Seeking some clarity about electoral reform

Editorial

We should not miss the woods for the trees. What you do with power is what counts, lest it might be considered that it is becoming increasingly irrelevant as to who wins power. This is not true, and we must keep that firmly in mind as we try to figure out what kind of electoral reform we are aiming for

It’s literally a jungle out there, the number and range of views that have poured forth after the government made public its proposals for electoral reform last week. At least we can say here is democracy at work! After all, so many people are fearlessly giving vent to their freedom of expression. It is through such a debate of ideas that the country and its people will move forward. The views and counter views expressed in different quarters are a pointer to the degree of complexity and sensitivity of this issue. That is why we have repeatedly argued that given this reality about electoral reform, which has a bearing on the present and the future stability of the country and its harmonious development, it should be best left to constitutional jurists and established electoral experts to deliberate – for submission ultimately to the approval or otherwise of the people, as part of an electoral manifesto or through a referendum. What has come through so far, especially in light of the reactions of the political leaders, is that there seems to be a deep underlying current of mistrust across the board. Practically all of them, other stakeholders, and several interested parties in civil society have severely criticized the proposals. The most widespread perception is that the proposed reforms are but a rehash, and offer nothing new. We have tried to make out what are some of the issues and concerns that have been raised, and leave it to the reader to reflect upon and figure out what is best for the country. Has the proposed reform been prepared with an eye for possible alliance with MMM, hence the introduction of the PR dose as a bait? One must remember that this is what the MMM’s leader has been canvassing for ever since, to ensure better representation of his party in the House even in case of defeat at the polls, which would ultimately make the MMM ‘incontournable’ in any political configuration. Especially anathema is the proposal to increase the number of MPs. As it is, the ratio of MPs to population is inordinately high in Mauritius. That is, we already have too many MPs for the size of our population, who with their perks and privileges are a heavy financial burden on the country, paid out of taxpayer’s money. Increasing their number will increase that burden as well, which the country can ill afford. Closely tied up with that is the manner of selection of these MPs to fulfill the need for proportional representation. This, instead of being done by the Electoral Commissioner in the existing Best Loser System (BLS), will be done on the basis of a closed party list, which means selection by the leader of the party. This is unacceptable for two reasons: one, he may yield to lobbies, and one cannot rule out that in this case even any shady character may pay his way into Parliament thanks to money power; secondly, this will reinforce autocracy within the party, whereas there is a clamour to internal democracy within political parties. Besides, the BLS has given satisfaction so far, as allocation is done on the basis of transparent criteria by the Electoral Commission. There are some fundamental principles that were agreed by the framers of our constitution, such as the democracy as an absolute concept, the First Past The Post System, majority rule, BLS. However, in an interview he has given in today’s edition of this paper, Prof Singfat Chu of Singapore argues that these are not sacrosanct principles and while they were relevant 50 years ago, it is time to revisit them, and this is perfectly acceptable according to him. This is of course a matter for discussion and debate. In this context, one important point is that any reform must not alter the poll outcome, and hence allocation of corrective seats on PR basis must ensure that this is preserved as the outcome reflects the will of the people. On the other hand, ethnic census is generally not desirable. There is also the issue of equality in representation, which is about the disparity between vote share by parties or alliances to seats obtained. It is also about uneven distribution of electors in constituencies, which nevertheless return three MPs each despite that disparity in the number of electors. There are opposing views about whether redefining constituencies is the best solution, and all the alternatives proposed so far have not met with general approval. So this is a thorny issue which needs to be sorted out. On the other hand, it has also been asked what’s wrong with a majority-rule based electoral system? It is a fact that in spite of election results that have been premised on this principle, we have not travelled down the road of dictatorship, so there must be some very strong counter arguments for any alternative system that may be thought of. After all, the current system has delivered not only economic progress and stability and harmony — or all this a sham? In all this haze of confusion, perhaps we are skirting the essential issues that need to be addressed. These include respect of rule of law and order; accountability of all – from President to everyone down the line; meritocracy in the public and private sectors; the separation of state from religion; equal opportunity in employment. Last but not least is access to resources. Financial as well as democratization of economy — to tackle the real hegemony that’s taking over in the private sector. We should not miss the woods for the trees. What you do with power is what counts, lest it might be considered that it is becoming increasingly irrelevant as to who wins power. This is not true, and we must keep that firmly in mind as we try to figure out what kind of electoral reform we are aiming for.


* Published in print edition on 28 September 2018

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