BHAWNA ATMARAM

Just when we thought that the gates had closed behind us, another gate has opened, with its avalanche of surprises. The general elections result has left a bitter aftertaste, with a Ballotgate in tow. The fact is that 2 out of 3 electors have voted against this government. Coupled with that, a series of allegations of fraudulent malpractice has come to light, giving rise to serious suspicion. This has plagued the minds of Mauritians, and has created a general lingering malaise in the country.

Shockingly, there are instances of ballot papers out there in the wild, more specifically in constituencies 3 and 4. We understand that there is a rule of law to bring to light whatever has transpired. But between now and that time, imagination will definitely run haywire as the malaise deepens. The Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) has been highly unconvincing in its explanations so far. In a press conference held on 16 November 2019, the leader of the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM), Hon. Paul Bérenger has raised doubts regarding the impartiality of some members of the ESC, given their proximity with the government.

As we speak, all the main opposition parties have been unanimous in criticising the ESC, which is discrediting itself by the day with unconvincing piecemeal explanations, in a lame fire fighting exercise. The ‘Rulergate’ in Constituency 5 has reached absurd proportions. The Returning Officer for that constituency, has attempted to justify the case of the too neatly stacked ballot papers in a ballot box. He says he requested an electoral officer to use a ruler to ensure that the ballot papers are stacked on top of each other to save space! Logically, we cannot help but ask whether this is a legitimate or even feasible procedure, given that the slit on top of each ballot box is very thin. Is this not tantamount to tampering? Were the electoral candidates and agents duly informed about this procedure? Why has this procedure not been uniformly applied to other constituencies, but solely to constituency 5?

Added to that, the mystery of the deregistered voters is growing thicker. We have a record number of 6,813 voters whose names do not appear on the registers of voters. In some constituencies, the results could have been different, given the narrow margin between the third and fourth ranked candidates. The ESC has thrown the blame on the electors who have not checked whether they featured on these registers. Still, the Commission should have intensified media campaigns or even contacted the deregistered voters to do the needful in a spirit of free, fair and credible elections. 6, 813 is not a negligible number in a small country like ours.

Ballotgate should be a powerful wake-up call to ensure that democracy and transparency are observed at all levels. The ESC has failed. Election petitions are about to be launched before the Supreme Court to contest the validity of the elections. Let us hope that our judges hear and determine these petitions with utmost celerity, say within 6 months, so that the gates of truth be opened for all to see.