Electoral Reform

Titbits

The system that mostly stood us well through nearly 50 years of nationhood but exhibited some severe limitations, had to evolve. We are of age and the time is ripe

Festina lente

The case for an intelligent electoral reform has been cogently made here and elsewhere and I do not propose to dwell on the rationale.

The PM’s White Paper for electoral reform could be commended for a variety of reasons. It offers a remarkable historical perspective for teachers and students of history in all our colleges and was made immediately available on the government website. Despite what looked like an intractable and challenging task requiring meticulous testing of various options, it was birthed in time, as promised by the PM, ahead of resumption of Parliament, ahead of the upcoming constitutional cases in court or of undertakings taken at the international level.

Some had doubts, others grumbled and griped over the months taken, but “more haste, less speed” used to famously quip one of my former college chemistry teachers, the formidable Perdreau, reminding us that the time taken to analyse and study all implications, avenues and differing points of view, is time well spent if it more easily bears fruit, in this case, a historic document setting the basis for achievable change…

Sapere aude

A rare few armchair commentators have quibbled that the White Paper is not “historic” enough for their taste or deplored what they perceive as a lack of “audacity” in the White Paper proposals, forgetting that in our complex, multi-ethnic history and set-up, no other governing party or alliance has ever been in a position to forge and implement national consensus on the issue. Every sane and sensible person acknowledges that straddling diversity both within and between major political parties and across most sectors of the population, required considerable political acumen and consensus-building. The political establishment, including those who were in full but fruitless charge from 2000-2005, are fully aware of those intractable difficulties!

The system that mostly stood us well through nearly fifty years of nationhood but exhibited some severe limitations, had to evolve. We are of age and the time is ripe. In the wider interests of the country, is audacity about cherishing private views, however unrealistic, maximalist and driven by narrower considerations, or about making achievable change happen when the opportunity arises? It no doubt takes courage and some degree of enlightenment to “dare to be wise” and, from their first comments, the body politic, fortunately, seem ready to rise to the historic occasion.

Wisdom in the White Paper is to have cleared out the deck on most of the points where a great degree of national and party agreement was manifest. Questions, no less important perhaps, but where a form of agreement does not seem acquired, are open to suggestions and opinions from MPs, political parties and all quarters of civil society within a tight but reasonable time-frame, before matters are boiled down into a legislative proposal that reflects large consensus.

Wisdom is to have also kept the door open and indicated a mechanism for possible future rounds of constitutional and other perhaps more complicated reforms that could be envisaged, including one could hope, such important matters as the funding of political parties, the advisability of a second house to encourage wider civil society participation in the public policy sphere, retoilettage of the Republic, reviewing the powers of the President or of public accounting and monitoring bodies.

Some early remarks

The idea of a post-election process of designation by party leaders of some nominee MPs to continue the philosophy of communal correction, however minor in numbers, is a matter of legitimate debate.

The White Paper makes the well-taken point that PR MPs will be significantly different from constituency MPs by virtue of their selection or nomination process. True, they may exercise no responsibility in campaigning nor in running up and down a large constituency, nor even face demanding parishioners before or after elections. So presumably would be their electoral funding outlays. Such differences raise some questions and remarks.

PR MPs would be disqualified from “defection” provisions. While the intent is perfectly laudable, it requires that the definition and conditions of “floor-crossing” be sufficiently explicit to avoid PR MPs being mere and costly rubberstamps of their party leadership or to allow PR MPs, as their constituency counterparts, to exercise the occasional free judgments on specific bills that their conscience may dictate. Do they just have to toe the party line irrespective of latitude and discretion? What if they happen to be Ministers in government?…

By the same token, will the qualification requirements for candidate PR MPs, be reviewed? Certificates of morality may not be the answer but they are after all needed by many ordinary Mauritians for various reasons. Will they have unlimited freedom in number of proposed mandates, some would say, sinecures at public costs? Will they be entitled to the same perks, benefits and pension provisions as constituency MPs? Will they be allowed to shop around and find themselves on one party list and, at next elections, on another?…

These and other questions will no doubt be taken up in the public consultation phase, with constructive solutions to further the process to fruition through tweaking and fine-tuning the enormous stride already taken.

 


* Published in print edition on 28 March 2014

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