The London Agreement

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By Somduth Bhuckory

Last Friday night the Mauritius Broadcasting Service (M.B.S.) broadcast an account of the London talks on constitutional reforms. It was for the first time after the second parliamentary delegation had left that the complete results of the conference were made known to the Mauritian public.

As everybody knows now, the London agreement covers the following subjects: 1. System of voting; 2. Nomination of members to Legislative Council; 3. Composition of Executive Council;  4. Introduction of a ministerial form of government; and 5. Date of election.

We had been told before that no agreement had been reached on the system of voting but that a Commission would be appointed to recommend one of two “possible systems”. We were first of all naturally very eager to know what the two “possible systems” were in order to see how far concessions had been made by all concerned to reach the two “possible systems”.

Now that we know that the two “possible systems” are (i) the Party List system of voting in multi-member constituencies, and (ii) single-member constituencies with majority voting, our doubts and fears have started crystallizing. We are afraid that P.R. is coming our way — not the single transferable vote system, it is true, but the list system which is P.R. all the same.

Taking into account the political climate over here, one cannot help wondering whether the Labour delegates have acted within the ambit of the mandate given to them.

It was clear, we think, when the delegation left that P.R. would be fought to the last.

True it is that the Labour Party has said that it must be proved first that the single-member constituency system cannot work here. But that condition can be just an eye-wash.

* * *

Let us see what the three-man Commission will have to keep in view in devising single-member constituencies and we can decide for ourselves whether that “possible system” is after all possible.

Mauritius has to be divided in a series of single-member constituencies up to a maximum of 40 of approximately equal voting strength but with a minimum electorate in any one constituency of 5000, so that:

(a) each main section of the population in Mauritius shall have adequate opportunity to secure representation in the Legislative Council corresponding to its own number in the Community as a whole;

(b) each constituency shall have reasonable geographical boundaries;

(c) the boundaries could be expected to endure for a reasonable number of years while yet remaining consistent with the primary objective at (a).

Those are the conditions that must be satisfied before the Commission can recommend the setting up of the single-member constituency system. How do you find the task of the Commission: easy or hard? Mind you, the Commission is not expected to do the impossible but to report simply what is impossible. If Parliament cannot make a man a woman, why expect the Commission to square a circle? It would be so easy to come to the conclusion after exhaustive sittings that single-member constituencies as desired by the conference are will-nigh impossible.

After that the Commission will have only to “demarcate boundaries for 11-member constituencies, based as far as possible on present geographical divisions”. As P.R. is the Secretary of State’s brain-child and as “on the facts available the Secretary of State took the view that it would not be possible to make a satisfactory division to meet the aims in view”, he will just rub his hands with legitimate satisfaction. And as “all the delegates from Mauritius pledged themselves to use their good offices, to co-operate, and to persuade the members of their parties to co-operate, in the acceptance and working of whichever of these two systems was introduced” P.R. will have a smooth sailing whether our national leaders organize lectures or not to point out its benefits.

* * *

So much about the agreement embodying the disagreement of the delegates. Before we consider the other agreements — on which there is no disagreement — we should like to point out that although it was agreed that “the system of voting should be such as to facilitate the development of voting on grounds of political principle and party rather than on race or religion”, yet as regards the single-member constituency one of the conditions is that “each main section of the population in Mauritius shall have adequate opportunity to secure representation”. Why this emphasis on Community? Did the conference want to have ideological as well as communal representation?

No matter what system of voting is introduced, the system of nominating members to the Legislative Council will be maintained. And the Governor may appoint up to a maximum of 12 members. How? “The Governor’s choice would be at his discretion after such consultation with members of Legislative Council as he might deem appropriate”. So it is likely that we may have P.R. plus Nomination. Where is the blessed land, we ask once more, where minorities are so doubly protected? If the Labour party secured a majority at the elections, we would like to know what kind of majority that would be.

The way the Executive Council would be composed is no less perplexing. It has been agreed that “the object would be for the 9 Unofficial seats in Executive Council to reflect the composition of the Legislative Council”. And how would that be achieved? “Appointment to the Executive Council would be by the Governor in accordance with this principle and after consultation at his discretion with members of Legislative Council.” The election by P.R. has been replaced by nomination. Do you call this progress? It’s straight from the frying pan into the fire.

The nomination process will considerably increase the Governor’s powers. It’s possible for him to have the kind of Legislative Council he wants and the kind of Executive Council he wants. Where is Responsible Government?

It has been agreed that the ministerial form of government should be introduced as soon as possible. The ministry would be a queer one indeed with the Governor as a sort of Prime Minister. Is that the way to Responsible Government? Oh, the magic of the ministerial carrots!

Lastly, it has been decided to postpone the general election due in August 1958 if need be. No matter when the elections come, they have started putting forth signs of sinister forebodings.

4th Year – No 136
Friday 15th March 1957

* Published in print edition on 24 January 2020

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