Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
In a letter to the editor, Miss Enid Lakeman (research secretary of the Proportional Representation Society) has admitted in ‘Peace News’ that the effect of proportional representation (PR) in Mauritius will be, as I have more than once said — including in a letter to ‘The Times’ — without contradiction, to make the electors more conscious of racial and religious differences; and hence will weaken the chances of the emergence of the spirit of pan-Mauritian consciousness. Her letter published on June 1, says: “Under the proportional system which the Colonial Office has had the good sense to propose… (electors) will be able to elect whichever of these (candidates — P.1.) they prefer, on grounds of race, religion…” So, faced with the necessity of giving preferences to the four Labour candidates in a four-member constituency, the Labour voter must, admits Miss Lakeman, take into account the race, religion, etc., of the candidates. Presumably she expects Hindus to vote for Hindus, Coloureds to vote for Coloureds, and so on.
In this she ignores reality. She ignores the fact that the development of political parties presupposes that electors have grown beyond the communal stage. She ignores the fact that the Labour Party’s candidates at the 1948 and 1953 elections — as well as at the Port Louis by-election — have been supported by electors of various races and creeds, despite the racial affinity of the particular candidates. She ignores the multi-racial nature of the Mauritius Labour Party.
One of the aims of a political party is to get its members to the vote for the Party candidate; to get support from all races for candidates who may not be of the same race as the voters. In that way the electors are helping to get rid of communalism. Hindus help to elect a Coloured Member; Coloureds help to elect a Hindu Member. Both help to elect an Indo-Christian and, perhaps, a Chinese Labour Member. The diversity of races thus elected by the same electors would demonstrate that the electorate had grown up. That it had grown to trust people of different races. That it had come to understand that we may be of different colours and different religious beliefs but are still capable of unifying in the greatest cause in the world — the liberation of mankind, which politically can — and will — come only through the Labour Parties of the world.
Universal adult suffrage with the simple majority will help achieve this emancipation of the electorate. It will help Hindus and Coloureds and Chinese and Moslems and Whites to work together for the election of candidates who carry a party label only – Labour — not a party label prefixed also by a racial or religious distinction.
But as Miss Lakeman has admitted proportional representation will introduce racial and religious distinctions into the Council elections. We will have the undignified spectacle of candidates presenting themselves as Indo-Labour, Sino-Labour. Moslem Labour… dare I add Franco-Labour? We will have racial and religious differences imported into the Legislative Council elections, with the essential unity of the Labour Party broken. And that is just what the reactionaries want. Call them reactionaries, Parti Mauricien, Tories, Conservatives, imperialists, colonialists, Bourbons, or what you will; but it all boils down to the same thing. They are people who want to destroy Labour and what Labour stands for. They are people who fear the might and power of organised Labour. They fear to lose what they have, even though what they have is what they have stolen from the People in times gone by. “What I have I hold” is the motto of the reactionaries; “What’s mine is mine — and what’s yours will be mine too before long.” (As the Africans say, “We had the land but no Bible. Then came the Europeans. Now we have the Bible but no land”). What they want is to prevent Labour achieving power; and they don’t mind what means they use to achieve it.
In 1953 it was the Governor’s nomination of 12 reactionaries that led to frustration of the people’s will. Now the idea is to have proportional representation to postpone the day when Labour will triumph. Even if Labour should win a victory under P.R., there is still the retention of nominees to contend with. Thus do we see how hardly, how unwillingly the reactionaries give up their power.
My article of May 25 has caused bewilderment at the Proportional Representation Society’s headquarters. They cannot understand how I can disapprove of election jugglery which doesn’t give proper representation for votes cast, yet also disapprove of PR which does give representation according to votes cast. The answer is quite easy. The examples I gave, and I am indebted to a pamphlet of the PR society for the figures, show how reactionary bourgeois governments in France and Italy sought by jiggery-pokery with the electoral law to frustrate the people’s will by devising an electoral system which weighted the scales in favour of the reactionaries themselves while denying the People the full effect of their votes. In both countries the result of the gerrymandered election law had been instability.
And the same instability had resulted from proportional representation. In the Republic of Ireland, successive general elections had demonstrated the absurdity of proportional representation… in one election the largest party formed the opposition yet in the next election, with one seat less but still the largest party, it formed the government. It was the attitude of the splinter groups towards Mr de Valera which made it impossible for him to form the government after the first election but enabled him to do so after the second.
That is why I disapprove of proportional representation. If we want to encourage the development of political parties (and the Colonial Secretary and the Governor say they do), we are going the wrong way about it by having PR. Proportional Representation brings into political affairs matters such as race and religion which should not affect people’s allegiance to this or that political party.
And even, as I said, the research secretary of the Proportional Representation Society herself has confirmed this.
PR For Mauritius
Would peter Ibbotson please explain what sort of voting system he does think right? In his article published on the 25th May, he first points out (very rightly, in my opinion) the evil effects of French and Italian laws designed to secure that the political parties should not win seats in proportion to the votes cast for them. These attempts to reduce the representation of some parties below what is warranted by the popular support for those parties, Mr Ibbotson rightly denounces as “electoral jugglery”.
But he then draws the final conclusion that we must “resist to the last” not this jugglery but the very opposite — the Irish voting system which ensures that the parties do win seats in proportion to the votes cast for them!
The reason for this odd sort of logic appears to be Mr Ibbotson’s fear that PR would “weaken Labour representation in the Legislative Council”. Would it? If so, that can only mean that Labour has at present more than its fair share of representation. If Labour resists a change to PR, this means it is clinging to a privileged position in which it has more power than the electors of Mauritius wish it to have; as an active member of the British Labour Party, I find such an attitude most deplorable. I should like, on the contrary, to see the party take the lead in offering fair representation all round.
A similar comment applies to Mr Napal’s article on “Indians and PR”: it is unfortunate that PR was not adopted for Mauritius long ago but has been postponed until there is (or is alleged to be) a danger of Indian hegemony. The movement for a change thus comes to be represented as anti-Indian, whereas in fact it is only anti-the over-representation of Indians or of anyone else. Again, the best remedy for any anti-Indian feeling is for Indians themselves to take the lead in securing fair representation for all communities, including their own. In Eire (a state born in civil war), fair representation for all parties and religious groups has led to a harmony among them which is conspicuously lacking in Northern Ireland where PR is not used.
Secretary PR Society
* Published in print edition on 6 April 2018