The verdict of the United Nations Human Rights Committee on our Best Loser System (BLS) is crystal clear. First, the government is invited to reconsider the pertinence of BLS or “community based electoral system”. Second, if it believes that BLS is pertinent, then it “should be based on objective and reasonable criteria” and the specific recommendation is to “update the 1972 census with regard to community affiliation”.
This decision that Mauritius must make on the BLS, to conform to its moral obligation as a signatory to this UN body, is the most fundamental yet pertaining to our Constitution. Should this decision be entrusted to our 69 members of the National Assembly?
I submit that it should not as they all adhered to the now-challenged principles of BLS when they registered as candidates. Isn't it ironical that they now have to decide on its pertinence? Even more comical is the fact that 7 current members got into the National Assembly thanks to the BLS. How do you think they will vote?
In 1982, the government of the day decided to stop the recording of community affiliation as part of the census but stopped short of scrapping the BLS because it explained that it was not in its electoral programme. Was BLS (rather than vague mentions to electoral reform) explicitly mentioned in any electoral programme in the recent 2010 poll? If not, this is another reason why the members of the National Assembly may not have the mandate to decide on the BLS issue.
A referendum is a more suitable channel to decide on whether to keep the BLS. Let every elector have a say on this constitutional issue and in the process, it will relieve the pressure on the 69 members of our National Assembly. The provision for a referendum on such an important issue is clearly spelt out in the “Moving the Nation Forward” Government Programme 2012-2015 read to the National Assembly on 16 April 2012. I quote paragraphs 1, 3 and 4 of Chapter 5 entitled “Nation”:
Paragraph 1: Retooling for the future requires a review of our Constitutional regime. We now have experience of our Constitutional Framework spanning over 44 years. In the light of this, we should, as a nation look at what works and what needs to be improved including reforms of our electoral system and the financing of political parties. Government will ensure that the country has an electoral system which is more equitable and which promotes nation building and provides for better representation of women.
Paragraph 3: Constitutional reform requires the buy-in of the people at large and cannot be decided by the political class alone.
Paragraph 4: Government will introduce new enabling legislation providing for the people to be consulted by way of referendum on major constitutional and other issues.
Mauritius is at a constitutional crossroad. History has demonstrated time and again that when every citizen participate in the revision of the Constitution, ownership and responsibility levels are enhanced and that can only bode well for the governance of our Motherland.