SAJ’s Resignation as Prime Minister – and the Law

However unethical or morally unacceptable or politically inexpedient the motive for the resignation was, legally it cannot result in the seat of SAJ becoming vacant

 By R. Laxman

The former Prime Minister, Sir Anerood Jugnauth resigned his post to make way for his son, Pravind Jugnauth, to fill the vacancy as if he was the only worthy candidate for the post of Prime Minister. Though the former PM fought the election on the basis that he would serve as PM through the whole tenure of the current legislature, that was voted in the December 2014 general elections, and would bring about a “second economic miracle” and a super clean government free of corruption, nepotism, favouritism and what not, he had to realise his cherished dream of putting his son in the seat of Prime Minister, even temporarily, in case the son has to resign if the Privy Council gives an unfavourable judgment against him.

When Sir Anerood Jugnauth announced his decision, he did so on the basis that his health did not permit him to bear the burden of the office of Prime Minister. That was of course hoodwinking the population. In spite of his alleged ill health the former Prime Minister was picked by his son to be a Minister Mentor with the added responsibilities of having to bear with the portfolios of the police, defence and Rodrigues. Of course, these are duties of extreme levity that do not require much effort from an ailing individual!

When the decision was announced, it was dubbed a deal “papa-piti” and the newly, not elected but chosen Prime Minister, was described by his adversaries as a “premier ministre l’imposte”. But that did not deter father and son. The deal was done and the ailing mentor was firmly saddled as the number 3 of government with his responsibilities and his frequent travels to Rodrigues and elsewhere.

Politically there may have been grounds to criticize the deal. But, from a legal point of view, it was another story as the Supreme Court has pointed out. In a plaint with summons, dated 15 February 2017, two plaintiffs prayed the court to declare that, once Sir Anerood Jugnauth had resigned as Prime Minister, his seat as a member of the National Assembly became vacant. The Supreme Court, on a strict interpretation of the Constitution, rejected that argument.

It was the view of those who filed the case that, under section 60 (3) of the Constitution, the office of Prime Minister or any other Minister shall become vacant where he ceases to be a member of the Assembly otherwise than by reason of a dissolution of parliament.

On the interpretation of section 60(3), the Supreme Court stated:

“That enactment clearly conveys, in our view, that after a Prime Minister or any other Minister has ceased to be a member of the Assembly otherwise than by a dissolution of Parliament, the relevant office becomes vacant.”

The court then went on to explain in what circumstances the seat of a member becomes vacant by referring to section 35 of the Constitution that lists the circumstances in which this may happen and to section 36 that provides for the loss of the seat by a member upon being sentenced by a court of law to a term of imprisonment exceeding twelve months.

The court concluded that the circumstances mentioned in the Constitution on the vacancy of a seat were not applicable to the case involving the so-called deal “papa-piti”.

The Supreme Court has correctly interpreted the relevant provision of the Constitution relating to the resignation of the Prime Minister. It could not have been the intention of those who framed our Constitution to envisage a situation whereby a Prime Minister automatically loses his seat when he resigns his office for whatever reason. However unethical or morally unacceptable or politically inexpedient the motive for the resignation was, legally it cannot result in the seat of SAJ becoming vacant.

* Published in print edition on 25 January 2019

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