Mauritius Times – 60 Years
By B. Ramlallah
The publication of the findings of the Electoral Boundary Commission gives final shape to the constitution asked for by the Labour Party soon after it was returned with an overwhelming majority in the general election of August 1953. It will be recalled that in accordance with the London Agreement (signed by the second delegation from Mauritius in March 1957) only the electoral system had to be devised, all other aspects of the proposed constitution having been discussed and agreed upon in London by representatives of the various shades of Mauritian political opinion. But the electoral system had to be so devised as would ensure that “each main section of the population of Mauritius shall have adequate opportunity to secure representation in the Legislative Council corresponding to its own number in the community as a whole”; and here lies the main task the Boundary Commission was called upon to carry out.
In devising the electoral system, the Commission had, always in consonance with the London Agreement, to consider that the elections would be held on the basis of universal adult suffrage and also it had to see to it that as far as possible it should be a system which would not encourage voting on communal or religious lines.
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By way of a preliminary survey, the Commission, basing itself on the census of 1952, tries to surmise the strength of the new electorate of the first general election under universal adult suffrage which falls due in August this year and comes to the conclusion that out of an estimated total population of 600,000 there will be approximately 277,500 electors. The figure can be broken down as follows:
Indo-Mauritian Hindu 129,000
Indo-Mauritian Muslim 41,000
Indo-Mauritian Christian 9,000
General Population 91,000
The Commission then sets out to decide what is actually meant by the phrase “main section of the population”. It does not say what criteria would justify styling a community as ‘main’ but it is clear that the primary and overriding consideration was religious; the other consideration was of course its numerical strength. Therefore, it concludes that there are three ‘main’ groups, viz., Hindu, General Population and Muslim.
As regards the other groups, Franco-Mauritian, Sino-Mauritian and Indo-Mauritian Christian, the Commission agrees that they cannot be considered as “main sections of the population” but it does state that “the influence and importance of the Franco-Mauritians and the few persons of United Kingdom origin clearly cannot be measured merely by counting heads”.
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Having done the preliminary survey the Commission deals with the demarcation of constituencies which would afford adequate opportunity to the three main sections of the population to secure representation “corresponding to their proportion of the total electorate”. The Commission is satisfied that 40 single-member constituencies will meet the situation provided the Secretary of State gives the assurance that (a) the Governor is empowered to nominate a candidate or candidates who though unsuccessful at the polls show they have a reasonable following, (b) the Governor when making nomination will have to aim at securing the “proper proportion” of communal representatives, and (c) the Governor while making use of his power of nomination will “bear in mind that any of the three main sections may well contain important differences of opinion which he should recognize.” Acceptance of the provisos laid down by the Commission means going beyond its terms of reference — to which the Secretary of State has acceded.
It goes on to add that the proportion of each community of total electorate is as follows:
Indo-Mauritian Hindus, just under half;
General Population, just under one-third;
Indo-Mauritian Muslims, just over one-seventh.
The Commission feels almost certain that the Hindu and General population communities would, under the new electoral system, return their quota of representatives but it is not as categorical about the Muslim, Franco-Mauritian and Sino Mauritian communities. For these communities the quota of representatives would be obtained either by election or “failing that, by election plus Governor’s appointments”. But as regards the Muslim community the commission states specifically that under the proposed electoral system the Muslim community has “a better opportunity of sharing in the future government of Mauritius”.
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Now we would like to deal with two other important aspects of the report. First the question of nomination. From the report it is clear that the way in which the nominations will henceforth be made leaves too much power in the hands of the Governor: in fact, he becomes the supreme arbiter in balancing the composition of the Legislature, because as the Report says “the only safeguard against the possibility of an election resulting in disproportionate representation in the Legislative Council lies in the Governor’s power provided for in the London Agreement to nominate up to 12 extra members”. What considerations will prevail upon the Governor when it comes to nomination, communal or interest?
The Commission was warned that the electoral system it was asked to devise should “facilitate the development of voting on grounds of political principle and party rather than on race or religion”, but the way the constituencies have been demarcated, and it is in accordance with its terms of reference, suggests that the decisive factor was communal. In each of 21 constituencies there is a majority of Hindus, in 8 the General Population is in majority and in one only the Muslims are in majority. We cannot at this stage predict what will happen to party politics here, but we have enough ground to believe that the present Constitution has given it a severe blow. Our new constitution has now been given the final touch. The whole thing is now on trial but our political future does not look rosy anyway.
5th year – No 186
Friday 28th February 1958
* Published in print edition on 11 March 2022
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