Constitutional Crisis

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By Somduth Bhuckory

The constitutional crisis seems to have taken His Excellency the Governor unawares. It is now over three weeks since the Labour members walked out of the Council refusing to take part in the election of ministers. And up to now no solution of the crisis is in sight.

The four members who were elected on the 25th of September to be ministers have simply been made members of the Executive Council. So for the time being there is no question of the ministerial system. On the other hand no appointment of Liaison Officers has been made. We know that the old ones had been asked to remain in office pending the visit of Princess Margaret.

It would appear that Sir Robert is going to leave for U.K. by the end of this month or the beginning of the next. There is no doubt that he will be going to consult Mr Lennox-Boyd on the next step to be taken. But whom is Mr Lennox-Boyd going to consult? The last time a parliamentary delegation was there to reflect the views of the country. When Mr Lennox-Boyd had the benefit of so many views, he gave us Universal Suffrage combined with P.R. and the famous ministerial system. What will he give us this time after meeting Sir Robert alone?

The Secretary of State must be convinced by now that his plan would not work in Mauritius. The Labour victories at the recent by-election of Port Louis and at the municipal elections must have brought home to him that his plan finds favour neither with the majority party nor with the people. In the hope of safeguarding the so-called threatened interests of the minority communities, is he going to overlook the verdict of the people? We sincerely believe that he won’t. For, didn’t he give us the guarantee at the time of the London talks that he would not ram anything down our throats?

While the four elected ministers have been made members of the Executive Council, the five members to be nominated have still to be nominated. When the elected members must be feeling as miserable as wrecked sailors on a desert island, we wonder if there are five worthy members who are keen to bask in the dubious glory of nomination.

* * *

As Sir Robert is going off to London, the Labour Party is going on a crusade.

As its meeting held at Plaine Verte last Sunday, the Labour Party has explained clearly its stand. It was time the Labour Party took a firm stand and launched its campaign. The language we heard at Plaine Verte carries conviction. We expect the Party now to deliver its message throughout the length and breadth of Mauritius.

The Labour Party is so strong today that there is power in its action as well as in its inaction. Knowing this much, all it has to do is to see the right time to act or to refrain from acting. It was certainly right when it boycotted the election of ministers and it is right now that it is going to make the country alive to the constitutional crisis.

If after all the earnest opposition of the people the Secretary of State gives an unpopular constitution, we Colonials will be bound to think that the meaning democracy is not the same the world over.

At such a grave hour, we expect the Labour Party to show party discipline first and foremost. It’s Hon Chadien’s unpopular motion which prompts us to make this remark. If Hon Chadien were an Independent Member we would have had perhaps nothing to say. But for a member of the Labour Party to be so miserably defeated is significant: the defeat betrays a regrettable lack of party discipline and organisation. And at the Municipal Council Mr L’Etang wanted to introduce some original form of taxation. Had he consulted the Party about it?

At the risk of sounding a bit sermonizing, we should like to make two urgent suggestions to the Labour Party. First, the creating of a shadow cabinet and, second, the setting up of a research and publicity department. Labour members will have to become ministers one day. So why not prepare for it? The absence of publicity is really shocking. Has anything been said about the meeting of Plaine Verte? Is anything being done for the by-election of Moka-Flacq?

* * *

We heartily welcome the campaign that the Labour Party has launched against Proportional Representation (P.R.) and wish it every success.

When we started the “Down with P.R.” campaign with the collaboration of Messrs Dabee, Roy and Napal soon after the motion on the new constitutional proposals was carried in Council, we felt like waging a lone battle.

While our campaign was afoot it looked as if fools had rushed in where angels feared to tread. But we went on campaigning. We held eighteen important meetings and sent our resolutions to the Secretary of State. We also sent a number of our Hansards to London to acquaint some responsible people with the nature of the debates that took place on the Constitutional proposals.

We did everything in our power to rouse public opinion against P.R. But we always secretly thought that such a campaign ought to have been undertaken by the Labour Party. Had the Labour Party vigorously campaigned then, it is possible that today there would not have been any constitutional crisis: the Governor would have known the reaction of the party and he would have devised ways and means to come forward with better proposals.

Anyway, we are happy that we have contributed to the boycott of P.R. and today when we find the Labour Party fighting it so earnestly we can’t help exclaiming: Better late than never.

Nothing goes in vain. Director of Education Kynaston-Snell may say than the campaign “Admettez Nos Enfants” left him unruffled but the fact remains that government is now rousing heaven and earth to admit as many children as possible to primary schools. We wonder whether any amount of arm-chair discussions would have given the same results.

Similarly, the “Down with P.R.” campaign may have left government indifferent but it has certainly contributed, be it in ever such a small measure, to the political education of the masses. It was a tremendous pleasure to find hundreds of people at every meeting so eager to learn. Once the people know what they deserve, you cannot give then whatever you like.

Mr Lennox-Boyd should realize that he has to deal with a politically conscious people and therefore he should make his proposals in accord with our political progress.

Friday 19th October 1956

* Published in print edition on 22 February 2019

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