MODERNISING THE MAURITIAN ELECTORAL SYSTEM : « Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose »

The White Paper which took a year to produce consists of 74 pages of which only 7 pages actually deal with proposals to modernise the electoral system in Mauritius. The rest of the report could have been easily summarised in a few pages. I wonder what the rationale was to beef up the report to so many pages. But what I wonder more about is the timing of the publication and release of the report. What is the hidden agenda?
At a time when we are witnessing so many scandals in higher education, is there a pressing need to divert our attention from the real issues? Scandals seem never ending. The latest is that the newly appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Mauritius has allegedly been involved in plagiarism. Of course it may all be smoke without a fire but one would have thought that those occupying the highest posts should be like Caesar’s wife - not a hint of blemish nor suspicion. Recently there was the deportation of a Mauritian student who was ill advised to seek asylum in the United Kingdom on grounds that she was afraid of being raped in Mauritius. The government decided to give her some support, something which is not often offered to others in similar situations. Shouldn’t the government be involved in resolving the current security problems which are affecting so many Mauritians and tarnishing the reputation of Mauritius at home and abroad? To name just a few.
Couldn’t the exercise of modernising the electoral system wait till after the general election? After all, our political system is stable and robust enough and is the envy of the world for a country of its size and its location. Admittedly, it’s not the best system but is there one which can be described as the best in the world. How do we know that modernising our electoral system will enhance stability and fairness? Where is the proof of the pudding?
Perhaps the Prime Minister and his advisers are not aware that electoral reforms, wherever they have been implemented, have not had the desired effect. This is because most political scientists, electoral reformists and politicians wishing to reform some aspect of electoral practices almost invariably promote their cause by boldly claiming that the changes would enhance such goals as fairness and the quality of representation, and so improve voters’ attitudes to politics and politicians and their behaviour as in electoral turnout levels. In actual fact this is not always the case. Opponents on the other hand, will usually counter with arguments that, if implemented, proposals would advance particular partisan interests only. Who do we trust without any concrete evidence?
Up to now, there are relatively few researchable cases of major changes such as a switch in the voting system within the context of constantly changing political circle. This is far from straightforward, especially as the impacts may not be immediate. Voters may only be able to evaluate the consequences after several elections and on many issues they may be far from well-informed or aware. Just doing simulations on previous data is not adequate and meaningless.
Where research has been conducted, electoral reforms have been found to be limited and disappointing, and in many instances, with no effects, certainly not the desired ones. There could be several reasons for this:
Reformers exaggerate claims about transformative and beneficial effects of new electoral rules, yet their goal may simply be to maximize their partisan advantage. In the case of the current situation, the current government might have sussed out that it is on the verge of being defeated in the forthcoming election. Or the intention is to divert the electorates from the real issues facing the country, in this case, perhaps, all the scandals which have been on the lips of everyone. Is it a coincidence that a report on reforming the electoral system is released at a time when several ministers are on the spotlight?
Comparative research demonstrates that variation in electoral institutions corresponds with different patterns of political attitudes and behaviour. But this comparative method cannot assess what happens when rules are changed. Examining attitudes and behaviour across time in New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States and Australia where rules were changed indicate that results do not match expectations. I am surprised those (which include political scientist with extensive experience in politics and advisers who are highly paid from tax payers’ money) advising the Prime Minister did not pick these up.
It may also be another strategy to prevent minor or emerging parties from doing well at the general election. In short the party in power wants to exterminate the minor parties for good. Is this really democracy? This is more like dictatorship.
The white Paper makes a number of proposals, none of which has been tried and evaluated and there is no guarantee whether it will be successful or not, if ever it will be implemented. They are mere statements of intent.
One of the proposals in which there seems to be a lot of interest is for higher representation of women in the House of Parliament. According to latest figures, women represent 50.5% of the population in Mauritius. It is suggested that parliament should consist of 30% of women MPs. What is the rationale for 30%? Why not 50.5% of female MPs? Whatever the percentage, it is assumed that women want to become MPs. Would it not be right to find out what percentage of women are electorates and what percentage of those women actually take part in the election process and then work out a plausible and defendable formula on the number of women MPs there are likely to be? And why stop here? Why not apply this logic across the board in all the government departments (Judiciary, Police, Health and Education etc.) to reflect equality and fairness across the workforce? At the end of the day, do we want equality of representation of women to satisfy the statistical profile of the country or do we want elected MPs (irrespective of gender) who would serve the community with the utmost professional standard?
As I said at the outset, this release of the White Paper is not necessary in the current climate; it is ill timed and will not fool the electorates. Probably the Prime Minister has another agenda up his sleeve: to maintain the status quo so that the two main political parties continue to reign indefinitely. Time will tell what his motives are.
The Prime Minister would have been well advised to address issues like campaign expenditure prior, during and post elections, role of the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation especially during the elections and the time allocated to each party, how many terms can someone be Prime Minister, promise of jobs and promotions to lure electorates, involvement of the civil servants during campaign and also during the election, making sure that those who voted the minority party are not blacklisted, freebies like pressure cookers and blankets to the electorates etc. The list is not exhaustive.
Perhaps, if these issues were to be addressed, the electorates would start trusting the politicians believing that the election will be fair and equitable. Is this not what the proposals are aspiring to achieve and implement?
Whether the proposals will see the light of day remains to be seen. A look at the record of electoral reforms in various countries reveals a string of disappointments and very little impact. In short, electoral reforms can be summarised as follows: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.
I therefore, do not recommend the White Paper to the House.


A very intetesting and pertinent reflection.

I raised more or less identical questions in 2012 and before.