Electoral reform is more important for the long-term future of the country and its people than the reform concerning the election and powers of the President
20-25 New MPs – “Wasted Votes” System for Allocating PR Seats
For the first time since 1967, Mauritians will be voting at parliamentary elections which will be in the nature of a referendum.
In 1967, following a prolonged campaign on the issue of independence, voters knew that a vote for the Labour-led alliance would give a mandate to move for independence whereas voting for the PMSD would be a vote for association with the UK. When 44% of voters voted for the PMSD, they in effect voted against independence.
In 2014, the Labour-MMM alliance has declared that it is seeking a mandate from the electorate to adopt:
(a) electoral reform, and
(b) Constitutional reforms to provide for an elected President.
Whilst there has been some public debate on the so-called ‘Deuxième République’, albeit essentially focussed on the personalities who would be sharing power, there has in fact been little, if any, debate on electoral reform.
Yet electoral reform is more important for the long-term future of the country and its people than the reform concerning the election and powers of the President.
The debate over the Presidential reform concerns the sharing of power. The debate over electoral reform is about how we choose those who will have the power to govern. There is no doubt that the manner in which we the people choose a government is more important than how power is shared or otherwise allocated within government.
Since Mauritian politics is very much focussed on personalities, the Presidential reform debate fired up the Ramgoolam-Berenger aficionados as if the reform would not have a lifetime extending beyond those of the two present protagonists.
On the other hand, though both Labour and MMM said before their alliance was formally concluded that they would be seeking a mandate from the people to introduce major electoral reforms, they have hardly mentioned this matter, let alone explain their proposals, at their press conferences or public rallies since the alliance was announced.
This is not being honest with the Mauritian nation.
The Labour-MMM alliance will have no moral authority to claim, if elected, that they have a mandate from the people to carry out electoral reform if this has not been canvassed throughout the campaign.
A few lines in an electoral manifesto published shortly before the elections does not confer a mandate for a wide-ranging electoral reform.
The issue of electoral reform and that of the new system being proposed to bring about the reform are two distinct issues.
Whilst admittedly there has been some public debate over the years about the need for electoral reform there has been no public debate about the electoral system for which a mandate is being sought.
In fact the modalities have not even been formally proposed yet.
The Government’s Consultation Paper outlined one possible system called the “Sithanen proposal” and said that was its preferred system. But this was only a Consultation Paper inviting views from the public and not a White Paper setting out government policy.
The fact of the matter is that since Labour and the MMM concluded an alliance, the two leaders have never outlined in detail what their common proposal is as regards the system that will be used to allocate the new PR seats.
One recent editorial in l’express qualified the proposed electoral reform as ‘virtuous’. The author should have made it clear that he was only referring to the objectives of the proposed reform. As the Labour-MMM alliance have not yet said what they propose as the new electoral system, no one can yet say whether it is virtuous or otherwise.
Even if arguably the avowed objectives of electoral reform are ‘virtuous’, which electoral system will be used to achieve electoral reform is of crucial importance.
There are dozens of electoral systems that can be used and each one of them may lead to different outcomes.
One can support the declared objectives of electoral reform but be staunchly opposed to a particular revised electoral system being proposed to achieve these objectives.
Every citizen casting his vote on 10 December will be signing a blank cheque mandating Labour and MMM to adopt a particular electoral system which that voter does not know or understand. In fact the Labour-MMM candidates campaigning in this election are going door-to-door or addressing private and public meetings seeking support which would be construed as a mandate from the people for electoral reform when these candidates themselves have no clue as to what is the electoral system being proposed. This is akin to salesmen marketing products they do not know or understand.
This will be a fraud on the Mauritian people as it would mean claiming a mandate on false pretences.
It is too late in the campaign now to start explaining what the proposed electoral system is and to engage in a proper public debate on the matter for the Alliance to claim, after the election, to have a mandate for electoral reform.
It may be recalled that when Labour and MMM were negotiating an alliance it was reported that MMM wanted electoral reform to be adopted by the then Parliament where both parties together had the required ¾ majority, but that Labour insisted that a mandate should be sought from the people first before such major reforms were introduced. Labour’s position was indeed laudable but having subsequently deliberately avoided any public debate on the issue will mean that there is no moral basis for claiming a mandate.
It has been reported that the MMM insisted on the electoral reform Bill being drafted before the elections, presumably to commit Labour to a specific electoral system. If this is the case and a Bill has been drafted then the leaders must have decided not to disclose it to the Mauritian people and thus deliberately avoid a public debate on the matter. If this is indeed the case then there is no doubt that any claim to having obtained a mandate from the people would be absolutely untenable.
Labour and MMM have not, two weeks before the elections, even said what is the new electoral system they are proposing. Further, neither the leaders of both parties nor their candidates have even broached the issue since the beginning of the campaign. The two parties are yet to even announce formally which system they both support and why this rather than other applicable systems.
Publishing an electoral manifesto, at this stage of the campaign, which may set out the particular electoral system being proposed is far too late for any meaningful and dispassionate debate which would give the Labour-MMM alliance the moral right to claim that they have a mandate from the people for implementing that particular electoral system.
* Published in print edition on 21 November 2014