Sanjay Jagatsingh

The bill on electoral reform in the National Assembly (NA) is effectively as dangerous and crappy as the one we massively rejected in December 2014. It doesn’t solve anything and shrinks our democracy. Given that we don’t have recall elections and statute referendums yet it is important that enough MPs abstain and vote against the introduction of proportional representation (PR). It is even better that a few MPs resign from parliament to send another clear signal that we will not allow Lepep to break yet another of its pledges and put MPs at the centre of a conflict of interest. Let’s focus on the parts of this bill that are most dangerous and deal with three misconceptions.

Proposal Puts MPs  in Conflict of Interest

A dose of PR and best loser seats combined with our first-past-the-post (FPTP) system – which will create two forms of double-candidacies – will make it a lot more difficult for us to keep politicians out of our NA and this is the main reason the bill has been introduced as we know that our current BLS is not subsumable. This is totally unacceptable and incompatible with our political traditions. See all of our five post-independence PMs have lost their seat at one point or another with three losing it as incumbent. Such a massive change in our electoral traditions requires validation by voters in a referendum.

The proposal will also complicate government formation. It could take 171 days like it did for Germany in 2018 or 541 days for Belgium in 2011. Nobody wants that. There are 17,292 days between the general election of 1967 and the last one. If we spent 171 days on average instead of let’s say the 7 days we did then we would have spent an extra 1,804 days without an elected government. That’s 5 years. And we know how important the start of each term is. Nothing says it’s going to be 171 days. It could be less. But it could also be a lot more. Hey, we’re dealing with political bonubos here. If it took 300 days on average to form government then we would have been without an elected one for nine whole years.

And we know PR systems are highly unstable. The Economist noted that between 1946 and 2013 Italy had a government on average every 13 months while we’ve had 11 governments over 47 years. Just imagine a new minister in several ministries every year. What kind of mastery would a minister develop in a year? Like Bodha removes the demerit point system in 2015 and then he is replaced by two or three neophytes in the following years. Or there’s a new minister of health right in the middle of an outbreak of H1N1 or fresh elections need to be organised during an entirely new type of crisis. We would also vote more often either because government formation cannot go on forever or governments that managed to get formed would break more frequently. Anti-defection legislation for non-FPTP MPs might prevent a collapse of government in some cases but it would create problems of its own. Plus we don’t want to increase the size of a parliament that’s already too big.

Why Mauritians Don’t Want A Larger Parliament

A few politicians want a parliament of 100 or more seats because apparently our population has doubled since independence. But who says that our NA was of the right size in 1968 or that its size should increase with population? Using Google numbers of 798,413 and 1,265,000 people in Mauritius in 1968 and 2018 then the increase is 58% – not 100% by the way. This would translate into a NA of 111 seats for 2018. But we know what happened after 1963. A parliament of 40 MPs increased to 70 in 1967. That’s a 75% rise over four years although the population hadn’t grown by that much. Indeed Google confirms that the population rose by only 9% – interpolating the census figures gives a similar increase. So if we use 1963 as base year the population has increased by 76% in 2018 which would call for a NA of (surprise!) … 70 members today. But parliament size definitely doesn’t have to grow with population.

A much better yardstick is to use the population/MP ratio. We don’t look good on this benchmark as 148 out of 195 parliaments rank better than us. We can also turn this stat on its head and look at how big our NA would be if our population to MP ratio was like that of a selected number of countries (see 1). Danemark is in blue because 40 is a very interesting number for us. It’s the number of MPs that we elected in 1959 and 1963 through single-member constituencies before fear-mongers scared too many decent Mauritians. Reverting to 40-odd seats would be a natural thing for us and quite easy.

Also, using the three-fold increase in the number of electors between 1967 and 2018 to justify adding another 11-15 MPs to our NA doesn’t make any sense as the number of electors can change after a policy decision like when the legal age was brought down from 21 to 18 in 1975. Besides it’s good to be reminded that between 1977 and 2014 the voting population of India increased by 500,000,000 – no typo here, 500 million – but the parliament size there stayed at five hundred and forty something.

Anti-defection Legislation Would Shrink Our Democracy

The MSM is right to stress the utmost importance of preventing the majority generated by our FPTP system to collapse with any reform – something which NR and PB haven’t understood yet – but subjecting the PR and best loser seats to anti-defection legislation is a pretty clumsy way of doing this. That’s because dissent is an essential ingredient of any democracy. Who can blame Fowdar for threatening to resign after a minister wanted to give a strategic partner an opportunity to cash in on our clouds? Who can blame Rughoobur for hugging a tree? Who can blame Yvon St. Guillaume (YSG) – the beautiful defector – for seconding the motion that made us an independent country?

It’s also very ironic for the MSM to bring such a legislation for two reasons. One is that they have themselves already defected several times since 2014. They were against the tram but for referendums – yep, not one but several! – on matters of crucial national interest. They’ve defected on the tram and so far no referendum on a über-important matter like electoral reform. The other is that they gained power partly because Ramgoolam, Boolell and other politicians defected on at least two parts of Labour DNA: progressive taxation and the FPTP system. So it is quite funny to see PJ being annoyed about the lack of support for an electoral reform that’s as dangerous as the one voters treated with a tasty siro zanana four years ago. Incidentally, the anti-defection bill is a good reason for MPs to defect. Now!

Constitution Not Tailor-Made For SSR

Wasn’t it nice to hear country after country at the ICJ a couple of months ago confirm that SSR or the Labour Party didn’t sell Diego Garcia? Another piece of rubbish that needs some further debunking is that our constitution was tailor-made for SSR. The electoral campaign of 1967 was very tough and winning that election was not a given. If our constitution was built for him a dose of PR would have no doubt been added to our electoral system to allow SSR and more than a dozen and half of his colleagues to go back into parliament after the first 60-0. Still, I don’t remember SSR having any regrets about PR. In fact he stayed consistent on this issue for a very long time because he knew that PR would be harmful to Mauritius. He was aware like Justin Trudeau that « PR would exacerbate small differences within the electorate. » Just like it doesn’t make a lot of sense for someone to be for recall elections and double-candidacies as a general election is like 62 recall elections happening at the same time.

Furthermore it is fair to say that Mauritius would probably not have proved Meade wrong without our FPTP system. We can also look at what happened in the eight general elections after SSR left politics: our FPTP system has blessed us with clear winners and stable governments one after the other. Put differently out of the last 36 years SSR was not our PM that rapid government formation and wonderful stability was enjoyed 60% of the time by an MSM Prime Minister. That too after one or more partners had left the governing alliance.

Have We Been Talking About

Electoral Reform for Too Long?

Hell no! What in fact occurred is that we got sidetracked for at least a couple of decades. Why did that happen? One reason are terms of reference (TOR) that were too narrow. Take Sachs for instance. That commission was tasked to recommend the best ways to add a dose of PR – the Collendavelloo report had similar TOR. So it didn’t consider non-PR solutions – some of which can be quite elegant as I’ve shown already – which is a huge mistake. Actually it is worse than that as there was a brief prepared by the MMM which was attached to the TOR. This was followed by the Carcassone report which found that our NA was already too big but again proposed a PR-based solution and the Sithanen PR galimatia. Ramgoolam then took an eternity to come up with what looked like a half-baked term paper but which in fact was the Sithanen report less four PR seats. And finally in December 2014 voters sent a very clear message that they didn’t want the PR komeraz and the other rubbish.

Get in touch with your MP to tell him two things. One is that you’re watching him. The other is that we have an even more potent version of that fantastic siro zanana we administered to the LP/MMM alliance four years ago in stock. And in greater quantities too.