Mauritius needs to seriously get its act together and make the right policy choices to significantly improve the prospects of the country
By Mrinal Roy
The polls have given their verdict. Beyond the election results, the electorate has also sent so many potent signals to political leaders and politicians in general which will hopefully be taken on board to re-shape the political landscape and the future of the country. Whatever be our personal take on the general elections, it is noteworthy that the results were received with mixed feelings and that as has been the case in the aftermath of so many general elections in the past a sense of national elation is missing in the country.
In a three cornered fight, L’Alliance Morisien obtained 36.97% of the votes which is a bit more than a third of the votes cast whereas some 55.4% of the electorate voted for the two main opposition parties, namely the L’Alliance Nationale (33.5%) and the MMM (21.9%). However, it is not surprising that in a three cornered fight, a political alliance or party wins the elections by obtaining a share of the votes cast which is only a few percentage points above a third of the vote polled.
However, it is vital for government to take stock of this sobering fact and the glaring reality that despite its daily partisan propaganda on national TV at public expense and the costly electoral carrots promised to all and sundry from our own pockets as well as a no holds barred campaign unleashed against the opposition parties, a majority of voters did not vote for l’Alliance Morisien.
It must also be flagged that in nine urban constituencies of the country, l’Alliance Morisien obtained between 21.7% and 32.94% i.e. less than a third of the votes cast whereas in seven rural constituencies and in Port-Louis North and Montagne Longue, it obtained more that 41% of the votes of the electorate. Whilst the vote in the 10 rural constituencies and Port-Louis North and Montagne Longue was a predominantly disciplined party vote which led to the election of all three candidates of l’Alliance Morisien except for three elected candidates of L’Alliance Nationale, the vote of the electorate in 8 of the 9 urban constituencies cut across parties favouring specific candidates over party discipline. Such a tell tale and in some cases patently skewed voting pattern is not only an eye opener but is also an indictment of a section of voters who remain boxed in a narrow outlook.
The voting pattern is also an indictment of the political class as even 51 years after independence no party has been able to have a truly national footprint and rally the nation around a common ethos, values and a projet de société based on principles such as equality, equal opportunities, inclusiveness, shared prosperity, solidarity and meritocracy.
The vote of the electorate has to a large extent also purged the political class. This purge has been single minded and targeted candidates from all parties. The leader and prominent members of the Labour Party, front bench members of the MMM and the PMSD as well as sitting ministers of the MSM and the Muvman Liberater have all been sanctioned by the electorate and defeated at the polls.
There are therefore so many important lessons to be learnt from the vote of the electorate. The electorate has thus rejected a cohort of old guard candidates fielded by the Labour Party and contested incumbent ministers whilst electing a majority of some 31 first time MPs including 6 from L’Alliance Nationale and 2 from the MMM. It is patently obvious that the people are fed up with the contested policy of the main political parties to recycle the same candidates who have failed the country, over and over again. The electorate has for long been craving for young blood and better qualified candidates more in tune with the ground reality of Mauritius and having the intellect to brainstorm and chart an innovative pathway towards a more prosperous and inclusive Mauritius. Will the new crop of MPs elected across the country live up to the people’s expectations in terms of unstinted commitment of service to the people, governance, intellect and competence to significantly improve the tenor of government actions for the well being of all?
The voters have long been clamouring for a new crop and breed of politicians having the qualifications, track record of competence in their respective field of activities and commitment of service to the people to help realize our loftiest ambitions as a nation. However, this has systematically been thwarted by omnipotent political leaders bent on perpetuating their stranglehold over the party or assuring the future of dynasts instead of democratically opening up the party to new talent, intellect and game changing initiatives.
The outcome of the general elections is also a scathing indictment of the leaders of the MMM and the Labour Party and their parties.
The leader of the MMM must finally realize that his particular brand of identity politics carefully honed and nurtured over decades has backfired. It has led to repeated electoral debacles and successive waves of dissent and departures. Those who left the party and subsequently joined l’Alliance Morisien prior to the general elections are, after years of being stuck on the benches of the opposition, now prominent Ministers of the new government. The MMM rout at the polls is epitomized by the low score of 21.9% of votes obtained at the national level and the defeat of its deputy leader in Vacoas-Floreal where he came out 7th and obviously did not benefit from the tell tale and inordinately skewed pattern of voting. The MMM thus obtained between 7.44% and 19.3% in 10 rural constituencies of the country and elected all its 8 MPs in the urban constituencies. Its candidates even lost their deposits in two rural constituencies. Is it not therefore time for a new leadership and a new approach to steer the party out of its present sorry predicament?
The Labour Party must also finally realize that the ethos of the party, its contract of trust with the people and its determinant role in the political affairs of the country is much more important than the narrow interests of its leader. The Party has already lost five precious years to rebuild around an inspiring new leadership capable of rebooting the party to the seminal values and principles which underpinned its unstinted fight for the unalienable rights of the downtrodden people and for freedom from colonial rule. Such an illustrious party can no longer be held hostage by its leader and its cohort of apparatchiks.
People knew that the prospects of the party were undermined by its leader, the absence of credible answers to people’s legitimate interrogations, his style of leadership, choice of candidates, last minute attribution of party tickets and patent campaigning blunders. The debacle of the Labour party was scripted. This cannot go on. The Party must therefore break loose and open up to induct bright and talented Mauritians having the intellect and credentials to propose an alternative and innovative pathway to inclusive prosperity and a connect with the people which rallies the multitude.
It would also be very remiss to remain silent on the unacceptable fact that some 6,813 voters were not included in the register of voters and were therefore denied their sacrosanct right to vote at the general elections. The callous remarks by a member of the Electoral Commission (EC) that this total represent an insignificant percentage of voters in the country shows disrespect for the arduous battle which led to the right to vote and is uncalled for. This is the more so in the case of the 2019 general elections when the vote difference between the 3rd elected and 4th defeated candidate varied between 25 and 292 in eight constituencies which in essence means half these votes. The onus is therefore squarely on the EC to investigate the reasons for such an unprecedented shortcoming and to take the urgent corrective measures needed before another registration exercise is carried out.
It is also clear that the weak link in the well oiled operating mechanism of the Electoral Commission is the rigour of the canvassers in diligently assuring that all eligible voters of the country are registered. There is also probably a need for a new approach which automatically keeps existing voters on register subject to the demise of the voter and ensuring that new voters are assiduously registered. Appropriate verification procedures and collaboration with records from relevant services should aim at ensuring that no citizen is denied its right to vote through administrative insouciance. It is equally important that the public notices to voters to check if their names are on the register of voters be widely broadcast, accessible to all and voter friendly.
It must be said that the Best Loser System (BLS) bailed out quite a few government ministers who had been sanctioned by defeat at the polls. However, it should be flagged that the disparate number of voters per constituency in the country distorts the exercise of allocation of BLS MPs computed in accordance with an established modus operandi. The use of percentages in the determination of best losers penalizes those who have been defeated in constituencies with a much larger number of voters. The iniquity of the disparate size of the electoral constituencies in the country is patently obvious to all. Thus, a defeated government minister was recuperated by the BLS although he obtained only some 4,900 votes.
It is therefore no wonder that the international observers from diverse organizations who supervised and reviewed the proceedings of the general elections have in alia raised concerns about the pro-government propaganda on the national TV, the unfairness of the unequal size of the electoral constituencies of Mauritius and the need to ensure that constituencies have an approximately equal number of voters. They have also highlighted the need to have recourse to a referendum in the eventuality of electoral and constitutional reform proposals. The only fair way forward is to have 60 single member constituencies with approximately the same number of electors in mainland Mauritius. This would also put an end to selective voting.
Getting our act together
Now that the general elections are behind us, what is much more important is the prosperous future of the country and the people. We need to ensure as citizens that good governance and a new policy framework re-engineers the economy, puts economic fundamentals on track, significantly reduces growing inequality, establishes a level playing field in terms of opportunities and focuses on productive investment and collective hard work to create wealth. Mauritius therefore needs to seriously get its act together and make the right policy choices to significantly improve the prospects of the country, boost the economy to provide gainful employment to the qualified young and continuously better the standard of living of people through a fair sharing of the fruits of prosperity. It is therefore high time to get down to business.
* Published in print edition on 15 November 2019