Is the Constitution satisfactory?

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Jay Narain Roy

Every day we are beginning to realise that the new constitution is quite unsatisfactory. The only point about which there was some measure of disagreement was the constituencies. As far as the constituencies are concerned, the position is, to my mind, quite good. There are many who have qualms of conscience in regard to the single-member system. Such things arise when one selfishly thinks of one’s own chances. That cannot be the consideration. A system of this sort is tested by at least three successive elections. One election may even be disastrous. The second will tend to balance but the third will stabilise prejudices and tendencies and will produce the results it was destined to produce.

The other good is the suffrage. It is there that we can congratulate ourselves on a definite progress. The adult suffrage is not quite the same as universal suffrage. But it is a great step forward. The most unsatisfactory feature of the constitution is the type of government it seeks to establish. Nobody can say that we have anything comparable to Responsible Government. This can be established only in one way: the Governor should, under the Constitution, be bound to call upon the leader of the majority party winning the elections to form a government. the leader may form a party government if he has a clear majority, or he can join some other parties to form a coalition. Such coalitions are formed after the parties have agreed to certain fundamental principles of government.

The advantage of a party or coalition government is that the initiative of the governance of the country is entirely in the hands of the representatives of the people. They can view things from the angle of the electorate and emphasise the results upon the life of the average man. The system has two other advantages. The leader of the majority party forming the government will be known as the Prime Minister, and by the very fact of this post and designation, on him devolve certain superior responsibilities of appointing the other Ministers and of keeping a vigilant supervision on the working in a compact and composite manner of all the ministries. This is what is known as collective responsibility. The Ministry, as a whole, pursues a well-laid policy, and all the Ministers are feverishly geared to further that policy and that ideal.

The present system cannot, in any manner, be called democratic in the sense that democracy is signalled by is institutions. The Government of Mauritius defies definition. It is neither even a diarchy nor a hybrid organism. In its very spirit lies the seed of its frustration; in its manner of composition lies the grave of my country.

It could he good as a too-temporary transient, apprentice measure, but the impossibility of cohesion and the seat of the initiative should kill all hopes of this country. How can it be otherwise when the Ministry is a queer patch, when people yoked together are not always prepared to see the same way or to speak the same language and when officialdom zealously reserves to itself the motive power of the government?

As a student of politics, I am acquainted with many twisted constitutions in history. I should, however, say that ours is by no means one with which the representatives of the people can continue to have sympathy if they want to serve the country and the people in accordance with their pledged words. I am glad that there is an ever-growing movement in the country, particularly among Left Labourites, to agitate to change the Constitution in so far as the structure of government is concerned so that we may for the first time have a taste of real Responsible Government. Today, legally and constitutionally, the responsibilities of government vest in the Governor in the same way that they vest in the Queen of England. But the analogy stops there. Here the Governor appoints Ministers in a manner that cuts across the essence of democracy.

The Governor asks the Council to elect a number of Ministers. In many cases it is bound, with the help of the unelected section of the Council, to upset the results of the polls. But that is not the only undemocratic process. The Satrap proceedsto nominate Ministers from other members of Council with a view not to satisfying the legitimate aspirations of the people but to satisfying diverging interests and sections. A Ministry of this kind can never work in cohesion and harmony when it comes to grips with fundamental issues. By the very nature of things, it is meant not to touch upon fundamental issues. It has to restrict itself to minor, flimsy matters and stand in stout defiance of commonsense as a vast make-believe.

The initiative and responsibilities governance being in the hands of high officialdom, the appointment and dismissal of Ministers rest entirely in the hands of the Governor. The Ministry is not bound to resign following a defeat on certain important issues in Council. In this way we find that the entire democratic process completely falsified, and it cannot, by any manner or means, take us to the righteous fulfilment of our destiny.

We must make it quite plain to the government and to the country that we shall go to the polls with the declared policy of struggling in and outside the Council for Responsible Government as it is understood in civilized parlance. We shall leave no stone unturned until this rightful demand is granted. If there is lethargy or resistance, it may, in the interest of the people, be absolutely necessary to refuse to accept to be Ministers and to create a deadlock, a governmental vacuum.

The time has come to come to grips with some of the fundamental economic problems, including the problem of wages and employment. We would place this problem as a top-priority, and we shall demand results from the Ministry at the very start of the new session. It is problems like these that will reveal in its nakedness the utter helplessness of the new Constitution. If that problem is not sought to be solved in its top-priority, we shall consider it our duty towards the electorate to withhold our cooperation with the government. We place the people first, and then anything else afterwards, and nothing will deter us from our determination to fight ceaselessly towards the establishment of a Responsible Government.

5th Year – No 228
Friday 19th December, 1958

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 26 May 2023

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