is the opposite that will effectively take place.

Electoral reform could also address the issue of control over party finances and the need to weed out the root of corruption of political parties through corporate financing of political parties. Further, the disparate number of voters forming part of distinct constituencies needs to be rationalized to a more acceptable level. Another matter of importance is the quality of politicians. The political class has been receiving a battering of late, with all manner of allegations about probity. Could electoral reform go in the direction of recruitment of future MPs à la Singapore, which we so much want to emulate?

An electoral reform cannot be used to accommodate only the personal interests of political leaders; it should be seen to be in the interest of the country as a whole and not be made to suit conjunctural situations on the political scene.

 


* Published in print edition on 27 April 2018

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