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Thoughts on Electoral Reform (I)

Not sure I understand the logic of giving us only 42 days to send our submissions on electoral reform after taking 389 days – that’s nine times more – to get the white paper out. It gets funnier when you realise that our Government is proposing nothing new. Nope. The Government is instead and essentially recommending that we adopt the January 2012 Sithanen report: something that is deeply flawed and shrinks dangerously our democracy. And which got a University of Mauritius student an ovation when he rightly said – after hearing it from the horse’s mouth – that it doesn’t solve anything.
The six weeks we have to read and comment on the report is also and evidently way too short when you notice the number of interesting articles – of the non-TINA variety – that almost immediately appeared in the Forum and elsewhere. I take a quick look at a few at the end of this piece.
But first let’s have a look at the 7 criteria that the State has used to map the issues that it thinks need to be considered.
1.     « Ensures Government Stability: the electoral system must provide for stable, effective and decisive Government. » « Stable » definitely. But « Effective and decisive Government » not too relevant here because lame Governments have been hatched by all kinds of electoral systems.
2.     « Promotes party fairness: to ensure increased correspondence between the share of votes and the share of seats won. » Yep. Up to a limit. But you don’t want to get too academic about this.
3.     « Fosters broad based socio-demographic inclusion: all components of our rainbow nation must secure adequate Parliamentary representation. » It is kind of difficult to measure the number of components in a melting pot like Mauritius. One Kher Jagatsingh summed it up nicely for us: « We’re all minorities ».
4.     « Promotes fair gender representation: the system should encourage the involvement of women in the political process and their enhanced presence in Parliament. » What about the other genders? Let Deven T. help you with this one. And I don’t know if you’ve paid any attention but there are three times more women in Parliament today than in 2000. Nice progression. But we need to maintain the momentum. Women can also run for office as independent candidates to beef up their numbers.
5.     « Provides for accountability: the electoral system should maintain and indeed strengthen the link between MP’s and their constituents. » Couldn’t agree more. So double candidacies and party lists are out.
6.     « Discourage communal parties: the voting formula should not exacerbate divisions in a multi-ethnic society like ours. » Lol! Would a voting formula have prevented the rise of a grumpy little moustachioed man in the 1930s in Germany? No, there is very little a voting formula can do about this. Have a look at the reasons for the recent Arab Spring. Our best bet against the rise of communal parties is better management. That’s it.
7.     « Enhance transparency: the voters must know for whom they are casting their votes beforehand. » Hasn’t this been like that for a long long time?
There are at least 3 criteria that need to be added.
1.     « The electoral system should allow the political scene to be refreshed. » Lindsey Collen suggests we allow recall elections. We could start by limiting the number of terms for the land’s most important jobs: Prime Minister, President, Leader of the Opposition and Minister of Finance. 
2.     « The electoral system should make provisions for referendums. » We can be asked one or more questions each time we go to vote in a general election or between general elections. Jack Bizlall is all for it. Our Government apparently too as P31 of the April 16, 2012 Government Programme 2012-2015 reads: « Government will introduce new enabling legislation providing for the people to be consulted by way of referendum on major constitutional and other issues. » Modifying our electoral system would indeed be a great question to float in a referendum. So I guess this enabling legislation has to be introduced pretty soon.
3.     « Parliament size should reflect size of population. » Our Parliament is already too big. If we benchmark against Canada we shouldn’t have more than 12 MPs. If we go by the Indian rate we should settle for 0.6 MP. There is a general consensus among right-thinking Mauritians that we should try to make our Parliament a bit smaller but that we should definitely not make it any bigger.
Finally, here are some of the interesting points made.
Lindsey Collen is saying that the price that’s being proposed to get rid of the BLS is way too high: the democratic space is being shrunk. She’s absolutely right.
Kugan Parapen stated that we haven’t seen all the possible voting patterns yet. Kind of really hard to disagree with him. In 2005 Valayden would have been elected in riding no. 19 if there was a shift of less than 1200 votes. Which would probably have happened in 2010 if the toxic bean-counters had been kept at bay early enough.
Joseph Tsang Man King proposes that we return to the pre-independence set-up of one-member constituencies and forty ridings but with a twist: that we increase the number of ridings to 80. Tsang Man King also recommends that any changes to our electoral system be validated through a referendum. And that we don’t shrink our democracy with party lists.

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