Proportional Representation has been peddled as “the solution” to achieve a fair and equitable electoral system since even before the country became independent.
Ironically the concept having, from the start, been bagged together with the most retrograde set of measures (Association instead of Independence, “Rasoir dans la main Jacqot” referring to universal adult suffrage, etc.,) it had acquired an emotional charge which made it unacceptable to the majority of electors in Mauritius.
Time, the great healer, has thankfully taken care of some of the most damaging consequences of those regrettable moments. Those who keep raising existentialist issues about the “invisible” Mauritian should ponder over the maturity of a nation which can shed such trauma within one generation and albeit after considerable hesitations embrace a radical change to its electoral system on the grounds of greater fairness and equity for all. We can easily think of a score of countries where in similar circumstances hell would have been let loose.
Navin Ramgoolam is right on the dot when he says that the proposed reforms are in line with his ambition to modernise the country’s institutions. The legal imbroglio at the national and international levels is itself a reflection of the exigencies of an evolving situation where stricter norms of governance are the order of the day. It called for a remedy which is compatible with universal principles of equity and fairness in representation of the people. At the national level, some limited expressions of nostalgia notwithstanding, the people are ready for a forward-looking solution.
The long awaited electoral reform proposals from the government have finally been made public by the Prime Minister. Since the government has been criticized for its tardiness in this matter, it is worth noting that people seem to have reacted positively to the PM’s statement that if it took so long it was only because he did not want to come out with a half-baked product.
The purpose of a White Paper in our democratic traditions is to solicit views from a wide range of stakeholders over a particular issue. Although for the sake of timing and efficiency the PM has set a deadline for closure of the debates on the matter (a delay which has been generally welcome given the long history of discussions on the subject) we can expect some lively exchange of views and many suggestions from all quarters.
From first reactions coming from a variety of stakeholders we gather that that the Prime Minister is credited with having achieved quite a “coup de force” by creating a broad consensus with what is effectively a “minimalist” approach which nevertheless proposes solutions to the some of the most vexing issues in the erstwhile electoral system. Those who felt aggrieved by the fact that one had to declare one’s “communal” appurtenance at the time of registering as a candidate for national elections (which by the way includes the PM himself) will now feel appeased.
The introduction of partial Proportional Representation (PPR) alongside an untouched First Past the Post system will ensure that the phenomenon of “60-0” after elections would all but be a thing of the past. Parties having obtained a substantial fraction of the votes (above 10%) would be proportionally represented in the National Assembly, which takes care of what was an aberration in the working of our existing system. Finally a substitute is found, at least in form, which takes care of the legal challenges and emotional trauma associated with the present Best Loser System while ensuring that the essential role played by the outgoing mechanism in the larger equilibrium of our socio political environment is safeguarded.
As we have been saying there is broad agreement among all the mainstream political parties (Labour Party, MMM, MSM) as with most political observers, to go along with the core proposals although some may still insist for some tweaking on the margins. However broad consensus at the macro-political level is not the same as total unanimity.
At the micro level, each of the parties involved will still have different degrees of satisfaction depending on their longer-term strategy and objectives. Only a few weeks ago the Leader of the Opposition had publicly stated that he did not expect any sensible propositions to come out of the exercise being prepared by the Prime Minister whom he “did not trust”. He will now claim that it was all part of a tactical ploy which has actually paid off and rather handsomely for his party.
Indeed Paul Berenger has many reasons to be happy with this new situation for it fits well with his medium-term objectives which are geared to the next general elections although one must expect that many of his core supporters will protest that the reforms which leave the First Past The Post system untouched is not good enough and that more radical changes should have been announced.
As far as Navin Ramgoolam is concerned, it is far from obvious that his party or the alliance that he leads stands to draw any immediate political advantage out of this outcome. He has insisted that the only motivation which has guided him is his sense of conviction that this is the right thing to do and it is consistent with his policy of modernisation of institutions.
However suspicion that he may have had some “ulterior motives” is so prevalent that he took pains to strongly deny such presumptions. Still some may infer, as in the Shakespearean play that he “protesteth too much”. While there are no reasons to doubt Navin Ramgoolam’s commitment and will to go ahead with the proposed reforms, it must be pointed out that on a purely theoretical level if the outcome of a game does not fulfil all the expectations of a dominant player he can always choose not to pursue the game.
While we reiterate our belief that the electoral reforms will most likely be implemented, it would need a real political genius to predict all the possible consequences that may arise from the post reform situation. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that this is indeed a Game Changer with all that this entails considering the changed perceptions of all existing actors as well as potential new players.
* Published in print edition on 28 March 2014