No hurry for electoral reform and colourable proposals

By TP Saran

At least now there is some clarity on the issue, after the declaration by the Prime Minister at St Aubin during the week. We have consistently maintained that this is not a matter that should be taken lightly, and if ever electoral reform is to be revisited, this should be done in a wider forum that includes experts versed in the Constitution. The statement by the head of government goes in a similar direction and puts a stop to all the speculations that have been flying about since Mr Paul Berenger decided to canvas that point, for lack of better things to do.

As is usually the case with him, he is claiming a false victory, hammering that he is the one to have called off the proposed meeting between the representative of the MMM Alan Ganoo and the Prime Minister. But of course nobody will be fooled: Berenger had no alternative but to beat a retreat in the wake of the definitive position taken by the Prime Minister. He is desperately trying to put in place the colourable conditions that will enhance his chances of becoming prime minister. Fair enough, that’s the power game of political parties all right. But he has been outplayed. He may think he has all the cards in his hands and can shuffle and reshuffle at will. But this is not necessarily the case, as has been demonstrated.

There are more pressing matters at hand for the country, what with the budget and the PRB report due soon. People’s minds are more focused on the measures that will be proposed to improve their means and resources so as to face the difficult economic times that lie ahead. They are expecting efficiencies in governance and visible proof of a move towards leaner government. Berenger’s proposal goes against the latter, simply to serve his party’s agenda as well as his own – and the people have seen through that. The ruling party also.

The purpose of electoral reform is more just representation. And what is representation for? That the representatives may articulate the problems of the population in regional or national forums, where they can be debated and addressed within the legal and other appropriate parameters in place. And that the latter also be amended and suitably changed if ever the need is felt, while remaining within the ambit of the Constitution.

By and large there is no doubt that this is what takes place in the country, essentially because Mauritius decided from the beginning to follow the welfare state model that allows universal access to education, health and social security. The foundation is the Westminster form of parliamentary democracy, with guarantees for the expression of political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It must also be emphasized that all these rights will forever be works in progress as long as mankind lasts.

To date, the fundamentals of this model have been maintained and enforced through established legal instruments. True enough, given the economic and financial situation in the world, there is a need to engage in a serious reflection about the sustainability of the welfare state. It may need some tweaking towards more effectiveness in its operations and a realignment of focus in some areas, but basically Mauritians cannot complain that they have been ill served by successive political dispensations right from the start.

There are enough and appropriate ministries, new structures and schemes in place to promote better social integration, empower people, enhance the rights of children and women (including the recent amendment to the Criminal Code Act so as to allow the safe termination of pregnancy in four specified conditions), ensure gender equality, and expand the opportunities for civil society participation in the emancipation process.

The elected representatives can help the people to help themselves fostering greater awareness of the facilities and opportunities put at their disposal, and educating them through the network of Citizens Advice Bureaus about how to make effective and rational use of what the Sate has made available to them. Civil Society Organisations in all communities must play a proactive role in this respect.

Here is a golden opportunity for the Leader of the Opposition, who has a solid reputation as a man of action, to exercise his energies until the next general elections in 2015. That would be better than waffling about reforms which have no relevance for anyone but himself.

* Published in print edition on 12 October 2012

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