“As opposed to the 1967 general elections, which were truly turned into a referendum for or against Independence, the forthcoming one fails to offer such a clear-cut choice. The significant difference being that the proponents of change, the LP-MMM Alliance, may actually come to power without the requisite three-quarters majority in Parliament for changing the Constitution of the country…”
By the time the next edition of this paper comes out the results of the general elections of 10th December would already be known. In this article we take the risk of indulging in some admittedly speculative political ‘futurology’ if only for the sake of laying the groundwork for some more serious analysis once we are there.
Unsurprisingly there is one point on which the two main contesting Alliances agree: the coming general elections would be the most important one in the history of our country, after the 1967 elections which turned out to be a referendum for the Independence of the country.
This time round the central issues are whether the people of Mauritius would elect to venture into a new system of semi-presidential governance structure, in place of our present model based on the Westministerial tradition and the First Past The Post electoral system. At this juncture a little bit of historical background may be useful for throwing some light on the issues.
While our present system is indeed a legacy of British administration, it is also importantly a deliberate and indeed well thought through CHOICE made by the Founding Fathers of the Nation after long and protracted negotiations. It must be remembered that the adoption of our present system was the culmination of a long process carried through successive ’constitutional conferences’ over the years.
These conferences were attended by the leaders of the Labour Party, Comite d’Action Musulman (CAM), the Independent Forward Block (IFB) and the Parti Mauricien (PM) – led respectively by Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Abdool Razack Mohamed, Sookdeo Bisoondoyal and Jules Koenig. Predictably enough, given the dominant character of the political struggle at the time, Proportional Representation was already a hot topic of debate.
During the deliberations, Abdool Razack Mohamed was adamant about the introduction of the Best Loser System. Seewoosagur Ramgoolam would not budge an inch on the issue of introduction of partial proportional representation. J Koenig was trying to sell a concept of ‘integration’ instead of independence. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
Forty-six years after Independence, the Alliance de L’Unite et de la Modernite (Labour Party-MMM Alliance) are proposing these radical constitutional changes and electoral reforms which are meant to take the country towards “a more balanced and fairer sharing of political power”. The electorate will surely exercise its own deliberate judgment to make the best choice in the national interest on 10th December next.
As opposed to the 1967 general elections, which were truly turned into a referendum for or against Independence, the forthcoming one fails to offer such a clear-cut choice. The significant difference being that the proponents of change, the LP-MMM Alliance, may actually come to power without the requisite three-quarters majority in Parliament for changing the Constitution of the country.
In such a case they propose to run the country within the present Constitutional dispositions. In a recent press interview, Paul Berenger has for the first time lifted the veil on an eventual Plan B for such an eventuality. To be perfectly honest it must be pointed out that he stated that, in his view, the need to have recourse to such a plan was very remote given the high probability that the LP-MMM alliance will achieve its objective in terms of number of elected MPs i.e. a three-quarters majority.
According to Paul Berenger, there are four possible ways forward for the LP-MMM Alliance after the elections. In case of a three-quarters majority being secured, the Constitution will be amended to allow for the setting up of the semi-presidential regime described in the written agreement between the two allies. The electoral system will be reformed to allow for the introduction of a Proportional Representation system alongside the prevailing First Past The Post one.
Failure to secure such a majority, on the other hand, would open the way for three other options. Firstly, Navin Ramgoolam becomes the Prime Minister of the country for the next five years and P. Berenger becomes the Deputy Prime Minister presumably with an important ministerial portfolio. Secondly, Navin Ramgoolam agrees to a sharing ’à l’israélienne’ by ceding the Prime Ministership to Berenger after either two-and-a-half or three years. Thirdly, Berenger suggests that Navin Ramgoolam might decide to move to Reduit as President of the Republic without any additional powers.
While the first proposition with regard to amendment of the Constitution and the introduction of electoral reforms following the election of the requisite majority seems quite straightforward on paper (no pun intended), the other scenarios seem distinctly less realistic, and Berenger would probably be among the first to agree to this, as we go through the list in descending order.
That Ramgoolam becomes the Prime Minister in case the alliance which he heads in the next elections secures even a simple majority in Parliament is a matter of course. The appointment of Paul Berenger to a high level Cabinet position, next to the Prime Minister, while not a simple task given the ‘re-engineering’ which it will call for in the government hierarchy is far from being an insurmountable obstacle. As regards the other two ‘sharing’ options it would be fair comment to suggest that, in the present scheme of things, they do not even seem to be on the cards.
Any other result of the coming elections, save one where a three- quarters majority is secured by the LP-MMM Alliance or an outright victory of the opposition Alliance, opens a wide vista for speculation regarding the future configuration of the political landscape. It would be difficult or even futile to try and figure out all of these at this point. The only thing that remains certain as of now is that the results of these elections will represent a huge game changer for the future of Mauritius.
* Published in print edition on 5 December 2014