Requiem for Proportional Representation

The leader of the MMM, the high priest of proportional representation is up to his usual shenanigans and contrived arguments to try to justify the unjustifiable…

No one but the Rodriguans should know what’s best for them

The call by the L’Organisation du Peuple de Rodrigues (OPR) of Serge Clair, the Chief Commissioner of Rodrigues and the Mouvement Rodriguais (MR), the two most important political parties of Rodrigues to eliminate proportional representation from the Rodriguan electoral system during the recent visit of the Prime Minister to Rodrigues has set the cat among the pigeons.

The two main parties in Rodrigues are up in arms against proportional representation (PR). It has inevitably caused disarray among those who despite repeatedly meeting with outright opposition from the people still doggedly champion, decades after independence, the introduction of a dose of PR in the electoral system of the country. The outcry against PR in Rodrigues should nail and bury proportional representation in the country for good. True to form, the leader of the MMM, the high priest of PR is up to his usual shenanigans and contrived arguments to try to justify the unjustifiable in the face of such crying evidence to the contrary. No one but the Rodriguans should know what’s best for them.

The undeniable fact is that proportional representation introduced in the Rodrigues Regional Assembly electoral system has caused significant distortion to the outcome of the Rodrigues regional elections held in February 2012. It should be recalled that these Regional Assembly elections gave a clear and comfortable majority of four seats to OPR, the clear winner of the elections on the basis of the time tested First Past The Post (FPTP) system of voting. OPR elected eight of the 12 Members elected in the six regions of Rodrigues. MR elected the remaining four Members.

In accordance with the PR provisions, a disproportionately high 9 additional seats (compared to the 12 elected members) were allocated including 2 seats to the Front Patriotique Rodriguais which had no elected Member in the FPTP elections. The PR provisions thus result in higher running costs for the Exchequer. The upshot of the application of the PR provisions of the Rodriguan electoral system was that in a four-party race, the OPR majority of four seats was shaved to a tenuous and slim majority of just one seat.

Nothing can justify such a distorted and disconcerting outcome. The Rodrigues case vividly exposes the pitfalls of PR.

It is not rocket science to understand that the FPTP comfortable majority of four seats would have enabled OPR to administer the affairs of the Rodrigues Regional Assembly with serenity from a position of strength. A drastically eroded and slim majority of just one renders OPR’s administration of Rodrigues all the more difficult and vulnerable to all sorts of pressures and lobbying from both party members and the opposition and defections.

Two defections put the OPR, which had won a comfortable majority, in minority. This singular situation also exposes the fact that PR fundamentally bends the rules, tips the scales against the winning party and thwarts the people’s democratic choice mirrored in the results of a Fist Past The Post based elections. It basically rigs the rules. No wonder there is a legitimate clamour from the two main parties of Rodrigues who have dominated Rodriguan politics for years to eliminate PR from the Rodrigues Regional Assembly election system.

Guinea pig and Trojan horse

Why on earth was PR introduced in the Rodrigues Regional Assembly election system in the first place? Why was Rodrigues and its electorate used as a guinea pig to experiment with PR by those who have for decades championed PR in Mauritius? This is the more flabbergasting as their diverse stratagems to introduce a dose of PR in the Mauritian electoral system have been robustly opposed and systematically thwarted by the people in line with the guiding ethos of the multitude who voted for independence.

After the experience of more than a decade of Regional Assembly elections, the upshot of the introduction of a dose of PR in the Rodrigues Regional Assembly electoral system is that it has backfired and prompted the main political parties in Rodrigues to call for its elimination from the electoral system. Rodrigues has sounded the knell for the requiem of proportional representation

We should remember the context. The Rodrigues Regional Assembly Act aimed at giving a certain autonomy to Rodrigues was tabled and voted when the 2000-2005 MSM-MMM government was in power.

It should be recalled that PR had from the outset been firmly opposed and flatly rejected by the Labour Party and all those who fought for a free and united nation during the constitutional debates at the London Conference leading to independence, on inter alia the grounds stated in an official letter to the British colonial authorities that it would ‘aggravate and perpetuate divisions among Mauritians on racial and religious lines’.

Such an unequivocal stance which resulted in an electoral system anchored on the First Past The Post system of election prevalent in the United Kingdom, combined with the Best Loser System, should have settled the matter for good, the more so as this system of government has safeguarded our multi-cultural diversity and enabled the country to enjoy social harmony, political stability and economic progress over decades since independence. It has also led to the elimination of ‘communal’ parties prevailing at the time of independence as the main political parties assumed a national character to contest the elections.

Some past hangovers die hard. The political class and in particular the champions of PR in the country must also above all remember that the Labour-MMM (LM) alliance’s decried proposals regarding PR and party lists were key factors in the crushing defeat of the LM alliance at the December 2014 general elections. The loud message of the people in defeating the purportedly invincible combined might of the Labour-MMM alliance is a categorical no to PR and party lists and permutations thereof. Those who have not learnt the lessons of this potent message from the outcome of the December 2014 polls do so at their own risks and peril.

Despite the opposition to PR in Rodrigues and at the December 2016 general elections, some will never learn. Desperate efforts by the leader of the MMM to pin government on its programme statements and other declarations on PR are being used as Trojan horses to resuscitate PR. To this end, on fait feu de tout bois. Why tie the issue of the mandatory declaration of one’s community to be eligible to stand for general elections to PR? Shouldn’t this separate issue be resolved on its own merits?

Unity over division and instability

The choice of an electoral system must be driven by the interests of the country and the people rather than the vested interests of political leaders or their parties. PR cannot serve to move the goalpost or bend the rules in a bid to conjure and overturn repeated defeats suffered through the FPTP electoral system into victory. What must remain paramount at all times for the political class is unswerving support for the will and the sovereign choices of the people.

Proportional representation is also divisive as it will open a Pandora’s Box of communal and caste based political parties which will entrench political instability in the country, as in Israel. Party list proportional representation has fragmented Israel into a proliferation of splinter parties which have bred short-lived fragile coalition governments which are more and more being held hostage by ultra-nationalist parties imposing hard-line policies including towards peace with Palestine. Political instability is such that the current government is the 34th government since the founding of Israel in 1948. At the 2015 elections a wide field of 10 parties obtained, as per the PR system, between 5 and 30 seats in the Knesset of 120 Members.

In contrast most of the best democracies of the world such as Canada, India, the United States or the United Kingdom as well as most of UK’s former colonies are using the First Past The Post electoral system. The FPTP voting system has huge merits: the people who are the ultimate arbiter of general elections find it simple to understand, vote and forecast. It is also a merit based leveller which perpetually extends the democratic space. It is the FPTP voting system which elected Barack Obama as the first African American President of the United States or Sadiq Khan as the first Muslim Mayor of a capital city in Europe in May 2016 or Piyush “Bobby” Jindal as the Governor of Louisiana. It will probably elect Hilary Clinton as the first female President of the United States at the 8 November 2016 US Presidential elections after 44 male Presidents since 1789.

Bernie Sanders, the runner-up for the democratic nomination for the US presidential elections in November 2016, epitomizes what serving the people really means. He has emerged through his grasp of the stark inequalities, real hardships and struggles of the people of the United States against the backdrop of the enduring international financial crisis and his impressive nation-wide following especially among mainstream Americans as the hope and messiah of a more just, equal, inclusive and caring socio-economic order. His incisive insights and understanding of the American reality has already been fed into Hilary Clinton’s presidential programme to create, in the words of Bernie Sanders, ‘the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party’ for the larger benefit of the American people.

Amidst the fury caused by the evidence leaked by Wikileaks showing that the Democratic National Committee had favoured Hilary Clinton instead of being neutral during the primaries, Bernie Sanders as a true statesman healed the risk of division by urging his supporters to support Hilary Clinton to realize a better America for all. When will the local political class take their cue from him?

* Published in print edition on 29 July 2016

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