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A Perversion of Democracy?
I must express my utter disagreement with the views expressed by MT columnist MAX c/o Del Fuego in last week’s paper in his article entitled “A Perversion of Democracy”. Any system of choosing representatives that is genuinely supported by the population at large cannot be said to be undemocratic. There is no sacrosanct principle of democracy that requires that every elector should vote for only one person. The essential principle to watch for ensuring democracy is that all citizens are entitled to equal legislative representation and have an equal share in the power to elect that representation. Our system, potentially at least, ensures that this principle is respected. It even goes further: thanks to the safeguards built in by the fathers of the Constitution, it ensures that every community is as fairly represented as possible, by our corrective system erroneously labelled the “best-loser system”.
This system is contested by a fringe, but is widely accepted in the nation. If the proportion of people who claim not to belong to any of the communities recognised under our Constitution tops 50%, then indeed it will be time to abandon the system. Under present circumstances appeals made to UN bodies to seek their intervention in overturning this arrangement can only be described as ridiculous – they remind one of attempts at putting countries like Lybia, Sudan and North Korea in charge of Human Rights. The only court that should be able to overturn our system is the court of the people of Mauritius through a referendum.
An experiment was indeed tried in 1963 with a system of 60 single-member constituencies where the country was cut up into 60 constituencies. I am not aware of the precise reasons of why it was abandoned, but I believe that constituencies were geographically too small and the number of electors per constituency was similarly too small to provide a viable system. The present larger system of 20 constituencies provides a better balance between purely local demands for infrastructure items and other favours and broader national ones.
But our system does have some of the disadvantages of the “First past the post” system which totally disregards the citizens’ votes cast in favour of the runner-up. If everyone of our 20 constituencies were allowed to return four representatives, with each elector still voting for just three, the result would be fairer in representing the votes cast in that it would take into account to some extent the votes cast in favour of the rejected parties. Theoretically, a difference of just one vote can mean the difference between a candidate’s being elected or rejected, that is to say, between accepting or rejecting the choices of practically half of the electorate. That would also put an end to the nightmare of the 60-0 situation the country lived through in 1982. But even with such a revised system, the corrective “best-loser” system should still be maintained.
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A party within a party
I was surprised by the attitude of Mr Sithanen, and his protests when requested to move from Constituency No. 18 to 13 and his request to be nominated Minister of Finance before even being elected. Mr Sithanen’s moves these last few days give the impression that he is a party within a party.
I have no doubt that the private sector would wish to have Mr Sithanen remain in the Finance saddle owing to the numerous pro-private sector measures initiated by him. But I am not sure that the majority of electors in Constituency No 18 would look forward to seeing him nominated as the next Finance minister again – that is if he is elected. The reasons are many, one of which is the issue of inequality which is at its highest in the country today, with the haves having grown richer than the have-nots. Check the figures if you are interested in knowing more and understanding why having more rich people does not equate with real and inclusive social progress.
During Mr Sithanen’s mandate, the Mauritian economy has served as the laboratory of capitalist policies emanating from the World Bank. In my opinion, the success of the present government in weathering the recession storm is founded on the philosophy of the Bank of Mauritius as much as those of the Ministry of Finance. If the monetary policies which had been initiated before Mr Bheenick’s mandate as Governor of the Bank of Mauritius were not reversed, the Pound Sterling would today be exchanged at Rs 80. It is the delicate balance between the two institutions that has got us out of the recession.
Mr Sithanen can also be credited with the feat of destroying the savings culture of Mauritians. His measure to tax the interests of the earnings of the poor and rich alike has destroyed the savings motivation. If we are to follow Mr Sithanen’s philosophy, we should be all addicts of nightclubs, manzer boire amiser — “seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future”. Instead, we are running into trouble as even the deductions which people were entitled to thanks to their contributions to pension schemes are gone. May be we ought to thank him for that? He has made life more difficult by removing deductions on housing loans and university studies initiating a culture of house rental when before he came to power, the rates of house ownership in the country were among the highest in the world.
The population has not cast its vote yet and being from No. 18, I know for sure that there are very many who will not vote for Mr Sithanen because of his unpopular tax measures, the NRPT, the removal of social protection nets which before enabled the population to accede to land and house ownership in a manner unseen in other countries.