On the shoulders of the eventual winner rests the daunting task of convincing the electorate of the national significance of the by-election and to minimize wasted votes
In a previous article we emphasized the need for the electors of Belle-Rose-Quatre Bornes to go out and cast their votes massively. They should do so partly out of their civic duty but also because it provides them with a unique opportunity to express the mood of the country on the government of the day. The present piece seeks to understand how the electors might vote and what factors could explain their behaviour.
In Mauritius, with an elective system dating back to 1885, the electorate is familiar with the electoral process and generally seeks to vote for a stable government. The electoral system, the type of coalition government or party alliances as well as the voting pattern of the electorate have, except on rare occasions, generally helped to ensure some kind of a two-party system, with a government and an opposition – the latter being potentially an alternative government. Consequently, voting has been a combination of both sincere and strategic voting.
Political scientists refer to sincere votes as those votes that are cast by electors for their party out of emotional attachment, ideology, oblivious of whether their votes get wasted or not. They will vote for their party in all circumstances, and they constitute the core support of the party. On the other hand, strategic voting is instrumental; voters evaluate parties and candidates with a view to minimizing wasted votes. They will shift their votes to the candidates whom they perceive to have the highest chances to get elected, or to the party or alliance that are likely to win power though these may not be their most preferred choices in terms of candidates or party.
This explains why it has been difficult for independent candidates to get elected or for a third party to break the mould of the ‘two-party system’, and why party alliances have remained an important feature of our electoral system. Different political parties resort to pre-electoral alliances to maximize those strategic votes and to forestall a fragmentation of the electoral system and eventually of government. This is what Gaëtan Duval referred to when he once said that an important segment of the electorate will vote for ‘Government House’ at general elections. Whether this is true or not, there undoubtedly exists a segment of the electorate, not drawn from the core support of parties, which is crucial for winning elections. These electors are not supporters of any party or have weak party allegiance, and who remain ‘undecided’ until polling day. They will cast their votes one way or another, and depending on the size of that electorate, they can eventually tilt the balance in favour of the eventual winners in our First Past The Post system.
However, all electors, whatever their mode of voting – sincere or strategic – are irrational in their voting behaviour, because no elector has all the information to decide objectively what is the best candidate or party to vote. They will make their choice according to their own likes and dislikes, and the factors that come into consideration are many and vary according to the elector. These may be due to ideological considerations, party attachment, the personality of the candidate, party leadership or a particular issue in a party programme, class, caste, religion, ethnicity or gender. All these factors come into play in a general election in Mauritius, but what is important is the weightage of these different factors which ultimately can prove to be significant.
42,052 electors will be called to make their choice in the constituency of Belle Rose-Quatre-Bornes. At this stage, it is impossible to identify any voting trend because voter volatility has increased in recent years. The reservoir of partisan voters has declined in line with the weakening of party alignment, resulting in an increasing proportion of floating voters. The election result of 2014 is an extreme case of party disalignment, and the future will confirm whether this was an ephemeral phenomenon or not.
During the last two elections, party alliances have made it impossible to evaluate the share of party votes in the constituency. In the 2010 elections, the votes obtained by unsuccessful candidates Robert Hungley (Alliance MMM-UN-MMSD) with 13,367, and Labour candidate Chedambrun Pillay with 14,662 cannot be taken to represent the core votes of either the MMM or the Labour Party. Equally, in 2014, the unsuccessful Labour candidates Nita Deerpalsing secured only 11,358 votes (35.175%) while Patrick Assirvaden secured 10,848 votes (33.596%); these too are no indication of the size of the Labour vote bank in that constituency. Even the 46.5% votes secured by the MMM-UN-MMSD alliance in 2010 elections do not necessarily constitute its core electorate because of the nature of opposition politics in Mauritius. A strong alliance which, in the opinion of the electorate, is going to form too strong a government always creates a backlash in favour of the opposition, so much so that such a backlash may have contributed to the victory of Alliance lep in 2014.
One should be careful not to view the votes obtained by an elected candidate to be his proprietorship or that of his party. In other words, the votes obtained by either Xavier Duval or Kavi Ramano are the result of the personalization of votes and are not transferable to new candidates. Similarly one can legitimately ask whether candidates such as Kugan Parapen (Rezistans ek Alternativ) with 2093 votes and Ram Seegobin with 682 votes in 2014 will increase their share of votes in the coming by-election, given that it is much easier to win votes when the elector cast 3 votes rather than only one vote.
With the increasing number of candidates and parties in the by-election, it is going to be a tough fight to win that one vote of the elector. Given the high probability that it will be a close fight for the eventual winner, this one vote will be decisive in the final result. The elector will either carefully consider several factors as far as is possible before casting his vote, or take the less complex option and vote sincerely. If most of the electors go for sincere voting, each candidate can only secure a limited but important number of votes from their respective core vote banks if they have any. The size of the core voters for each candidate or party remains unknown as the notion of a frozen party system has been considerably diluted, and the elector will be presented with wider choices as in a system of proportional representation. But, in the end, it is most probable that it’s strategic voting, which serves to minimize wasted votes, that will determine the winner in this contest.
Whatever be the proportion of the electorate that goes for sincere or strategic voting, one overall objective of the electorate should be to speed up the transition process towards general elections. We have witnessed how during the last three years, a pall of gloom has descended on the country, and as the skies become darker with every day that passes, the vote of each elector can be decisive in piercing that gloom and eventually dispel it. On the shoulders of the eventual winner rests the daunting task of first convincing the electorate – during his campaign’s daily door-to-door canvassing or in interviews – of the national significance of the forthcoming by-election and to minimize wasted votes.
* Published in print edition on 19 October 2017