Glimpses of Mauritian History
‘Quoi que vous fassiez, vous ne réussirez pas à empêcher qu’une race qui forme les 5/7ième de notre population, ne finisse par avoir une majorité écrasante sous le système électif. Vous pourrez retarder son avènement, mais vous n’empêcherez pas sa suprématie de s’exprimer tôt ou tard.’
— C. Antelme, speech on franchise Commission
Politics in our days has become an integral part of the life of the people. An election is looked upon with unusual excitement and claims as much attention as any popular sport. It is interesting to consider the fact that the people have reached such a political maturity as to enable them to take an active part in elections when this institution has been granted to our colony only seventy years ago. The elective principle, by the exertions of the reformers, William Newton, Lois Raoul, O. Beaujeard and by the open sympathy and support of Governor John Pope Hennessy was introduced in the Council in 1885.
In the same year sat an electoral commission in order to study the question as to whom should be granted the right to vote. During the sittings of this Commission the reformers divided themselves into two camps, one in favour of a franchise based on property qualification and other restrictions and the other being more democratic. One thing which appears rather strange is that the man to whom we owe the Constitution of 1885 more than to anybody else — William Newton posed as a Conservative to his own undoing while Celicourt Antelme who had opposed constitutional reform out and out was for a more liberal franchise.
Celicourt Antelme put to his colleagues who were sitting on the electoral commission the rather embarrassing question: “Quel est celui qui aurait pu dire aux créoles avec conviction: Celui d’entre vous qui possède cinq mille roupies est digne de voter, tandis que celui qui ne possède que quatre mille cinq cent roupies est indigne du droit de vote; celui d’entre vous qui a un salaire de Rs 80 par mois est digne de voter, mais celui qui ne gagne que Rs 70 à 75 en est indigne?”
The franchise, proposed by Dr Onesiplio Beaujeard and supported by Celicourt Antelme, was rejected by the electoral commission. C. Antelme, Dr Beaujeard, N. Sakir, E. Sandapa and C.E. Thomy Pitot then sent to the Secretary of State a petition in which they formulated their dissent. Their case was considered strong by the Secretary of State who granted the franchise which they demanded.
The first elections were held on the 11th January 1886 in Port-Louis where the total number of voters were 1986. The Capital was the only district where two candidates were to be elected. The first elected members were Dr O. Beaujeard, who came out with 941 votes, and Gustave de Coriolis with 879. The tragedy of this election lay in the fact that William Newton was not elected. The electors could not forget that he had tried to debar from the right of voting those who had not the elevated property qualifications for which he had stood. Besides he had stood under the Conservative banner.
In Black River, which at the time of the first elections was a separate electoral district, there were 115 electors. The elections were held on the 12th of January 1886. Geoffroy Vincent was elected with 55 votes. Celicourt Antelme, candidate for Plaines Wilhems, was elected with 407 votes out of 652 voters on the 13th of January.
Henry Leclezio came out in Moka with 137 votes out of 188 voters and C. Planel was elected for Savanne with 149 votes out of a total of 191 voters. Sir Virgil Naz came out in Grand Port with 186 votes out of 273 electors. In Flacq and Riviere du Rempart, there were 222 and 162 voters respectively. The successful candidates were Henry Adam and Edgar Antelme. The introduction of the elective principle in the Council and the elections immediately following that all-important event had one result.
The privileged community in this island could no longer shut the doors of the Council to those who were not fair skinned men. Coloured men began to organise themselves to gain access to it. In the very first elections five of them succeeded in getting themselves elected. They called themselves democrats as opposed to the oligarchs who had so far monopolised power.
* Published in print edition on 30 March 2018