The postponement of village council and local government elections coupled with the raging debate on the electoral reform and the historical victory of the Rezistans ek Alternativ group via the United nations position against communalism are ingredients in the boiling pot for a new political landscape. The debate on electoral reform provokes some pertinent issues which I would like to share. My own experiences with different stakeholders in the religious, economic and political decision-making and injustice inflicted on me as well as many people across communities whom I know motivate this article. I just hope this would be a platform for a fruitful debate. A perfect system does not exist but any system should be fair, transparent and progressive.
This reminds me of three anecdotes which fit well our situation in Mauritius : First, I remember in 1986 , when I came as a young graduate in Economics , late Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo was addressing about the economic issues and good times to come in a seminar and I could not stop making him realize that “ those who have had their fills speak to the hungry world about the good times to come” ; and today after more than a quarter-century, the same mantra is chanted by political leaders but to many more poor people.
Next, in a great speech at the University, Nelson Mandela gave a very important lesson to our politicians invoking social justice and inclusive participation. For him, democracy means simply the realization by any countryman that he is part of any public institution. Again, after such a long time, apart from the Nelson Mandela Cultural Centre, what progress have we achieved? How many Mauritians can claim that they feel part of the big business contracts, lucrative jobs and positions, ownership of state lands, political positions and private sector top positions ? Even looking at public institutions, how many of us can say that we do belong to those?
The reason for further balkanization of our country can be explained by the simple explanation of a great philosopher, Krishnamurthy. Once he was asked why so much isolation of ethnic groups in India and his reply was “there is security in isolation” . This very well explain why the consolidation of Mauritian unity and a Mauritian nation has met with so many obstacles. Inequity leads to further isolation for security and bargaining. But again, this does not guarantee security for the whole ethnic group but only the close relatives of the leaders. Our communal and ethnocasteist groups feed on this. Today, the proliferation of cultural centers and speaking unions etc are counterproductive to nation building. But Mauritians are attached and lured to symbols neglecting realities. Let me next discuss the issue of electoral reform and assess the situation today.
I claim that winds of change are influencing our Mauritian society. The political slogans, sugar-coated smiling pills, proliferation of institutions as silencers of population woes, religious pressure groups, mercenaries, porte-parole and family connections have lost their carat as tactics to support traditional political actions and leaders. According to World Bank, access to finance, land and education are basic ingredients for economic justice and social harmony. However, I claim that access to politics is imperative given the skewness in political participation which has soiled our so-called democracy. Democracy should not be equated only with the right to vote but also with the right for a wider choice of whom to vote. The musical chair of leaders, related wealthy families and their cronies should be stopped to create space for new chairs and music.
Any electoral reform should invoke some pertinent issues such as representation, quality of politicians, accountability and transparency .
The introduction of a dose of proportional representation ( PR) in the electoral system has been reiterated by many politicians and NGOs during recent years for greater equity and social cohesion. Although the Best Loser System ( BLS) stood the test of time, it has come under severe attack and time has come for it to phase out. There is clearly two camps, the defenders of BLS more communally and politically motivated demonstrating aversion to change. The other camp preaches modernity and need for a new republic via electoral reform and abolition of BLS. An easy compromise is to maintain BLS based on a new classification of communities via a census. This is trivial and counterproductive and would indeed open a Pandora’s box undermining national unity and mauritianhood cemented since a long time. A new communal census would lead to further subdivision of Mauritian society which our country cannot take the risk. What is the solution for nation building? How to develop an inclusive electoral system ? Is political representation a guarantee for community progress and social justice ? So far, different communities have found security only in symbolism and identity. Most arguments on electoral reform are based more on perceptions and political gains rather than scientific evidence that higher representation leads to higher welfare. Interesting to reckon that a community may choose a leader not from his own to foster its interest.
More than representation is the effectiveness of the Leader and his vision. So what type of representation do we need? To what extent is political representation a condition for inclusiveness ? In reality, sharing of economic wealth and welfare depends on which group captures the Leader and influences his decision-making. For an inclusive society, the vision and capacity of the leader is imperative. Let me give you some examples to support my argument. A census of political nominations, high level jobs, contracts , allocation of state-owned lands, promotions, advisers, international positions would clearly highlight how a selected group of close relatives and political agents have benefited. In all communites, the leaders are captured by a small group pursuing their own interests. The public can do its own investigation starting with our leaders’ office .
Hence, political representation is not a sine qua non for equity and social mobility. Political power is one of the vehicle in the process of social development and according to me, there are many other important factors such as access to law, education, information, land and public services.
The latest fashion in Mauritius among the elite is access to brotherhood organizations for more lucrative business, positions and political contacts. This is another avenue for desperate ones.
Access to Politics
I have often raised the issue of access to politics in terms of right to participation in politics as a human right in the press and even with political leaders. For incumbents, politics should continue to be a closed shop and they are allergic to enlarging the political space. Today, many professionals willing to engage in politics are in the public sector and given financial constraints, they cannot afford to resign in order to do active politics. Any electoral reform should have invoked access to politics in order to break the circle of interlocking politicians. Politicians should also emanate from the working class which is not the case nowadays. Today, most of our politicians are businessmen or close to business boxes.
I request our politicians championing equal opportunities and democracy to democratize politics. Public officers should be granted leave without pay to participate in active politics. Another important issue in terms of access is the financing of elections and gender representation. It is time to look into these matters for a buoyant and true democracy. Job security may help to reduce corruption and empower politicians to transform from YES-MAN to NO-man.
Quality of Institutions and Politicians
Enlarging the political space would definitely improve the quality of our politicians and public institutions. I suggested a minimum training such as a certificate in law and Mauritian studies looking at history, constitution, religion, ethics, international affairs and more importantly, service to society as part of the curriculum. Otherwise, our political class may be viewed as mere cleptomania managing our country as a private property and even claiming the right to transfer their political inheritage to offsprings.
Hence, in this context any effective electoral reform should come up with innovations like limiting the terms of premier positions like President and PM only to two terms and parliamentaries to three terms. The Electoral Supervisory Commission should come up with new rules regarding the organization and constitution of political parties in terms of rotation, membership and mobility. Who will start this process? No politician even expert in electoral systems has talked about this issue.
Accountability and transparency
It is high time for a fiscal responsibility act in order to make our politicians responsible for their policies. A higher level of transparency in terms of their assets as well as close relatives and cronies should be constantly and rigorously investigated by an independent institution. A number of activities such as allocation of state property, nominations, high level jobs, business contracts amongst others should be included. Finally, the responsibilities and duties of our parliamentaries should be clearly defined and instead of elections, a special court should be put in place for any abuse of position.
Political representation is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for an inclusive economic and social development. I suggested a few measures for the consideration of our political class and champions of democracy. The debate should continue in order to converge towards fair and equitable Mauritian society in all aspects.