The Presidency: Respect the Constitution

Even before the campaign for the general elections of 10th December 2014 was officially launched, the Mauritius Times had been arguing against amending the Constitution to make provision for a new Presidential system in which there would be a sharing of powers between the Prime Minister and the President, and the latter’s mandate would be extended to seven years from the five allowed for in the present Constitution. This position, along with that against the proposed electoral reform, was systematically maintained and argued for throughout the campaign, through the considered views of different contributors and interviews of several experts.

Like practically all Mauritians, we felt that one should not tamper lightly with the country’s Constitution, and that any amendment to it should be brought only after a thorough, nation-wide debate – even a referendum if need be — on any issue of such fundamental national importance, and therefore of concern to all citizens. Unless and until such an exercise, if deemed necessary, is carried out, it is our bounded duty to respect the Constitution. And support anybody who does so.

Respecting the Constitution ensures political stability, and shows to the world at large that we are not a banana republic.

It is in this spirit that we salute the stand taken by Prime Minister Sir Anerood Jugnauth on the matter of the continuation in office of President Kailash Purryag. It will be recalled that, at press briefings and on other occasions, Sir Anerood has stated in no uncertain terns that a) he has good relations with President Kailash Purryag, b) he has no reason to ask him to leave office, and c) he leaves any such decision to the discretion of the President. He also underlined that, according to the Constitution, President Kailash Purryag’s term lasts until 2017.

Great credit must be given to Sir Anerood Jugnauth for being so forthright and direct, and for showing respect to the Constitution. In so doing he has shown a degree of maturity which is, sadly, lacking in his other political partners. But then, that’s what this country needs a genuine patriarch for, and in displaying these sterling qualities the Prime Minister is refurbishing the image of the country which had unfortunately been rather tarnished of late.

When answering questions on the issue of the Presidency, Sir Anerood referred to how he had been humiliated as President, and the pressures – in public — that were being put to oust him from office. He said in as many words that he knew what such suffering meant, and he wouldn’t wish to inflict this on any sitting President. Once again, one cannot but salute his magnanimity.

In spite of ourselves, unfortunately we have to recall the incident in front of Government House in 2005 when, as President, Sir Anerood Jugnauth was to preside over the swearing-in ceremony of the new government team and he was hollered by activists of the Labour Party. This, alas, was deliberate, uncalled for and totally against traditional Labour Party culture, especially that culture that had been the hallmark of the earlier generation of Labour, CAM and IFB leaders who came together to wage battle for the independence of Mauritius.

The Mauritius Times had refrained from joining and supporting the partisan rhetoric that was then being bandied about on political soapboxes to call for the ouster of Sir Anerood Jugnauth from Le Reduit — very much like what we are seeing today emanating from the ranks of the present government, especially from a junior partner of the MSM which would like to think it is capable of punching above its (political) weight. That was a principled stand taken by this paper, and we are not going to depart from that stand whoever is occupying the Constitutional post of President of the Republic, be it Anerood Jugnauth or Kailash Purryag. The Constitution must at all times prevail.

Given that Kailash Purryag was nominated during a Labour mandate, if he wanted to Sir Anerood could have taken revenge and push for his ousting. The fact that he has decided against any such act not only shows his political sagacity, but also indicates his profound respect for the Constitution, deserving once again to be commended.

This said, however, now that he has an overall majority in Parliament, perhaps Sir Anerood could initiate the debate on two matters that will require an amendment of the Constitution: 1) limiting the mandates of the Prime Minister and President, to two terms and one term respectively and 2) making the mandates of the government and the President coincide: in that case any sitting President will be forewarned that his term expires along with that of the government, and thus exit honourably.

Until the Constitution is so amended, it is totally uncalled for to ask President Kailash Purryag to leave office, a step which probably Sir Anerood has judged is likely to sully the image of the country. Besides, the procedure for removal of a President, according to section 30 of our Constitution, is a very onerous one and will likely distract from the more urgent tasks at hand, on which the new government is, justifiably, focusing. Let us trust SAJ to steer the course.

On the other hand, going by section 30 of the Constitution, neither is President Kailash Purryag infirm nor is there any gross misconduct for which he has to answer. We would humbly request him, therefore, in harmony with the Prime Minister’s stand, to respect in letter and in spirit the Constitution, which means completing his mandate to 2017, and to continue to uphold the dignity of the office of the President of the Republic of Mauritius as he has so ably done to date.

* Published in print edition on 23 January  2015

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