Mauritius Times 60 Years
By Peter Ibbotson
The myth of Hindu hegemony has been well and truly killed. The sessional paper on Constitutional Development in Mauritius, No. 3 of 1956, revealed throughout the almost pathological fears of the Franco-Mauritians regarding this myth; a myth which has so long bedevilled Mauritian political and social advance. How, however, we have (at long last!) the Report of the Mauritius Electoral Boundary Commission, published as Sessional Paper No.1 of 1958.
And it is this Sessional Paper which, almost two years to the day after No.3 of 1956, kills the myth. Fairly and squarely the Commissioners have come out in favour of 40 single-member constituencies. What do they say? “40 single-member constituencies defined in Appendix E would better serve the agreed principles and the interests of Mauritius — and in particular of the two smaller main sections — and we recommend the single-member constituencies, in Appendix E to you for confirmation. We should not have felt able to make this recommendation had we not been satisfied both that these single-member constituencies would give adequate opportunity to the General Population, and that the system of three-member constituencies would give a worse opportunity to the Indo-Mauritian Muslims.”
Let those words, from paragraphs 20 and 21 of the report, be written in large letters across the history of the constitutional development of Mauritius.
Three thoroughly impartial gentlemen from England, by their own account complete strangers to Mauritius before they arrived, spent a considerable period meeting political leaders of all shades of opinion, hearing their views, reading the views of those members of the public who were sufficiently keen to send in those views, preparing draft maps of constituencies and inviting comments — and the upshot of all these labours (and no one was denied adequate opportunity to make representations to the Commissioners) is the report which secures for Mauritius a democratic system of voting and a democratic arrangement of constituencies.
It is a far cry from Sessional Paper No. 3 of 1956 to No. 1 of 1958. Two years only in time, but a far cry in content and in tone. In 1956, the Governor was still not happy about universal adult suffrage. The hegemony bogey was still alive. The views of the Parti Mauricien and their fellow-travelling supporters were being given undue and undeserved weight at Government House. The Labour Party was, in official eyes, still a Hindu organization. Pleas for communal representation were loud. But in 1958 — what a difference! Universal adult suffrage is not questioned; it has not been questioned since the London Agreement of 1957. All important sections of public opinion are united in condemning any suggestion of communal or racial voting. The sweeping and specious claim of the Parti Mauricien that one section of the community swamped the others in 1948 and 1953 has been treated with the disregard it deserves. The fact that the Labour Party is truly multi-racial has been recognised. A thorough impartial commission has been to Mauritius; it has come, it has been, and it has reported. And only the arch-reactionaries can dissent from its findings.
We are to have 40 single-member constituencies. This will facilitate voting by party instead of by religion and race. We are to have the power of nomination retained by the Governor, subject to the assurance (I quote Mr Lennox-Boyd’s reply to James Johnson on February 25) “that the Governor will so use his power of appointment to the Legislative Council (so long as he does not thereby frustrate the election results) that, as finally constituted, it contains representatives of the main sections of opinion in numbers as nearly proportionate as possible to their numbers in the population as a whole.”
This assurance would appear to meet the Muslim desire (reported by the Commission at paragraph 15 and supported by the Labour Party) to have, if they failed to secure a number of elected seats in Legco proportionate to their numerical strength in the population as a whole, a number of nominees appointed by the Governor only from among those who had stood as candidates and had secured a measure of popular support.
It is not often that one finds oneself able to agree with Mr Lennox-Boyd. It is all the more pleasant, therefore, when one is able to do so. And I do agree with him when he says — at the end of his reply to Mr Johnson — “I am sure that this electoral system will give the people of Mauritius the best possible chance of good and stable government in the future. I am most grateful to Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve and his colleagues for their very lucid and valuable report.”
The report is none the less valuable for fully vindicating the stand of the Labour Party at the London Conference 1957 as embodied in the London Agreement: “The Mauritius Labour Party did not feel that it had been shown that a system of single-member constituencies could not be devised to meet the ends that were agreed.” The Commissioners make it clear that the London Conference was not in possession of complete information; and the firm recommendation of 40 single-member constituencies shows that the Labour Party was right in its attitude.
It will be instructive to see the choice of candidates put forward by the Parti Mauricien. This party claims to have as an object membership of “the people of Mauritius without any distinction at all”. It claims also to be trying to “foster this ideal of a common citizenship”. Will, therefore, the Parti put forward candidates of communities other than white, will it let these candidates stand in constituencies where they have a good opportunity of being elected? Will we find coloured or Muslim or Hindu members of the Parti Mauricien standing as candidates in proposed constituencies numbers 29, 30, 31 or 37? In England, we find Tory working-class candidates (there are such strange animals, though it is hard to credit it!) relegated to fighting hopeless Parliamentary constituencies such as the mining areas of Durham, or the eastern suburbs of London. We don’t find the Tory working man selected as a candidate in a safe seat such as in Bournemouth, Kent or Sussex. And the Parti Mauricien will act similarly. For all its claim to be interested in a common citizenship and so on, the Parti won’t have its coloured and Indo-Mauritian janissaries standing a chance of being elected to the Legislative Council.
And it must have stuck in Hon. Koenig’s gullet to have to claim to support universal suffrage, as he did before the Commission. After all, it was Hon. Koenig who not so long before had opposed universal suffrage until everyone was literate. What made him change his tune?
The die has now been cast. The Commission has spoken. 40 single-member constituencies it is to be. And a hard fight lies ahead if the Labour Party is to win (as it is imperative that they do) a working majority at the general election. It will be a fight against the lies, the calumny, and the moneybags of the Parti Mauricien and its fellow-travellers. But Right is proverbially triumphant against Might; and social justice for all demands a Labour Government.
5th year No 187
Friday 7th March 1958
* Published in ePaper 1 April 2022
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