How people voted in the 2019 elections? An unanswered question

At one time we had thought that an alliance between two mainstream parties was a guarantee of electoral success but this appears to be no longer the case

By Sada Reddi

According to political scientists, the transfer of votes from floaters helps to win general elections in a party system. In the case of the 2019 elections, it was suggested by a local survey that non-partisan voters or those wrongly termed as the undecided voters, estimated at 51%, would decide the outcome of the elections. This would therefore suggest that the mainstream parties pulled together an electoral base of less than 50% of hardcore supporters. In the absence of hard facts, these assessments are informed by a number of assumptions. For example, as mentioned in a previous article, were the undecided voters really floaters or simply electors who simply chose to remain discreet about their votes?

Now that the election is over, the elections figures available may help to give a clearer picture without being necessarily able to answer the question of how the people voted. In considering the figures available, we have not considered the 6000 or so electors who felt that they had been disenfranchised or the fact that a ballot paper or two have been found around polling stations which may cast doubt on the official figures.

The three-cornered electoral battle of 2019 between the mainstream parties delivered the following results:

– L’Alliance Morisien                        – 36.97%
– L’Alliance Nationale           – 33.5%
– MMM                                                – 21.9%

 

On the assumption that the floaters’ votes functioned as the tipping point, it gave the L’Alliance Morisien a clear majority in the First Past the Post System with 38 elected members while the two main other parties obtained respectively 14 and 8 elected members. After the designation of the best losers, the number of elected Members of the National Assembly is as follows: L’Alliance Morisien – 42, L’Alliance Nationale – 17, and the MMM – 11.

However, a breakdown of the votes obtained by the two major blocs shows that in contrast to the 10 urban constituencies where, in terms of votes, the L’Allliance Nationale was ahead with an average of 3% of votes on the L’Alliance Morisien, in the 10 rural constituencies, L’Alliance Morisien led with an average of about 10% (9.9) of votes. In 8 of these rural constituencies, L’Alliance Morisien secured more than 40% of the votes, reaching around 50% in Constituency No 8 where the present Prime Minister contested the elections. Please note that a lead of an average of 10% is considered high in the First Past The Post system. The rural vote has therefore proved significant for the L’Alliance Morisien’s victory.

It would be fair to describe the elections in the rural districts as a wave election owing to the fact that the L’Alliance Morisien got all its candidates elected in 7 rural constituencies. For many political observers, the victory in these areas remains a puzzle because these particular constituencies have in the past been responsible for the overwhelming victory of the Labour Party. What now appears to be definite is that the transfer of votes from the Labour Party to the L’Alliance Nationale has been significant, and the surge of votes in these constituencies will surely attract the attention of political scientists.

In explaining the overall victory of the L’Alliance Morisien, a long list of factors has been put forward. Among the main ones advanced to explain either the victory or defeat of the parties concerned are leadership issues, the influence of social media, the role played by MBC radio and TV , the quality of candidates, the government’s ‘bilan’ in terms of projects and achievements, money politics, etc. There is definitely a grain of truth in all of these but we do not know and cannot know which of them is the most significant, for one cannot give equal weightage to these different variables. Again, political observers will invoke a multiplicity of causes but they cannot assign any primacy to these interacting variables.

For example when one attributes government achievements as a major factor, we cannot ignore the fact that various measures initiated by the government benefited both rural and urban constituencies; the various projects took place in the urban areas, the measures in favour of the workers or pensioners benefited all old-age electors, yet the urban electorate chose to vote slightly differently for a variety of reasons. When so many factors are put forward to explain a particular phenomenon, they end up trying to explain everything and yet nothing. What people would have liked to know is how important and significant was each of these factors. Unfortunately we have no way of reading the elector’s mind nor do we have exit polls or some more sophisticated studies about voting behaviour which may enlighten us.

Perhaps a longer perspective might shed some light on possible trends in our recent politics though it may not really answer the question as to why people voted the way they did. In 2014 the L’Alliance Lepep (now baptised l’Alliance Morisien) obtained 49.83% of the votes; in 2019, the percentage of votes fell to 36.9% which indicates a decline, but is nevertheless sufficient for it to win the elections. Very often it has been assumed that the MSM did not have a wide electoral base, which is why it had in the past to ride on the back of the MMM or the Labour Party to get into power. True, this was the case in the past until 2014 when the situation changed drastically. It succeeded to win the elections on the strength of an alliance with the Muvman Liberater, a dissident party of the MMM, and the PMSD in a contest against the two major parties (Labour Party and MMM). Having thus managed to attract electors from both the MMM or the Labour party, it went on to consolidate that base whilst in government – but not without suffering a decline from its 2014 score.

As for the Labour Party, the 2019 election is certainly a defeat but does not amount to a rout. It somehow managed to secure 33.5% of the votes. Its party strategists must have known since 2014 that it would require at least a 10% swing to get into power as compared to 2005 when a 5% swing was sufficient. Whether it strove to attain that objective or not is not known. As for the MMM, the fall has been much heavier: from 42% in 2010 to 21.9% in 2019. The MMM must have realized that in 2010 it benefited from a protest vote which added to its 42% score. This happens whenever it has to face a powerful bloc, but this does not constitute its core support. The MMM had initially suffered first from the formation of the Muvman Liberater, and this time round from the loss of important personalities which had for years been its fervent members.

A turning point in our electoral politics can be identified in 2014 which marked the consolidation of the MSM’s base and a frittering away of both the Labour Party’s and the MMM’s base. The Labour party had recovered from the 2014 rout but not enough to win back its base in the Hindi belt particularly in the seven constituencies where L’Alliance Morisien won all the seats. One hopes that that some political scientists would focus on these constituencies to understand their voting behaviour and provide some clues about the 2019 election; mere guesswork is not enough.

Political scientists can best do this kind work because, most of the time, parties in both opposition or government seldom think about the next general elections, and their post electoral analyses are never made public. At present they are more likely going to focus on the municipal elections that will constitute another fierce battle. Though we cannot explain how people voted in the 2019 elections, we can through more sophisticated studies obtain a better picture of how changes in society and politics impact on voting behaviour.

At one time we had thought that an alliance between two mainstream parties was a guarantee of electoral success but this appears to be no longer the case. A study of our voting behaviour will be enlightening for us to understand better our own political attitudes, values and the electoral mood. After all, self-knowledge is important for both our citizens and for our democracy.


* Published in print edition on 22 November 2019

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