An electoral reform has become an absolute necessity after the Banwell Report of 1966 which has served our purpose for the last 50 years
At the Cabinet Meeting held on Friday 18 December 2015, Government has agreed to the setting up of a Ministerial Committee to make recommendations on electoral reforms in Mauritius. It has been stated that this committee will look into the following:
1. The introduction of a dose of proportional representation in the National Assembly.
2. The guarantee of better women representation.
3. The mandatory declaration of community.
4. Anti-defection measures (transfuges)
5. The widening of the powers of the Electoral Supervisory Commission.
6. The financing of political bill
7. Amendments to the electoral system in Rodrigues.
This Ministerial Committee is chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Tourism and External Communications, Hon Xavier Luc Duval. It is composed of the following Ministers from L’Alliance Lepep.
1 Xavier Luc Duval
2 Aurore Perraud
3 Alain Wong
4 Ivan Collendavelloo
5 Anil Gayan
6 Yogida Sawminaden
7 Nando Bodha
8 Leela Devi Dookhun Lutchmun
9 Ravi Yerrigadoo
10 Roshni Bhadain
11 Fazila Jeewah Daureeawoo
Q. 1 – Why is there a need for an electoral reform in Mauritius?
The root of this pertinent issue is the pronouncement of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations on the issue of declaration of ethnicity by candidates contesting the general elections. During the 2005 general elections, some members of a political party did not declare their ethnicity as required by the law. Their nomination papers were not accepted and they took the matter as a case in the Supreme Court of Mauritius. Three candidates in Constituency No 20 were able to contest the election without declaring their ethnicity. The matter was again taken to the Supreme Court and the decision was reversed. It was then established that all candidates contesting the general election should declare their ethnicity as required by the law.
Came the 2010 general election. Again members of the same political party along with some others did not declare their ethnicity while filling their nomination papers and their candidatures were rejected. 104 members were involved. Resistans ek Alternativ then made a case in the Supreme Court of Mauritius as well as the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations. The case in the Supreme Court of Mauritius is still on but the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations gave a pronouncement in August 2012. It was a victory for Resistans ek Alternativ. The Government of Mauritius was given a time gap of six months to come forward with necessary legislations to enable candidates taking part in the general election to do so without compelling them to declare their ethnicity. The then government waited for six months and it was only in March 2013 that it came to announce that a consultation would be made in that direction. It was only in March 2014 that the Government came forward with a White Paper on electoral reform. It contained 11 points which can be summarized as follows:
1. Retention of the compulsory 3 votes in the 20 constituencies of Mauritius and compulsory 2 votes in Rodrigues on the FPTP (First Past The Post) basis.
2. Being in favour of retaining the FPTP for Rodrigues.
3. Accept of unequal size.
4. Subsume the BLS (Best Loser system)
5. Introduction of Proportional Representation (PR). Suggestions were made for a minimum of 16 MP’s.
6. Threshold of 10 % to be eligible for PR.
7. The proposed formula for the allocation of PR to be UVE method (Unused Vote Elect) or wasted votes (votes of unelected candidates of the party.
8. PR list to be submitted at latest on Nomination day.
9. In case of crossing over by MP’s nominated by PR, the next on the list will be nominated.
10. Gender fairness – suggestions of 30% women representation was made.
11. Double candidature. That is, candidates could contest the election and at the same time could be on the PR list.
This proposal of the then Government was followed by a series of counter proposals and finally Government decided to set up a Technical Committee to look into the matter. The Technical Committee was composed of the then Attorney General, Mr Satish Faugoo, Hon. Alan Ganoo, Mr Rama Sithanen, ex-judge Victor Glover and members of the Electoral commission.
The proposals of the Technical Committee were as follows:
1. Maintain the 21 constituencies of Mauritius and 1 for Rodrigues.
2. Accept unequal constituencies.
3. Possible increase in the number of MP’s for Rodrigues from 2 to 3.
4. 14 MP’s to be nominated by PR using UVE and 6 MP’s for BLS to be chosen by party leaders.
5. Other points in the Consultation Paper (White Paper) to remain unchanged.
This again got strong opposition from the civil society and there was no agreement among members of the National Assembly. The idea of coming forward with an electoral reform was dropped.
To conform with the pronouncement of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations, Government then decided to come forward with a mini amendment. The word SHALL in the First Schedule of our Constitution was replaced by MAY in relation to the declaration of ethnicity.
This again raised a controversy. It was pointed out that the allocation of the BLS seats would be seriously affected if some candidates opt not to declare their ethnicity.
The Technical Committee then proposed that the number of MP’s of each community elected from 1976 to 2010 to be taken into consideration and that the average be used to determine the number of BLS seats to be allocated to each community. Once again, the civil society raised its voice because this average would have left two communities (Sino-Mauritian and Hindu) without a BLS seat, with a possibility that the Sino- Mauritian community might not have any representative in the National Assembly.
Again, Government had to back-pedal and come forward with a new amendment to the mini-amendment. Thus Government came forward with a final bill which was The Constitution (Declaration of Community) Temporary Provisions Bill with an amendment and it was voted in the National Assembly on 11th July 2014. According to this bill:
1. Candidates taking part in the next general election MAY opt not to declare their ethnicity but this measure would apply for only one election, that is the 2014 general election.
2. Candidates who opt not to declare their ethnicity would not be eligible for the BLS seat.
3. In the event that no candidate belonging to a community has been returned as a member to represent a constituency and allocation of additional seats pursuant to subparagraph (i) will result in no additional seat being allocated to any unreturned candidate belonging to that community, the first additional seat required to be allocated shall be allocated to the most successful unreturned candidate belonging to that community and belonging to a party.
For the sake of clarity, this is what the First Schedule our Constitution says on the BLS seats:
First Schedule – Section 31(2)
(1) Every candidate for election at any general election of members of the Assembly shall declare in such manner as may be prescribed which community he belongs to and that community shall be stated in a published notice of his nomination.
2) Within 7 days of the nomination of any candidate at an election, an application may be made by an elector in such manner as may be prescribed to the Supreme Court to resolve any question as to the correctness of the declaration relating to his community made by that candidate in connection with his nomination, in which case the application shall (unless withdrawn) be heard and determined by a Judge of the Supreme Court, in such manner as may be prescribed, within 14 days of the nomination, and the determination of the Judge shall not be subject to appeal.
(3) For the purposes of this Schedule, each candidate at an election shall be regarded as belonging to the community to which he declared he belonged at his nomination as such, or if the Supreme Court has held in proceedings questioning the correctness of his declaration that he belongs to another community, to that other community, but the community to which any candidate belongs for those purposes shall not be stated upon any ballot paper prepared for those purposes.
(4) For the purposes of this Schedule, the population of Mauritius shall be regarded as including a Hindu community, a Muslim community and a Sino-Mauritian community; and every person who does not appear, from his way of life, to belong to one or other of those 3 communities shall be regarded as belonging to the General Population, which shall itself be regarded as a fourth community.
To conclude, the amendment made to comply with the pronouncement of the United Nation was just a temporary measure for the last election and we are again back to square one. A durable solution is needed. This Government will have to come forward with the right proposal which can enable us not only to comply with this pronouncement of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations but will also live up to the aspirations of all the political parties and more importantly to the aspirations of the Mauritian population. An electoral reform has become an absolute necessity after the Banwell Report of 1966 which has served our purpose for the last 50 years.
* Published in print edition on 19 February 2016