For whom the knell tolls

It is not for the roundly disavowed opposition but for government to drive the national agenda which best responds to the priorities and needs of the people

The people’s scathing verdict at the December 2014 general elections should have above all been read as the final nail in the coffin of Proportional Representation (PR) in the country. In their collective wisdom, the people confronted with the combined forces of the Labour-MMM alliance, emphatically rejected the proposals to pervert our electoral system and water down the vote of the multitude through Proportional Representation. It would simply be daft not to humbly learn from this crying lesson from vox populi. Some clearly never learn.

The people’s stance basically reflects the ethos and principles which underpinned from the outset the unwavering and resolute position of all the progressive forces fighting for independence during the constitutional debates at the London Conference, against the proposal of Proportional Representation assiduously canvassed by the reactionary forces opposed to independence. In an official letter to the British colonial authorities, true to the seminal values of the Labour Party, its President, Guy Forget, firmly opposed Proportional Representation on the grounds that it would inter alia prevent the normal development of a Mauritian identity, ‘aggravate and perpetuate divisions among Mauritians on racial and religious lines’ which the Labour Party considered its duty to prevent. They had therefore robustly quashed PR and its insidious object of bending the rules and tipping the scales against the people’s democratic will in a First Past The Post (FPTP) based general elections, as was the case in colonial times.

The sacrosanct principle that the choice of the electorate as established by FPTP based general elections should remain paramount and should under no circumstances be reversed is also enshrined in the manner the Best Loser System (BLS), detailed in the First Schedule of the Constitution, is couched. Thus, the method of determining the second set of 4 BLS nominees of the 8 allowed also takes into consideration best losers from the victorious party/coalition at the polls to correct/mitigate any imbalance caused by the distribution of the first four nominees, so as not to reverse or distort the choice of the electorate.

In the ten general elections since Independence, barring landslide victories, the victorious Party/coalition obtained at least 4 of the Best Loser seats and the main losing Party/coalition obtained between 2 and 4 Best Loser seats; the remaining seats going to other parties. At the 2014 general elections, the winning L’Alliance Lepep obtained 4 out of the 7 BLS seats allocated.

The Prime Minister (PM) seems to have imbibed this cardinal lesson of our political history as when speaking of PR recently he declared in a public speech that he was opposed to Proportional Representation owing to its perverse effects on the results of elections. He ardently canvassed the principles of ‘Pas vinn bouleverse verdik électorat’ and ‘mazorité… faudré pas li débalancé’ . He added that it is for these very principles that he had personally been against the introduction of PR in Rodrigues.

 Rumblings from Rodrigues

 There are now similar rumblings against PR from Rodrigues that it had distorted the results of the elections under the simple majority system. During the recent visit of the PM there, there were cries from the leadership in Rodrigues to revisit the PR provisions of the Rodrigues Regional Assembly Act with the intent of ensuring through amendments to the Act that the system is improved so that the outcome of the elections and the majority obtained through the simple majority system is not eroded and undermined. This has set the cat among the PR hawks.

The eternal High Priests of Proportional Representation in the country headed by the Leader of the Opposition basically used Rodrigues as a guinea pig to experiment their unproven model of party lists and PR inducted in the Rodrigues Regional Assembly Act 2001. It caused distortions to the outcome of the elections based on the simple majority system. A complex and obtuse electoral system also prevents the electorate from reading the outcome of the elections as in the case of the simple majority electoral system.

For example, the February 2012 Rodrigues Regional Assembly Elections resulted in the comfortable majority of 4 obtained by the Organisation du Peuple de Rodrigues (OPR) party in the simple majority elections in the six regions being shaved down to only one after the application of the PR provisions. Such a system is fraught with risks of a hung Regional Assembly, is a formula for weak government and a recipe for political instability.

As is the case in Israel and Italy where PR is applicable, the political situation is unmanageable as the government is held ransom to all sorts of sectarian or political lobbies. No wonder there is discomfort and calls for change among the ruling and other political parties in Rodrigues to ensure that the scales are in no way tipped against those who obtained the majority vote.

Aware of the risks of distortions to the outcome of general elections, the people in Mauritius have thus, in line with the principles which anchored the constitutional model which ushered Independence in 1968, once again, 46 years after, unequivocally rejected in December last the system of Proportional Representation and any variant or ‘dosage’ thereof. It is therefore equally important that the Human Rights Committee ruling is not once again used as last year as a Trojan Horse to introduce the repeatedly rejected system of PR through the back door. There are other ways to address the Human Rights Committee issue and priority attention should be given to these.

Any serious intent to address the issue of electoral reform should instead focus on much more important issues such as inter alia the financing of political parties, the limitation of mandates of the PM and the President, a true democratisation of political parties encompassing gender, the separation of politics from religion or the review of the number of elected Members per constituency in the context of the wide disparity in the number of voters per constituency in the country, in order to ensure equal weight to each vote.

The sorry state of political governance is evidenced by the issue of the financing of political parties. This is no longer an abstract issue. Its magnitude and tentacular ramification have been exposed by the discovery of the equivalent of hundreds of millions of Rupees stashed in suitcases and safes half of which in foreign currency, purportedly received from well-wishing and generous donors, some of them with their names and best wishes penned on envelopes.

How can such colossal ‘donations’ of funds meet the test of good governance and integrity for both donors and recipients?

Why would half the ‘donations’ be in foreign currency if the professed intent is to help finance the electoral campaign of the Party?

As this is the amount found after the December general elections, how much more was received before the campaign?

What is the equivalent situation with the other main political parties in the country?

The main political parties are deafeningly silent on the issue of financing conscious presumably of the collateral damage for their own parties if this can of worms is opened. Such a covert situation involving hundreds of millions of Rupees in occult financing of parties to be in the good books of the main political parties in the teeth of purportedly strict rules governing private sector governance is unhealthy and highly impairing for our democracy. It needs to be regulated in a transparent manner which meets the highest standards of probity and governance.

The government already has too much on its plate. The country’s urgent priorities are socio-economic and not political. We cannot therefore put the cart before the horse. The ability of the government to aptly manage the urgent economic and social priorities facing the country is already under stress against the backdrop of mounting impatience among the people. This is thus not the time to be distracted by the wild goose chase of political reform when this is not a burning priority for the nation only ten months into the term of office of the government and aeons ahead of the next general elections.

It is not for the roundly disavowed opposition but for government to drive the national agenda which best responds to the priorities and needs of the people.

  • Published in print edition on 23 October 2015

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