LALIT welcomes the beginning of a proper debate on electoral reform. We believe it is the moment to debate how to move towards more democracy. We take the MSM-ML proposals made public earlier today as the initiation of the debate. They can be no more than that because the MSM-ML does not have a 3/4 majority, and all the other parties have gradually announced that they will not be voting for the reforms as they are.
We note that MSM and ML concentrates all its energy into exactly how the National Assembly is constituted while failing to notice that this very Parliament is still so utterly dominated by the executive, by the Cabinet, as to be well-nigh a mere rubber-stamp.
So, LALIT’s first aim during the public debate is to throw out for discussion the idea of how to make the elected part of Parliament itself more powerful relative to the Cabinet. LALIT has already begun to put these ideas on how to change the balance of forces within the Assembly between elected MPs and nominated Ministers) on radio programs and in the Press from the very day of the MSM-ML proposals.
We note that in Pravind Jugnauth’s list of 6 guiding principles, none refers to the need to aprofondi demokrasi. After 50 years of independence, his list does not even refer to the need for the decolonisation of a system based on giving the executive power inherited from the dictatorship of Colonial rule.His 6 principles are: To maintain the first-past-the post system, to introduce a bit of proportional representation, to get rid of declaration of one’s so-called community, to ensure one-third of candidates are women, to respect the winning party (or alliance)’s initial first-past-the-post margin from the other parties, and to ensure an anti-defection measure in the 12 proportional representation MPS and in the new 6-10 MPs named from amongst the “best losers” in the election.
From LALIT’s point of view, the over-reaching aim should be to introduce more democracy from the point of view of the people – by reforms that increase the power of elected representatives relative to the executive Branch, by giving the people more control over their elected representatives (not less), and by increasing peoples’ power and control over their representatives relative to the power of the Cabinet and to power of the party leaders over these representatives.
First we need, during the process of electoral reform, to change the balance of forces between Parliament (the totality of elected people, that is all the Opposition MPs and all the back-benchers as well as ministers) and the executive. The Cabinet that controls the executive is nominated (from amongst MPs) by the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President, and who then acts somewhat like a King-in-Cabinet i.e. not democratically.
So, how do we make the Parliament stronger relative to the Cabinet.
Need to increase the Size of Parliament relative to the Cabinet even more
The first way is to increase the size of Parliament while decreasing the size of the Cabinet. This gives numeric strength to the elected members relative to the executive. So, LALIT proposes 4 MPs per constituency, i.e. 21 x 4. This gives 84 MPs. And since we are at a crossroads on the Chagos issue, and the need to democratise and even to de-colonize Chagos, involves a new MP for Chagos right away, even before the country is re-unified. So that makes 85 MPs on the first-past-the-post vote. Then, there can be 20 MPs elected on a separate ballot where electors vote for a Party, coming to a grand total of 105. (By the way, at Independence, Mauritius’population was around 600,000 while it is now nearing 1.3 million; and to give an idea of the numeric balance of forces in Britain, there are 650 MPs and 21 Ministers – during the war, Churchill had a War Cabinet of 6.) We think the Cabinet, by contrast, can be reduced to 15.
Doing Away with Institutionalized Communalism
This enlargement of Parliament plus the 20 proportional seats should be sufficient to subsume the communal best loser system, thus doing away with one form of institutionalized communalism. The choosing of 6 best losers by the party leaders is not ideal – though it is less dangerous than leaving the communal best loser in place.
Power of the Leader
There is a huge out-cry against this MSM-ML proposal for the party leader to choose the 6 Best Loser MPs, even though it does away with the need for the institutionalized communalism of the existing Best Loser System. It after all allows the leader to choose MPs on other grounds than community – from candidates who stood in either a Constituency or on the PR list – like technical skills, being leaders, or being women, or whatever. What is interesting is that most people who raise hell about power being given to party leaders are the same people who have often done little to do away with the communalism of the best loser system, little to nurture democracy within political parties, and have never whispered against the party leader, the minute he becomes Prime Minister, choosing his all-powerful Cabinet, a Cabinet that then dominates all the representatives that we all elected! Some of those in the out-cry may even be the very same ones who call for Ministers to be able to be selected from people who are not even elected MPs or even candidates at all, as is the case in France!
Each MP should be under the democratic control of a constituency
LALIT accords importance to all MPs having to answer to a Constituency. This, too, decreases the power of the party leader. This is why we counter-propose that all the 20 Proportional Representation seats be off the party list, submitted before the election, and which lists in order names from amongst their 80-85 possible candidates already standing in Constituencies. This way, all MPs are under the scrutiny of a Constituency. The importance of this is that the people in the Constituency then potentially control all the MPs. The Pravind Jugnauth proposal specifically excludes people from standing both in a Constituency and on the PR list, thus producing 12 + (6 to 10) MPs who do not have to answer to the people in a Constituency. This is surely less democratic.
The MSM-ML proposal looks to a legal, not a democratic, way of preventing defection from the 12 + (6 to10) nominees. LALIT proposes democracy: introduce a simple way of recalling an MP by electoral petition signed by over 50% of the voters in the constituency. This makes for more democracy.
That one-third or more candidates should be women may bring positive dynamics – but only in so far as women continue to mobilize for a proper program for women’s emancipation, and do not take this quota of women candidates as a substitute for women’s liberation, or as a panacea against patriarchy and all its hierarchies of power.
The debate is, we hope, going to be rich.