Thoughts on Electoral Reform (3)

There are a number of problems with the Constitution Temporary Provisions Bill and its Explanatory Memorandum.
Temporary Provisions Bill  has at least three problems

I don't think it's right to say that you are presenting a bill that modifies our constitution for one election pending subsuming the best loser system into another system for at least three reasons: (i) there is no guarantee that the same government will be there after the next election; (ii) there is no guarantee that the next government will want or have the required numbers to modify the constitution again or that enough MPs will agree to do so -- which means that candidates may be obliged to declare a community again in subsequent general elections; and (iii) the proposed electoral system that the current government wishes to adopt does not subsume the Best Loser System (BLS) as we know it because this system is simply not subsumable.
 
Plus Bill flouts meritocracy
If there are additional seats they should be allocated to the most successful unreturned candidates as measured by the percentage of votes received because our ridings are not exactly of the same size. That is if Mrs. Robinson who hasn’t declared a community tops that list then she should get the first additional seat. And not someone who ranks a lot lower in the esteem of voters. After all MP is a job like any other – save the indefinite paid holidays this year – and nobody who has the blessing of the voters should be discriminated against. Besides, ethnicity is not a criterion which will enable an MP to do his or her job better.
 
We need more dissent not ethnicity
If you look at the Household Budget Survey (HBS) data which corresponds most closely to Navin Ramgoolam's first and second mandate you find out – as shown by the graphic – that there were 500 more poor people at the end of his first mandate than at its beginning. The story changes drastically at the end of his second mandate. Indeed between 2006/7 and 2012 – which roughly covers the first 5 years of Paglanomics – 22,000 additional people were thrown into poverty. That’s a staggering 44 times more people or if you prefer 17.4% of all poor people in Mauritius were thrown into poverty during the first five years of the bean-counting reforms. We should definitely be talking more about this don’t you think? And anybody who’s been involved with policy-making during that time should come forward with a serious explanation.
 
Poverty created at an unprecedented rate
The important point to note is that during both terms the BLS has sent additional MPs to Parliament. As expected this has not prevented about 349 people from being thrown into poverty every 28 days during Navin Ramgoolam’s second term. As I’ve pointed out before the well-being of the country depends on the design and implementation of good policies not on some ‘cattle-stamping’ procedure in our electoral system.
 
Bill may again deprive us of a functional opposition
The proposed bill will again expose us to a situation where we might neither have any opposition nor have an opposition of a minimum size if ever we get 60-0s like in 1982 and 1995. All is not lost though. What we could do is to modify the bill so that it alters the First Schedule in the following way: make it ignore paragraph 3 and modify paragraph 5. Here’s what paragraph 5 could look like.
 
5. Allocation of 8 additional seats
1. In order to always ensure an opposition of a minimum of 8 members there shall be a maximum of 8 seats in the Assembly, additional to the 62 seats for members representing constituencies in the Assembly which shall be allocated to persons other than those of the most successful party who have stood as candidates for election as members at the general election but have not been returned as members to represent constituencies.
2. As soon as is practicable after all the returns have been made of persons elected at any general election as members to represent constituencies, the additional seats shall be allocated in accordance with the following provisions of this paragraph by the Electoral Supervisory Commission.
3. Provided that there are fewer than 8 members in the opposition, additional seats will be allocated to persons other than those of the most successful party until the sum of returned and additional members in the opposition is equal to eight.
 
Proposal has a small problem

There might be a little problem with our proposal. Let’s say a 60-0 breaks down as it happened on both times – after 9 and 17 months – and 28 returned MPs move into the opposition to join our 8 additional MPs: the government might not survive a motion of no confidence. We can deal with this by not allowing the votes of these additional opposition MPs to count – this would probably involve modifying section 53 of our constitution. We would still record how they vote though because this will give us precious information on where they stand on important issues. And help us refine our opinion about them a lot faster than if they never got into Parliament. So we get a hint of what to expect if they were in the driver’s seat. In other words they are there to ensure good questions are put to our government at all times – plus gain valuable parliamentary experience – and especially when our excellent First Past The Post (FPTP) system deprives us of an opposition but they cannot compromise the stability of government.
 
A governance-based electoral system
The philosophy of our proposal is to have as thoughtful a Parliament as possible. So we can focus on the things that really matter. In other words have an electoral system which is more governance-based instead of one which is galimatia-based. Having a Parliamentary Policy Office (PPO) attached to our National Assembly will also contribute towards this goal by helping our MPs do their jobs way better by having access to independent and industrial-strength analysis.
 
Referendum legislation overdue

Finally, we badly need this to deepen our democracy. See, in the next general elections someone might have liked Labour’s excellent monetary policy over the preceding five years but absolutely despises the controversial biometric ID and the proposed electoral mess as described in the White Paper and therefore decides to either abstain, vote blank or vote for another party. Whereas if we also get to answer one or more questions while electing our government we can send unambiguous signals to our lawmakers.