The judgement of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the appeal lodged by Suren Dayal in relation to his electoral petition which called for the invalidation of the election of MSM candidates in Constituency No. 8, namely Pravind Jugnauth, Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun and Yogida Sawmynaden, will in all likelihood be delivered within the next weeks.
This is a much awaited judgement given the fact that unlike other electoral petitions lodged by a number of unreturned candidates in different constituencies, which were grounded on objections relating to discrepancies in the Recapitulation of Votes forms and the opacity surrounding the operation of Computer Rooms at Counting Centres, the main arguments put forward by Suren Dayal relate to alleged electoral bribery/corruption or the undue influence of electors at the 2019 elections.
The five main grounds of the Dayal’s petition included the promise of a substantial upward revision of the retirement pension (to Rs 9,000 in January 2020, contrary to what was stated in the 2019-2020 Budget Speech which referred an increase of Rs 500), the accelerated implementation of the Pay Research Bureau report in favour of public sector employees as from January 2020, the promise to pay more than Rs 3 billion to holders of the Super Cash Back Gold plan and those of Bramer Asset Management Ltd, the announcement of the payment of a performance bonus to police officers, fire-fighters and prison officers as well as the alleged misuse of the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), which would have also contributed to unduly influence voters in general, including those in Constituency No. 8. It also took objection to the announcement made by Pravind Jugnauth at an official function organized in October 2019 on the occasion of the International Day for Older Persons, which had been broadcast live on television and taken up in the news bulletins of the MBC, relating to an increase in the old age pension from Rs 6,210 to Rs 13,500. In 2021 the Supreme Court dismissed the election petition on all grounds.
The approach of the Supreme Court towards most electoral petitionshas generally been not to readily upset the results of an election, which are after all the will of the people – unless the evidence put before the Court conclusively point to wrongdoing. For instance, it previously invalidated the election of Ashock Jugnauth who was elected at the 2005 general elections, following a case lodged by unreturned candidate Raj Ringadoo. Ashok Jugnauth was accused of electoral bribery in the form of a promised new Muslim cemetery and jobs to 101 healthcare assistants in exchange for votes in his favour. The Privy Council upheld that judgment.
It may not be possible to anticipate what the Privy Council will decide in the appeal lodged by Suren Dayal, the more so since what appeared to be solid grounds of appeal relating to the MBC, and the ‘Super Cash Back Gold’ have been abandoned, nor are there trends that could indicate the direction in which the Law Lords are likely to take. It is also unlikely that the Law Lords will make any recommendations on the conduct of elections, on the role and responsibilities of electoral institutions or how to strengthen our democratic process and reduce the delay to hear election petitions. They will only apply the law, in this case the Representation of the People Act, as it is.
It remains to be seen whether the Privy Council’s judgement will have any influence on the Prime Minister’s electoral calendar, which he might have already drawn up, but there is no doubt that what is being anticipated in MSM circles – the dismissal of the appeal by the Law Lords – will give a much-needed boost to the MSM-led government, battered on all sides from a long list of misgovernance and law and order issues. But beyond the political consequences of the judgement, there is much politicians who have at heart the public interest should consider reviewing to make the laws and processes overseeing our democracy more effective.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 29 September 2023
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