Hi Earthlings! It’s Max, the Martian, back on your twee island for a short break. Yes, despite my reluctance to come here last time, I found some of your customs and practices so quaint, so amusing, that I had to come back to savour some more of your famed Plaisir. In the two Earth years that I have been away, I have often thought about various aspects of your national life. Your particular way of doing politics has been one of them.
In my research on the Martian Moogle, I read somewhere that an erudite Earthling called Abe Lincoln had said a hundred years ago, “Democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people.” I have also come to understand that parliamentary democracy is a function of the relationship between the electorate, its representatives and the House of Representatives, also known as the Parliament in some countries.
At the heart of the system, therefore, is the citizen’s inalienable right to choose his representative. This he does through the ballot box, thus legitimizing his representation in the House. The individual citizen’s choice is, thus, deemed to be sacrosanct and this sanctity is enshrined in the one-man-one-vote (1/1) formula, which forms the basic principle of democracy, both in and out of the House.
A special case?
Against this background, you will appreciate that I have some difficulty understanding the Mauritian set-up. Whilst half the world is still struggling to achieve the basic right of 1/1, I am left wondering what is so special about Mauritius that you have allowed yourselves 1-man-3-votes (1/3) in your Constitution. Whatever your reasoning, my Martian logic cannot help concluding that yours seems to be a perversion of the basic principles of democracy as practised in all other countries that have this form of government.
I have read the argumentation of the proponents of 1/3. They say that the Mauritian version reassures the minority communities. It is argued that, if you resorted to the 1/1 system, only candidates from the majority community of any constituency would get elected. Hence, if the majority of voters of constituency X were Creoles, that constituency would return a Creole member (MP). If the majority of voters in constituency Y were Muslims, then that constituency would return a Muslim MP. Consequently, since the Hindus are majority in the country, most constituencies would return a Hindu MP, resulting in a Hindu majority in Parliament. Too risky, the supporters of the pro-1/3 system say.
But, in putting forward their case, it seems to me that they destroy their own argument. Even with the 1/3 system, that is exactly what one would expect and that is exactly what has been happening over the past 40 years. Since the Hindus are the majority, it makes little difference which formula you use; the result will always be the same. But, a majority in Parliament of any one community does not automatically mean any kind of hegemony. It would be expected that some of the members hailing from that community would also form part of the opposition, as well as MPs from the minorities on both sides of the House. Balance is thus achieved.
More fundamentally, I am given to understand that an MP is supposed to represent all the people of his constituency and, not as is presumed by the pro-1/3 brigade, only those from his community. To expect anything else in this day and age would be an insult to the maturity and intelligence of the voter; it is unlikely he would tolerate any such blatant discrimination from his representative.
The second reason often given — and one has to admit it is a strong one — is that the 1/1 system would communalize your politics. As if the present system does anything different! If it did, I would have expected all political parties to line up a Hindu candidate in Roche Bois and Muslim candidates in Triolet at election time.
As you mature as a nation and adopt Republican values, this will change with time, but I am not sure the 1/3 system is the ideal, or the only, way of ensuring that you abandon your communal reflexes. As mentioned above, this will only come with maturity, but it has to be nurtured by concentrating the debate on national issues rather than on ethno-religious and communal lines. If I may say so, this is a false debate that detracts from the noble job of nation building.
Back to basics
Meanwhile, it would be interesting to have a look at the benefit of the 1/1 system. Instead of 20 large, unwieldy constituencies, you would have 60 smaller, more manageable ones. At the moment, the constituent is confused when deciding which of his 3 representatives to consult. In some cases, he turns up at one MP’s place only to be told that he should go to see one of the other two. Apart from loss of time, this causes a lot of frustration. In constituencies where all three MPs are Ministers, it becomes even more difficult for the public. Because of ministerial commitments here and abroad, they are often unavailable.
The 1/1 system will not get rid of all these impediments, but will certainly minimize them. Above all, it will get rid of the perversion that is inherent in the 1/3 system.
I understand that the bogey of Hindu hegemony was wheeled out 44 years ago by (all) the detractors of the Independence movement. Since then, you have had several Parliaments, all with a Hindu majority. Yet, the records show unequivocally that there has not been any notable abuse of power. As a matter of fact, your political stability is often quoted by savvy observers as an example of a thriving democracy to be emulated by others.
I am pretty sure that, at the mature age of 44, it is most unlikely that you would abandon the guiding, democratic principles that have served you so well over the years. Besides, organic as well as inorganic checks and balances have grown to ensure this does not happen. There are also many internal and external forces that act against any such tendency. When all is said and done, I am convinced that you are not a potential Zimbabwe, despite what your detractors (yes, there are few around!) may have to say.
So, why is it that none of the mainstream parties ever talk about changing the 1/3 system?
The simple answer, I suppose, is EASE. It is easier to manage 20 constituencies than 60. Place 3 candidates to roughly coincide with the communal make-up of the constituency and, with the Mauritians’ habit of block voting, you are assured of hitting the jackpot.
Since you normally vote the incumbents out, one cannot help wondering if there isn’t a sort of tacit, insidious agreement among the mainstream parties on this issue — which ensures they can look forward to winning the next joust or even the one after that. In many instances, they have connived to share of the punch bowl of power by performing all manner of gymnastics to form coalitions, both before and after elections.
Politics of proximity
Far be it for a little Martian to give you any lessons on how to manage your affairs, but it would be amiss of me if I departed without giving you some of my observations.
Just because something has been done in a particular way for years does not mean it is the right way. We must always question the system, whilst guarding against making changes for the sake of change.
The 3/3 system is a gross perversion because it violates the basic principles of democracy.
The 1/1 system is the basic, guiding principle of a democratic election process.
1/1 ensures a politics of proximity.
1/1 also ensures better accountability towards the most important person in the democratic process — the voting citizen.
1/1 ensures meritocracy — only those who have performed will get voted in. There is no bandwagon for freeloaders to jump on.
By getting rid of 3/3 and reverting to 1/1, you would de facto do yourself justice and establish a fairer system.
Do not allow communal considerations — the greatest impediment — to stop progress. Singapore is not so far away.
Do not be afraid to go for nation-building in a big way.
Future, more enlightened generations will bless you for your foresight.
With that, and until my next visit to your shores, I bid you lleweraf. That’s good-bye in Martian.
c/o TD Fuego
* Published in print edition on 27 October 2012