In spite of it being fundamentally flawed, widely criticised and alien to the core values and principles which underpinned the struggle and birth of Mauritius as a sovereign nation, there is a culpable haste especially by the Leader of the Opposition, to have the decried electoral reform bill drafted and put to the vote without the legitimacy of a clear and specific mandate from the people.
For the Leader of the Opposition, the eternal Poulidor of local politics, the insidious introduction of proportional representation (PR) in our electoral system is the determinant missing vector of an elusive dream to be king, which could unexpectedly come true, hence his impatience and irritation at all those who risk to upset this prized apple cart. Multiplying his press conferences, he pilloried political parties who democratically indicate that they may not vote for the bill as it sidelines them. He would probably impose a block vote on his Party instead of allowing a free vote on widely contested proposals, in order to build the tally of votes to obtain the three-quarters majority required. Within this vaudeville there is an unabashed intent by the two main protagonists to upstage each other to create history without the legitimacy of the people’s mandate.
Due process and ground rules
We learn from one of numerous press conferences of the Leader of the Opposition giving a blow-by-blow progress report on the electoral reform proceedings that both he and the Prime Minister (PM) recognize that there is no public mandate for such radical reform proposals. Yet, unlike his own preference to have the bill voted and applied forthwith at the forthcoming next general elections, we learn that it is the intent of the PM to have the bill debated and voted but not proclaimed and then to seek a mandate on the reform proposals from the people at the next general elections. Are we not putting the cart before the horse?
Let it be clearly stated that the primary condition of such a radical change in our electoral system requiring substantive related changes to our Constitution is that it has to follow due process. In its final form, it must as a first logical step be legitimized by obtaining a clear and specific mandate from the people through a dedicated referendum rather than the colourable artifice of inserting it in the political manifestos of political parties at the next general elections or in the Government Programme. A referendum means a dedicated opinion sought from the people by the simple question of whether they are for or against the proposals.
In view of their complexity, due process also means that in their final form the reform proposals and those related to the equally unmandated 2nd Republic must first be clearly explained through dedicated TV programmes and explanatory workshops across the country in each constituency, organised by and carried out under the aegis of the Electoral Commission. It is only when a clear favourable mandate is obtained from the people by referendum that legislative process can be envisaged.
In line with the pact of trust between the people and the elected Members, it is imperative, in case a vote is taken, that electors of each constituency lobby their Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) against voting for the reform proposals in the absence of a due process of explanation to the nation and the legitimacy of a people’s mandate. They should also insist that every elected MNA is allowed to vote freely on the reform proposals and not according to a block vote imposed by the leaders of Parties. The vote of each MNA must transparently be made public as the electorate has a right to know who breaches the pact of trust with them at their risk and peril, when they have to answer for their acts at the next general elections. From past evidence, we should beware as public opinion is like quicksand. A negative event provoking the ire of the people can upset the outcome of elections.
We also need to be explained why in the context of the government recognition of the wide disparity in the number of electors per constituency, Rodrigues, which with the third lowest number of some 27,800 electors has significantly less electors than 15 constituencies having between 40,000 and 59,700 plus electors should be granted a third MNA seat, when it also has a Regional Assembly?
In spite of the recent declaration made by the Attorney General on behalf of Government in the Supreme Court that the reform will not be ‘piecemeal but holistic’, it is clear that the current reform proposals being prepared are far from being holistic. They sidetrack the most important priorities of necessary reforms detailed previously, if we want to genuinely modernise and strengthen democracy in Mauritius. These relate inter alia to establishing a charter of rights of the people, limiting the mandates of the Heads of Government and the State to a maximum of two as in other democracies, establish rules to ensure more transparency in the financing and organisation of political parties, correct the wide disparity in the number of voters per constituency to ensure an equal number of voters per constituency to render the system fairer, in preferably single Member constituencies, etc. These and a host of other issues are higher priorities of a holistic reform than the present tinkering with our Constitution.
The current scientifically honed matrix of community and caste based selection of candidates by the leaders of the main political parties to fill the 60 seats of the 20 constituencies in Mauritius already reflects plural Mauritius in all its methodically fragmented diversity. The current reform proposals mask the fact that its opaque modus operandi which confers on the leaders of the main political parties the authority to appoint according to their own arbitrary and subjective criteria some 20 PR nominees as MNAs, from candidates rejected/ousted by the electorate, opens the Pandora’s box of communal and sectarian lobbies as they stake their claim on the PR lists and their allocation. Far from building the nation, it will institutionalise its fracture and entrench communalism. In this context, it should be flagged that, once voted, it will be quasi impossible to obtain the required majority to undo it should it engender instability or should other circumstances warrant it. Can we take such an irresponsible risk for the future generations of the country?
It is equally a fallacy to link the divide at the time of independence when 44% of the electorate scared by rabid and false communal propaganda voted against, to say some 42% votes obtained by the Opposition in the 2010 elections. Any simple analysis shows that in the 10 rural constituencies where the Labour-MSM-PMSD alliance won all 3 seats, the Opposition obtained between 10,000 and 21,630 votes which surely attest that the pattern of voting is materially different in nature and plurality than in 1967. The Mauritian nation has long moved away from these hangovers and fixations of the past. It is time for the political leaders to do likewise.
It is equally evident that if Mauritius is to leap frog to the next level of a high income economy and improve its economic fundamentals, there is a pressing need, in spite of recent boasts to the contrary, to overhaul the political class which seems out of their depths to meet the many daunting challenges facing the country as their policies across the political divide smack of déjà vu and are recycled permutations of the same initiatives.
It is only through a paradigm shift towards a national policy of promoting meritocracy at all levels and walks of society including the political class that we can do so. It must be driven by a new generation of young competent professionals joining politics, believing in service to the nation rather than power and capable of teaming up to innovatively brainstorm an ambitious future trajectory for the country and manage its challenges successfully to assure inclusive growth and development for all.
* Published in print edition on 30 May 2014