Are we fed up with being a rainbow nation?

By Paramanund Soobarah

I am not a regular reader of the daily press but even from a distance one cannot escape the current hubbub about electoral reform. The latest broadside in the fray seems to come from Dr Sithanen, PhD, our former Finance Minister, through his “report”.

Regarding the substance, a recommendation to increase the number of elected Assembly members by twenty, however motivated, is to be welcomed. Nobody wants a repeat of the 1982 ’60-0′ situation wherein the country is turned over lock, stock and barrel to a handful of activists. God be praised that on that occasion their internal contradictions led to a rapid implosion of their government.

Additionally, and in all fairness, it is necessary for the system to make a gesture towards the 44% – I am using this well-known expression to indicate the set of people, often largely belonging to just one party or one coalition, who constitute a substantial proportion of the electorate nationally but whose chosen candidates do not make it past the post and they therefore remain largely unrepresented.

This denial of representation to nearly half of the population is patently unfair. The additional twenty seats can go to a great length to redress this injustice. Dr Sithanen’s proposal for designating the additional 20 seats may have a lot of theoretical merit, but is very complicated for us simple folk to understand. I therefore repeat here a system that has been advocated in the past – I cannot recall who precisely mentioned it first but I do recall supporting it in an article or a letter to MT.

The simple formula proposed is as follows: The present system of 20 constituencies is maintained. Every elector votes for three candidates but each constituency returns four Assembly Members. (In Rodrigues electors vote for two canditates and the Island returns three represenatives.) The Returning Officer of each constituency then announces the names of the four elected representatives at the close of counting – without any ifs and buts and complicated calculations. This will represent a generous hand extended towards the 44%.

But these additional 20 seats will only help secure a certain amount of fairness to political parties. The danger is very real of some group motivated by ideas of ène-sél-lépép-ène-sél-nation trying to implement policies that will gradually finish off some of our cultures for the sake of “modernisation” and “civilisation”.

We have seen, for instance, how the Bhojpuri language has been largely replaced by Creole by just dubbing it the language of uncivilised people –”langaze dimoune bitation!”. I recall that in the seventies, after the “Coalition coûte-que-coûte“, we used to celebrate the fact that we were a rainbow nation and proud of the fact that our flag had four colours. Whatever has happened to that spirit? Has it been buried along with Sir Gaetan Duval?

An accident of history makes it practically impossible to distinguish cultural groups from ethnical-cum-religious communities. For the time being, the only way to assure that every culture is represented in the Assembly is by ensuring that the different communities are well represented.

These days, electors vote first and foremost for a Prime Minister; they will vote for any Tom, Dick and Harry set given to them by their chosen prime ministerial candidate without much thought about the individual cultural preferences of the constituency candidates. It is therefore necessary to have a system which, when all is said and done, assures a just and representative balance of the various cultures in our Parliament. That assurance we cannot have from the system outlined above; historical arguments hold no guarantee: the past is not a sufficient guide to the future.

For the time being the wrongly named Best Loser System does fulfill that role. All we need to do is to change the name of the system – for instance, into the “Communal Representation Assurance Scheme”.

In summary, we need an additional 20 representatives for fairness to political parties, but we also need the additional eight or nine required to assure balanced communal representation. Beware of those who want to move with the times – we shall all soon be dancing only the sega in our homes to the exclusion of all other forms of dancing if we don’t.

An article in MT last week, while favouring the abolition of the BLS, also had a good essay on the term “General Population”. A few years ago I had written on the matter and had drawn the obvious conclusion that in the current context the term could only mean “Christians other than Chinese Christians”.

Much to my disappointment, the Electoral Commissioner subsequently accepted the designation of “General Population” presented by a candidate who patently was a Chinese Christian. In my own view, culture is a more important aspect than religion in the designation of communities.

The designation “General Population” is patently unsatisfactory and I did make some suggestions about that too. Regarding its genesis, I recall having read somewhere that the classification of the population into whites, coloured and blacks prevalent during the French administration became illegal when the British took the country over and passed new laws.

But it also became necessary around the time to devise a classification that would take account of the newly arrived “sub-humans” from the Subcontinent. The term General Population was agreed as a collective term for the earlier inhabitants who, after all, were all proper human beings of the Roman Catholic faith; the term had the advantage of conveniently excluding “sub-human”species like Indian labourers from that privileged category.

The term thus initially carried a lot of prestige but now seems to have acquired derogatory nuances. Fashions come and go, and may even come back.

* Published in print edition on 3 February 2012

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