What Next?

Thanks to the officials, the Mauritius Legislative Council has given a majority vote to acceptance of the constitutional proposals. What happens next?

Thanks to the officials, the Mauritius Legislative Council has given a majority vote to acceptance of the constitutional proposals. What happens next? After the Governor has reported the decision of the Legislative Council to the Colonial Secretary, a constitutional instrument must be promulgated. The 1946 constitution was promulgated in the Mauritius Letters Patent of 1947, to which was later added the Letters Patent of 1948 (which drew up the rules for the constitution of the Executive Council; this could not be provided for in the 1947 Letters as there was no Legislative Council until it had been elected in accordance with the provisions of the 1947 Letters); and the constitution and functions of the Legislative Council were defined in the Mauritius Legislative Council Order 1947 (statutory instrument 1242 of that year).

This Order was an Order-in-Council; and a new Order-in-Council will be necessary to give effect to the new constitution and the new electoral system. An Order-in-Council is subject to parliamentary scrutiny; exactly how that scrutiny is exercised depends on the terms of the Order and the manner in which the Order is made. If it is required merely to be laid before Parliament, an M.P. must find the time during the course of ordinary business to move its annulment, if he so wishes. This is in practice impracticable. If however the Order is subject to annulment within a stated period of time, a motion for annulment is exempted from business and may be moved after normal business is over. This procedure is often used where MPs wish to discuss the subject of an Order without necessarily wishing to see it annulled or revoked. If however the Order is one which requires the affirmative vote of the House, it is up to the Government to present the Order for approval.

In whatever way the Order prescribing the new constitution for Mauritius is made, the fight for a democratic constitution has shifted from Mauritius to Westminster. Just what will happen is not yet, of course, known; but it is certain that the Labour Party will not let matters rest. The undemocratic nature of the new constitution, as well as the undemocratic way in which a vote in favour of the proposals was obtained, will not go unnoticed at Transport House. That which affects all must be approved by all; and the proposals have certainly not been approved by all. Overwhelmingly the elected members of Council were against the proposals; and we can truly say that the new proposals have been imposed on the people of Mauritius by the intervention of the official members. Only one official voted when constitutional changes were discussed in 1953 — the Procureur and Advocate-General. Why then did all three officials vote on this occasion? Why should the officials impose on the people of Mauritius an electoral system which the majority of the people’s elected representatives find distasteful and inimical to the social and political progress of Mauritius?

It will be remembered that Oliver Lyttelton, the then Colonial Secretary, gave as one reason for not inviting a delegation to London after the 1953 debate that the resolution had been passed by only a small majority. If fact the majority was 16: 13. This time, the proposals have been approved by only one vote; not even three. Will Lyttelton’s successor be logical? Will Mr Lennox-Boyd say “I’m sorry, but the proposals have been approved by so small a majority that I cannot accept it”? Of course he won’t. He, or his advisers, have clamped down on democratic progress in Singapore, Cyprus and Aden; they will be only too happy to have the excuse that a majority in the Legislative Council has approved the undemocratic proposals. Will Mr Lennox-Boyd be honest and confess that the elected representatives have condemned the proposals; that only the nominees and the officials have imposed anti-democracy on Mauritius? As the saying expressively goes, not on your Nelly! Mauritius must be added to the list of triumphs of anti-democracy; temporary triumphs, admittedly, but triumphs none the less. It is nothing short of scandalous that such a thing should happen.

Illogicality is of course the strong point of the Colonial Office. The nominees in Mauritius are, and still are to be appointed by the Governor in his “discretion”. The appointment can be used, as the Economist has tacitly admitted to frustrate the wishes of the electors as expressed at the polls. The appointments have in fact so been used, when Sir Hilary Blood made the obnoxious appointments in 1953 of 12 anti-Labour nominees after Labour had gained so resounding a victory at the polls. But in 1954 new constitutional proposals were agreed for Malaya in which nomination was to be after the high Commissioner had consulted the majority party, and the High Commissioner referred in his despatches to the inappropriateness of sending to the Legislative Council nominees opposed to the policy of the majority party. The Colonial Office accepted this view for Malaya — which has as plural a society as Mauritius. But in Mauritius the Colonial Office takes the view that nomination should be used to preserve imperialism and the rights of the few against the People.

In 1953 Labour won 13 out of 19 seats, and it was sheer chicanery to have 12 anti-Labour nominees in Council. Suppose there had been Proportional Representation in 1953, what then? Labour would probably have won 9 seats only, the Ralliement 5, and independents (of varying degrees of independence) also 5. Thus Labour would clearly be the majority party at the polls, but having to depend on the support of independent Socialists to govern. In such a case, under the Malayan proposals, the nominees should be appointed to help Labour to have its majority which the electorate clearly desired it to have. But under the Mauritian system, present and proposed, nomination would clearly be used to turn the Ralliement’s minority into a majority.

In the 1953 elections, by the way, the constituencies of Moka-Flacq and Grand Port-Savanne returned the members they would probably have returned under proportional representation. Under P.R., however, Labour would have had 2 instead of 3 in Port Louis, losing one to the Ralliement. In Plaines Wilhems, P.R. would probably have given the Ralliement 3 seats instead of one, and Labour 3 instead of 5; and in Pamplemousses-Riviere du Rempart, Labour would probably have had 2 seats only, the other going to an independent.

Thus in practice do we see that it is only too true that Proportional Representation would weaken Labour’s strength in Council, which is the reason for wanting it, of course — as the despatches of the Governor and Mr Lennox-Boyd make clear. I am surprised that Mr James Fitzgerald, describing himself as a trade unionist and Labour supporter, should be acquiescent in the adoption of an electoral system which has as one of its avowed aims the weakening in Council of the strength of the Party whom he should be supporting. But Mr Fitzgerald, like Miss Lakeman whose letter I have read in ADVANCE, is an interested body — he is a professional propagandist for the Proportional Representation Society and is therefore not an unbiased witness when it comes to discussing the merits of various electoral systems.

 

* Published in print edition on 23 February 2018

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