Free and Fair
— S. Modeliar
Now that the elections are over and the new government has embarked on its mission of tackling a number of problems, the foremost of which is the Euro crisis, the main opposition party is still whining about the reasons of its defeat. One would have expected that opposition to accept its defeat gracefully as George Brown has done in the United Kingdom and to brace itself to lend support to the government in the face of the Euro crisis. Instead it is seeing or dreaming of cracks in the new government.
One wonders what any cracks in the new government will avail the MMM? To hope that the government will split belongs to the realms of wishful thinking.
In what appears to be an autopsy of its defeat, the MMM has been blaming the MBC, the screening of Hindi movies with a patriotic theme, the use of money and ethnicity. During the whole campaign Paul Bérenger was issuing warnings against the MBC and in particular its Director, Dan Callikan. “La MBC est dirigée par un agent politique en la personne de Dan Callikan, qui devrait step down,” he stated in Le Mauricien on 12 April. And in l’express of 24 April he went further and warned that “Dan callikan devra rendre des comptes après les élections”. The campaign of the MMM was more focused on the MBC, the ethnic factor, the weakness of Labour and its allies. It totally ignored the main issue challenging the country. According to Rajesh Bhagwan, “il y a eu une sur-utilisation de la MBC avec des manipulations d’images, projection de films en hindoustani qui mettent en scène le patriotisme indien et une surexposition des candidats de l’Alliance de l’avenir”. (l’express, 24 May 10). To suggest that the electorate was influenced by the screening of Hindi movies is an insult to the dignity, intelligence and integrity of the Indo-Mauritian electorate because it is the Indo-Mauritians who as a rule watch these movies, though we know now that many other communities also do watch Hindi movies.
During the elections we had the SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) Election Observer Mission consisting of 32 members. There were 18 Members of Parliament and 10 Parliamentary staff from eight SADC Member States as well as the Secretary General, experts and support staff of the SADC PF Secretariat. These were eminent people who came to monitor the elections. Nobody could or can point a finger at them. The Mission issued an interim statement on 7 May on the conduct of the elections. On the overall compliance with the laws of the country the Mission writes: “The Mission is satisfied that the 2010 Mauritius National Assembly Elections were conducted in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Mauritius (1958) as amended, the Representation of People Act (1958) as amended and other related statutory instruments. The Mission holds the view that the constitutional and legal framework in Mauritius augurs well for the conduct of free and fair elections. In this respect, Mauritius thus effectively contributes to the Norms and Standards for Elections in the SADC Regionand is commended for respecting the legal provisions within its own laws.”
On the issue of media coverage of the electoral process, the interim statement has this to say: “The Mission notes that the major opposition political party alliance lodged a number of verbal and written complaints alleging a biased approach to political campaign coverage by the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). Further, the Mission was availed evidence by the MBC of how, especially, the written complaints were handled by the relevant authorities. In this regard, the Mission is satisfied with the explanations given by the MBC to the authorities and holds the view that the public broadcaster carried out its mandate and role in a consultative, transparent and professional manner and in keeping with the applicable laws, regulations and guidelines.”
The Mission also dealt with the issue of complaints about media coverage by observing: “While the Mission notes that complaints about media coverage raised by some sections of the election stakeholders have been effectively dealt with, the Mission is of the view that the relevant authorities still need to take measures to address and dispel the perceptions of unfairness that have been expressed. This would further consolidate the existing high levels of confidence in the majority of stakeholders in the media coverage of the electoral process.” By making that recommendation, the Mission is in no way suggesting that the process of media coverage was not fair or was undemocratic as may have been suggesting.
With regard to the print media, the statement observes: “On the other hand, the Mission notes that Mauritius currently does not have a mechanism for dealing with complaints that may involve the print media other than the Courts of law.” This is a very interesting and pertinent observation. Never before during an electoral campaign have we witnessed the so-called independent media, in both their print and broadcast versions, show so much bias against the Labour-PMSD-MSM alliance. However independent they pretended to be, however subtle they tried to be in their bias for the MMM, the game was up.
Newspapers have the absolute right to back any party of their choice. In the United Kingdom, respected papers like the Times, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror, The Sun and a leading magazine like The Economist had the courage to say openly that they were backing the Conservatives. In Mauritius, l’express and Radio One lashed at Navin Ramgoolam and his alliance on a daily basis and went on boasting of their independence from party politics. On the eve of the elections l’express carried a cartoon of Navin Ramgoolam holding a mike with the figure of Nita Deerpalsing in the mike accompanied by a caption, “Eta P….”. What was the aim of this cartoon? It was clearly a rallying call to vote against Navin Ramgoolam. It is high time that the new government comes up with legislation on a Media Commission.
In its conclusion that eminent Mission writes: “Based on an assessment of its findings, the SADC Parliamentary Forum Observer Mission to the 2010 Mauritius National Assembly Elections is of the view that the people of Mauritius were given the opportunity to freely and fairly exercise their democratic rights to vote and be voted for, and to select the political representatives of their choice. The Mission declares the 2010 Mauritius National Assembly Elections as having been free and fair. This should be the hallmark of elections in Africa in order for the peoples’ will to be fully expressed and respected.”
The above authoritative assessment on the conduct of the elections should set to rest all the winnings of a certain section of the media print, of the MMM and of some organisations that sprouted during the elections and that have been accusing the government of being undemocratic. Even former president Cassam Uteem found that democracy was in danger and he joined the MMM fray to save it. What a farce!