Should the Ramgoolam-Berenger alliance win the elections, the two Leaders would still have to seek a mandate for electoral and other constitutional reforms both from their respective parties and from the people at large. Will they do so through a referendum or through another general election? There is already a lot of speculation as to how soon these elections could be held
Mauritians are being called to the polls next week by the newly formed Ramgoolam- Berrenger alliance to endorse:
1. The Labour-MMM alliance OR rather the terms of the alliance (which is not the same thing);
2. Electoral reform based on an a new electoral system which is not disclosed in the Alliance manifesto;
3. Constitutional reform which would provide for election of a President by universal suffrage.
The alliance between the “the two main parties” is opposed by an alliance of three smaller parties formed for the sole purpose of… opposing that of the big boys.
In a country used to all sorts of permutations and combinations both with respect to pre-electoral alliances and post-election coalitions, the 2014 edition is rather peculiar. On the one hand, there is an alliance which is fundamentally one between two men and for the first time in our long history of alliances, without the adherence of the rank and file of their respective parties. On the other hand, the Alliance Lepep which is essentially an alliance of convenience seems nevertheless to be one which has the enthusiastic support of the followers of the three leaders.
1. “Deal Too Good To Be True”
During the “on-off-on” saga Paul Berenger said that the deal on offer to the MMM was too good to be true. Many Labourites strongly feel that the deal conceded by Labour to the MMM is indeed too good to be true for their erstwhile adversary.
The terms of the alliance would enable Berenger to be PM for a full term, something which he has never been able to secure throughout his four-decade long career. Francoise Labelle who first came to prominence in the mid-90s when she led the anti-Oriental languages platform, will be Speaker for a full-term and can only be removed by a two-thirds majority vote of the National Assembly. This would mean that even if Labour and MMM split, Labelle would remain as Speaker.
The terms of the deal are such that any seat won by their opponents would make either Labour or MMM a minority partner in the alliance unless both lose an equal number of seats to the Alliance Lepep or some other party.
We are faced with a situation where the arithmetic in the 2014 elections is such that the alliance that governs the country in the next few weeks or months may very well be one which was not endorsed by the people. Indeed should Labour and MMM win the elections either of the two may form a post-election alliance with the opposition MPs (either elected or appointed as Best Losers) and hold a majority of seats in the Assembly thus forming the next government. In fact either Berenger or Ramgoolam could end up as the next Leader of the Opposition with the other one in government though both sought a mandate to govern together.
The fact that both Labour and MMM supporters were uncomfortable with the alliance has only got worse for Labourites during the campaign. Labour Ministers were unceremoniously dumped apparently at the behest of the MMM. The Prime Minister himself added insult to injury when he reportedly stated that “J’ai insisté auprès de Berenger pour que Shakeel Mohamed soit candidat”. Labourites were humiliated by the fact that their leader had to insist with the leader of another party for someone to be allowed to stand as a Labour candidate.
Labourites were also shocked by the attacks by Berenger on the DPP and on the Director General of the MBC who is an appointee of his Alliance partner. Berenger has also during the campaign publicly disclosed what the PM is yet to announce in the coming days, thus stealing the limelight away from him. Many believe that these only confirm their worst apprehensions.
As pointed out earlier by this paper, the Ramgoolam-Berenger Allliance will not have a mandate to introduce electoral reform because the new electoral system has not been canvassed during the campaign. Not only has there been a total absence of debates on the new electoral system but the Alliance’s manifesto published only ten days before the elections does not even mention the electoral system being proposed. It only sets out the objectives of electoral reform but not the modalities of the new electoral system. By no stretch of the imagination can the Alliance claim, if it wins the elections, that it has a mandate to adopt a particular electoral system.
The Labour-MMM manifesto confirms that the ONLY additional powers to be conferred on the President will be those relating to certain appointments, except for the conduct of foreign policy which will be the prerogative of the President. This clearly means that the present prime ministerial system of government will be maintained with Paul Berenger at the helm. The President already has various powers of appointment under our existing Constitution and he will have some additional powers under the new one. But he will have no substantive powers with respect to policy making that affects the lives of every Mauritian. His only substantive policy making powers will be with regard to diplomacy.
No political party in any self-respecting democracy anywhere in the world proposes major constitutional reforms including a change in the electoral system without a proper debate within the party. Mauritians should be told when organs of the Labour Party and of the MMM discussed the various proposals for reform and why the party membership ultimately decided to invite voters to give their parties a mandate to introduce these reforms. In the absence of any information on such debates being held within the two parties, Mauritians will have to assume that the most important constitutional reforms being proposed since Independence are those of Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Berenger.
Should the Ramgoolam-Berenger alliance win the elections, the two Leaders would still have to seek a mandate for electoral and other constitutional reforms both from their respective parties and from the people at large. Will they do so through a referendum or through another general election? There is already a lot of speculation as to how soon these elections could be held.
* Published in print edition on 5 December 2014