Privy Council: Dayal vs Jugnauth


Five judges sitting on Brazil’s highest electoral court delivered judgement last Friday 30th June barring former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro from running for office again until 2030 after they found that he ‘abused his power and cast unfounded doubts on the country’s electronic voting system’. The judges agreed that ‘Bolsonaro used government communication channels to promote his campaign and sowed distrust about the vote’. Two judges voted against.

News agencies report that the case focused on a July 18, 2022, meeting where Bolsonaro used government staffers, the state television channel and the presidential palace in Brasilia to tell foreign ambassadors that the country’s electronic voting system was rigged. In her decisive vote that formed a majority, Judge Carmen Lucia said ‘the facts are incontrovertible’. The Bolsonaro case (also commented by Jan Arden on Page 3) marks the first time a president has been suspended for election violations rather than a criminal offence; it removes the former president from the 2024 and 2028 municipal elections as well as the 2026 general elections; the latter also faces other legal troubles, including criminal investigations. Future criminal convictions could extend his ban by years and subject him to imprisonment.

The Brazilian electoral court judgement could be seen to have been come rather fortuitously in light of the case opposing Suren Dayal to Pravind Jugnauth (and seven others) that will be heard by the Law Lords of the Privy Council next Monday 10th July. Suren Dayal challenges the election of Pravind Jugnauth and his two other running candidates, Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun and Yogita Sawmynaden to the National Assembly of Mauritius ‘on the grounds of bribery, treating, and undue influence’.

Appeals to the Privy Council however can be a double-edged sword. There is neither predictability nor certainty in how the Law Lords may scrutinise the constitutional and legal issues at stake. In the MedPoint-Pravind Jugnauth case, for example, the ODPP learnt to its dismay that the about-turn of ICAC in this same case contributed, as acknowledged by the Law Lords themselves, to their reversing a lower court judgement. There had earlier been the challenge to then MSM candidate Ashock Jugnauth’s election by Raj Ringadoo for electoral bribery, which required that the final judgement be delivered by the Law Lords and has become since part of our jurisprudence. There’s also the case of the unilateral contract termination of the Red Eagle/Betamax contract, wherein the Law Lords overruled the SC judges who had reversed an initial Intermediate Court and an international arbitrator ruling in favour of Betamax.

Some observers have opined that the PM will plough on at the helm of the country, regardless of the outcome of the appeal lodged at the Privy Council by Suren Dayal. However, opinions in the legal circles differ on this question. Whatever the final outcome, it’s bound to weigh heavily on the course politics will take in the run-up to the next general elections. However, given the different factors and agents involved, including the role of the state broadcaster, MBC-TV, there is a possibility that the Law Lords judgement, as distinct from the Bolsonaro one, may be couched in terms where neither party or both can claim a “win” in terms of what happens next.

If Pravind Jugnauth were to “win” his case, it’s more than likely he’ll go to the end of his mandate. But he may decide to go for early elections if only to take on what appears at this stage to be an unprepared and vulnerable opposition which to date has not settled the terms and conditionalities of an alliance between the Labour Party, the MMM and the PMSD.

Pravind Jugnauth’s government has adopted a business-as-usual attitude even in the face of the misgovernance issues which have hogged the headlines these last four years. It’s also likely to remain unperturbed no matter what critics, whether on the streets, on social media, or in the Opposition, say about its record on this count. It will therefore press on regardless of the alleged mafia infiltration in our institutions (as stated by the PM himself), the perceived misdoings of the Special Striking Team or the revelations that have come out about the ramifications of drug trafficking in the west or around Grand Bassin.

Pravind Jugnauth will in all likelihood hold elections when he would deem the political conditions suitable for the MSM-led alliance, which moreover is suspected to have a formidable war chest, the technology and the backing, here as elsewhere, to make its re-election possible. It is therefore up to the opposition to create the political dynamics to overturn what in the present political circumstances seems inevitable in the absence of a credible alternative.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 7 June 2023

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