A Retrograde Electoral Reform

A Retrograde Electoral Reform

On 21 September 2018, the ruling coalition came forward with its proposals, emanating from a governmental committee, for electoral reform. This again demonstrates an autocratic way of governing. On such an issue, the opposition should have been roped in but the MSM-ML government preferred to sit on its hands rather than join the drive to win popular acceptance. Once the proposals are sanitized, one can clearly see that the devil is in the detail. Most parties across the political spectrum agree there should be some sort of electoral reform. Proposals like doing away with the mandatory declaration of community, fair gender representation, the 10 % threshold for political parties to obtain a seat through Proportional Representation (PR) and to have three members returned through First Past the Post (FPTP) in Rodrigues will find no problem to be accepted, especially given the fact that these were already proposed by the defunct Labour/MMM alliance in 2014.  Nevertheless, the other proposals are a recipe for political fiasco.

Over and above the 62 members returned through FPTP, it is being proposed to allocate 12 PR seats and each party or party alliance will have to submit a closed “party list” of up to 24 candidates. It is astonishing as to why a list of 24 when only 12 will be selected. Is it only to factor in the communal element? This number strangely coincides with the number of Cabinet Ministers, where we all know the communal element plays a determining factor. Another grey area is a situation where there has been a split in the alliance, there is to be a relocation of a seat and the person whose name appears on the list is on the other side of the House.

There is the suggestion to scrap the actual Best Loser System with an allocation of six Best Loser Seats and the onus being put on leaders of parties or party alliances to ensure adequate representation of our Rainbow Nation in the National Assembly. One would wonder as to why powers are being taken away from the Electoral Supervisory Commission and put in the hands of a party leader. We will be hypocrites not to acknowledge that candidates are aligned in different constituencies based on their respective religion and caste, where applicable.  As such, the current system has an inherent solution to the problem. What is being proposed is simply nonsensical.

It is being suggested that the allocation of these seats, up to a maximum of 10, is also to re-establish the majority obtained by the winning party or party alliance over the other eligible parties or party alliances. This defeats the whole purpose of the reform. An electoral reform is called for to ensure there is no longer a big disparity between percentage of votes and seats obtained while ensuring stability of government. Reform was called for to avoid situations like in 1982, where the Labour Party obtained 25.78 % of votes and no seats, in 1991 Labour /PMSD secured 40 % with only 3 seats, in 1995 the MSM took 19.7 % of votes but obtained no seats and in 2000 Labour/PMXD  obtained 36.7 % of the popular vote but got only 6 seats.

It is being further proposed that the filling of an additional (BL) seat, when it arises, shall be determined by the leader of the relevant party or party alliance to which the candidate, whose seat has become vacant, belonged. The choice will be made from the unreturned candidates of the FPTP or PR list of the said party or party alliance. Unfortunately, this proposal does not cater for a situation where there has been a spilt and the leader is no longer leader of the alliance.

Government has come forward with certain anti-defection measures. It proposes that  where a Member of Parliament who has been elected under the PR System or who has been allocated an additional seat, crosses the floor voluntarily, his seat shall be deemed to be vacant. This does not cover a situation where an MP has been expelled from his party. But over and above this, one fails to understand the rationale as to why this measure will not apply to MPs elected under FPTP system. There is also a proposal about the MP not losing his seat where (i) he makes a claim that he and any other members of his political party or party alliance constitute a group, of not less than 5, representing a faction which has arisen as a result of a split in his original party or party alliance; and (ii) where the party to which he belongs contracts an alliance with another party and such a decision is supported by not less than 5 members. This is all the more confusing as it does not specify under what system the other members of the group owe their election and would rather seem to palliate situations that gave rise to the formation of the Ralliemant Travailliste Mauricien (RTM) in the 1980s, Ralliement Militant Mauricien (RMM) in the 1990s, under the dicta of the MSM. Under the current proposal, Lesjongard, Sorefan, Joomye and Selvon would still be allowed to cross the floor.

It is sad that there has been no proposal forthcoming to replace General Population at paragraph 3 of the First Schedule to the Constitution. Not a single word has been mentioned about the reform of the electoral process. Electronic voting seems to have been forgotten, problems like ‘baz’, unnecessary renting of vehicles, unruly affixing of posters etc have simply been omitted. Voting by proxy and counting immediately after polling seem not to be a priority. Electoral expenses of a candidate have jokingly been kept at Rs 150,000. No amendment has been proposed to Section 41 of the Constitution to give additional powers to the Electoral Supervisory Commission as regards fixing of the polling date and supervision of the electoral campaign with powers of sanction. In the light of the above drawbacks and omissions, the proposed electoral reform is retrograde and bound to be a still born affair.

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