The Need to Correct the Anomaly of Unequal Constituency Size

Electoral Reform in Mauritius

The Government of Mauritius has set up a Ministerial Committee to make proposals on electoral reforms and the terms of reference of this committee includes seven issues. However, one important issue which is of greater importance and has not been included is the unequal size of the constituencies.

Let us have a look at the electoral registers of 2014 and 2015.

Const. No.

Constituency Name

No. of Electors
2015

No. of Electors
2014

1

Grand River North West and Port Louis West

41,905

42,456

2

Port Louis South and Port Louis Central

25,081

25,470

3

Port Louis Maritime and Port Louis East

22,771

23,112

4

Port Louis North and Montagne Longue

49,217

49,865

5

Pamplemousses and Triolet

61,347

62,092

6

Grand Baie and Poudre D’Or

51,743

52,351

7

Piton and Riviere du Rempart

42,581

43,079

8

Quartier Militaire and Moka

43,775

44,314

9

Flacq and Bon Accueil

54,146

54,724

10

Montagne Blanche and Grand River South East

50,358

50,936

11

Vieux Grand Port and Rose Belle

42,120

42,590

12

Mahebourg and Plaine Magnien

37,934

38,363

13

Riviere des Anguilles and Souillac

34,755

35,151

14

Savanne and Black River

61,744

62,524

15

La Caverne and Phoenix

56,437

57,104

16

Vacoas and Floreal

45,855

46,479

17

Curepipe and Midlands

47,239

47,899

18

Belle Rose and Quatre Bornes

43,790

44,357

19

Stanley and Rose Hill

39,934

40,507

20

Beau Bassin and Petitie Riviere

44,236

44,817

21

Rodrigues

28,414

28,785

TOTAL

925382

936,975

Source: Electoral Commission of Mauritius

 Let us now make a close analysis.

  First Observation

 All the constituencies of the island of Mauritius elect 3 MPs while the island of Rodrigues elects only 2 MPs. A disturbing fact; Constituency No 3 in Mauritius has only 22 771 electors and will elect 3 MPs. Similarly Constituency No 2 in Mauritius, having only 25 081 electors, will also elect 3 MPs while Rodrigues with a much higher number – 28 414 electors will elect only 2 MPs.

Constituency

No of Voters

No of MPs

No. 2

25 081

3

No. 3

22 771

3

Rodrigues

28 414

2

 Facts to be noted:

 – From 1966 to 1996, the number of voters in Rodrigues was much less than any constituency of Mauritius and it was acceptable that Rodrigues votes for only 2 MPs. After 1997, the number of voters in Rodrigues has exceeded the number in each one of Constituencies No. 2 and No 3 of Mauritius. Nevertheless, Rodrigues has continued to elect only 2 MPs. This unfairness has to be corrected. The table below shows the evolution of the number of registered voters in these three constituencies.

Year

Voters in Const.
No 2

Voters in Const.
No 3

Voters in Rodrigues

1967

10 549

9 373

7 061

1983

19 678

16 494

14 460

1985

20 441

13 450

15 373

1990

25 515

25 520

17 528

1991

25 930

20701

18 176

1995

24 741

19 524

18 500

1997

24 772

19 421

19 474

1999

23 958

18 774

20 186

2000

25 081

22 234

21 180

2015

25 081

22 771

28 414

 In the light of this evolution in the number of voters in the respective constituencies, the Electoral Boundaries Commission should have made recommendations to the National Assembly to take corrective measures and set the balance right.

 Second Observation

 Constituency No 2 has only 22 771 voters and elects 3 MPs while Constituency No 5 with 61 347 voters will also elect only 3 MPs. How come a constituency which has almost 3 times the number of voters compared to the other will return the same number of MPs. Similarly Constituency No 14 with 61 744 voters will also return only 3 MPs to the National Assembly.

Constituency

No of Voters

No of MPs

NO 2

25 081

3

NO 3

22 771

3

NO 5

61 347

3

NO 14

61 744

3

 Facts to be noted:

 – When the Banwell Report was applied in the 1960s, the number of voters in any two constituencies of Mauritius, taken together, was not less than the number of voters in a single constituency. For example, for the 1967 general election, the combined number of voters in Constituencies No 2 and No 3 was nearly 20 000 and no single constituency of Mauritius had more voters than this number. The greatest constituencies at that moment (No 14 and No 15) had nearly 16 000 voters each.

With the passage of time, this situation has reversed. The combined total number of voters in No 2 and No 3 is much less than the number of voters in one single constituency. The table below clearly illustrates this fact.

YEAR

No. 2

No. 3

No. 2 + No. 3

No. 5

No. 14

1985

20 441

13 450

33 891

31 392

32 937

1990

25 515

25 520

51 035

36 509

39 606

1995

24 741

19524

44 256

41 365

43 819

1997

24 772

19 421

44 193

43 167

46 121

2000

23 856

22 234

46 090

46 854

49 724

2015

25 081

22 771

47 852

61 347

61 744

  How can the number of voters in two constituencies taken together be less than the number of voters in a single constituency? It is seen from the last elections that, despite having lesser number of voters, Constituencies numbers 2 and 3 are electing 6 MPs while a higher number of voters are electing only 3 MPs in Nos 5 and 14, for example.

No of Voters

No of MPs

No. 2 + No. 3

47 852

6

No. 5

61 347

3

No. 14

61 744

3

NO 5 + NO 14

123 091

6

 Viewed from another angle, we note, that 47 852 voters in No 2 and No 3 will elect 6 MPs in one geographical part of the island whereas it took 123 091 voters from some other geographical areas to elect 6 MPs. This is what happened in the 2014 general election and may recur. So, what looked all right in 1967 and some years later has evolved in a manner as if the absence of corrective action to redress the situation has led to some sort of a de facto “gerrymandering” of constituencies.

 This is a very disturbing fact and has to be corrected to restore fairness in the electoral system.

 Third Observation

 Out of the 20 constituencies of Mauritius, there is a huge disparity in 10 of them. There is a difference of 124 924 voters between the 5 most populated constituencies and the 5 least populated ones. Out of 445 946 voters, the votes of 124 924 voters are ‘lost’. This represents a wastage of 28%. Some people are trying to come forward with the proposal of a dose of PR with a threshold of 5% to 10% when there is a “loss’ of 28% due to unequal constituency sizes.

Constituency

No of Voters

Constituency

No of Voters

No. 3

22 771

No. 14

61 744

No. 2

25 081

No. 5

61 347

No. 13

34 755

No. 15

56 437

No. 12

37 934

No. 9

54 146

No. 19

39 934

No. 6

51 743

TOTAL

160 475

TOTAL

285 471

 This represents an anomaly of 50% on delimitation (10 out of 20 constituencies).

No system can be seen to be functioning with such a degree of deviation for long. If we want any society (organization) to progress, we need to have checks and balances at appropriate times and make recommendations to administrators so that corrective measures are taken at the earliest possible and the situation is redressed. Only then can we save the system or organization from going irreversibly in the wrong direction. It will have to be put it back on track. If we delay and let it trail, it might be too late and the organization can lose credibility and result in a loss of confidence in it .

 What our Constitution says on constituency size

 This is what is stipulated in Chapter V – Part 1 – Section 39:

“(2)   The Electoral Boundaries Commission shall review the boundaries of the constituencies at such times as will enable them to present a report to the Assembly 10 years, as near as may be, after 12 August 1966 and, thereafter, 10 years after presentation of their last report:

Provided that the Commission may at any time carry out a review and present a report if it considers it desirable to do so by reason of the holding of an official census of the population of Mauritius and shall do so if a resolution is passed by the Assembly in pursuance of subsection (1).

(3)    The report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission shall make recommendations for any alterations to the boundaries of the constituencies as appear to the Commission to be required so that the number of inhabitants of each constituency is as nearly equal as is reasonably practicable to the population quota:

Provided that the number of inhabitants of a constituency may be greater or less than the population quota in order to take account of means of communication, geographical features, density of population and the boundaries of administrative areas.

(4)    The Assembly may, by resolution, approve or reject the recommendations of the Electoral Boundaries Commission but may not vary them; and, if so approved, the recommendations shall have effect as from the next dissolution of Parliament.

(5)    In this section, “population quota” means the number obtained by dividing the number of inhabitants of the Island of Mauritius (including any island included in any constituency in the Island of Mauritius by virtue of any resolution under subsection (1)) according to the latest official census of the population of Mauritius by 20.”

 What previous reports say on unequal constituency size

 Many reports have highlighted this issue. The Carcasonne Report had made recommendations that this issue should be addressed. However, the Consultation Paper presented by the previous government before the 2014 general election has recommended that we must accept unequal constituency size.

 We strongly believe that there is an urgent need for a fresh and just delimitation of constituencies by the Electoral Boundaries Commission (EBC) before the next general election is organised. As the EBC makes a report every 10 years, the next report is due only in 2019 unless the Constitution is amended to bring forward this date. One of the latest reports submitted by the Electoral Boundaries Commission for approval by Parliament dates back to 17 December 1999 and was to take effect as from 2000, if approved.

On 18 November 2008 and 31 January 2009, the EBC invited members of the public and political parties who were interested to give their views and suggestions on electoral boundaries. Between 11 and 13 August 2009, those who had made representations were heard and on the list of those who were heard we find many small parties but none of the major parties (neither LP nor MMM nor MSM nor PMSD) appear on the list and do not seem to have brought their contribution on this issue.

On 21 October 2009, the EBC had made a request to the Central Statistical Office to provide the population quota. On 22 October 2009, the CSO has replied to the EBC and the following details were given:

Total residents: 1,143,358

No. of constituencies: 20

Population quota: 57,167.90

Again, the EBC has made a report and recommendation in 2009 and submitted it to Parliament but no action has yet been taken.

 What we propose on unequal constituency size

The population quota appears to be a very controversial aspect. For the purpose of an election, we feel that we must not use population quota. Instead, we must use a voters’ quota which must be the total number of voters divided by the number of constituencies or wards.

Now, how can we say that 22 771 is as nearly equal as is reasonably practical when compared to 61 744? There is a deviation of nearly 250% between the two.

Accordingly, for the purpose of general elections, we have tried to determine a quota per constituency, using the formula;

No. of voters per constituency = Total number of voters in Mauritius in 2015 ÷ 20 = 896 968 ÷ 20 = 44 848

This can be roughly taken to be 45 000 per constituency. Therefore, ideally there must be about 45 000 voters in each constituency of Mauritius electing 3 MPs if we are talking of fairness and equity. We know that an ideal condition is not always possible and we are prepared to accept a confidence limit of 90%. As a justified acceptance limit would be 45 000 – 5% to 45 000 + 5%. When we compute, 5% of 45 000 = 2250. We shall take this to be roughly equal to 2000.

So the number of voters in a constituency should be between 43 000 and 47 000 to reflect an acceptable degree of fairness in the Mauritian voting system.

In conclusion, unequal constituency size has become a major concern and Government must include this issue while considering electoral reforms in Mauritius.

*  Published in print edition on 25 March 2016

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