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The Danger of “New Constitutions” and “2nd Republics” a-la-Ramgoolam


Electoral reform, as it impinges on politics, is creating a veritable conundrum. People have difficulty understanding it all. Press articles are full of factual inaccuracies and are often analytically flawed, with journalists repeatedly falling for politicians’ doublespeak.

While reading what we in LALIT think, it is worth bearing in mind:

- Constitutional changes need a 3/4 majority, so Labour needs MMM’s votes or an alliance before snap elections.
- There are time pressures: the UN Human Rights Committee gives till March for Government to report on its intentions. Municipals are due this year, and Labour needs to ally with the MMM beforehand or risk losing out to the MMM-MSM Remake.

Proportional representation: MMM and Labour’s Views
Paul Bérenger’s MMM has for over 30 years wanted “a dose of proportional representation” (PR). Their reason: it better reflects, in the National Assembly, how people voted at the polls; it also tends to better reflect community.

Labour has always been against PR. Their reason: once a team has won a majority in constituencies, it is as bizarre to change the result as it would be to change the final score of a football match afterwards, by adding a goal for, say, every 25% of “ball possession”.

Ramgoolam has over the past few years, however, changed his personal position – without Labour or its Government necessarily following. Ramgoolam now links his new position on PR with other political goals:

(i) doing away with communal classification,
(ii) doing away with the Best Loser System (BLS) but making sure all “communities” are represented – whatever this means,
(iii) concluding an alliance with the MMM (preferably before Municipals?),
(iv) instituting a “New Constitution” or “2nd Republic” where Ramgoolam (who already has too much power) will become President with power and Paul Bérenger become Prime Minister.

The PMSD’s position is similar to the MMM’s. The MSM’s is similar to Labour’s traditional line.

LALIT’s position is that PR will help make the BLS superfluous. PR will also be one of the mechanisms that can increase the size of the Legislature relative to the Executive (Cabinet, PPSs etc).

We, in LALIT, have long fought to replace the BLS as part of electoral reform. We have done so without resorting to any lies or subterfuge. It is a politicalbattle. It needs to be won openly.

The BLS has by contrast been challenged obliquely, even sneakily, by Bérenger and then Subron over the years. Mauritius has meanwhile become one big marshland of institutionalized communalism, through the growth of socio-religious organizations interfaced with political power, even as all those in favour of electoral reform were reduced to Waiting for Godot – in the form of the Privy Council and the UNHRC. These are, in any case, both blunt instruments.

But, what are the positions of other parties on the BLS?

Best Loser System: MMM and Labour’s Views
While the MMM’s Re-make partner the MSM, is in favour of keeping the BLS, Bérenger has always practised doublespeak.

He had always said the MMM would not touch the BLS; the system, and its Schedule to the Constitution, would “die a natural death”. (How ridiculous that a politician gets away with this!) Meanwhile, in 1982 he had removed the BLS’s “life support” mechanism – the special Census question classifying people into one of the four communities the Constitution specifies. All along, his discourse remained that he would not touch the BLS. He even briefed Albie Sachs not to. In 2005, he went further. While Prime Minister, he welcomed the Balancy judgment for removing the other “life support” mechanism – candidates for general elections were no longer obligated to classify themselves. The BLS went ahead after Balancy, Bérenger still vowing not to touch it.
So, Bérenger’s triple speak has involved attacking the BLS, while saying it is hunky-dory, and yet predicting its “natural death”. This is not a wise way of proceeding on issues with communal implications.

It assumes that your adversaries are either gullible or stupid; they have perhaps been gullible so far – or maybe it will turn out they were cunning – but they have never been stupid. By now, their gullibility has been worn out by the 7-year Subron doublespeak, which is much the same as Bérenger’s. Rezistans have maintained (even under oath) that they are not challenging the BLS; that if they don’t fill in one of the four said communities on their Nomination Paper, the BLS and its calculations will not be hindered. They thus dupe those in favour of maintaining the BLS and the judiciary, while they boast in the Press of attacking the BLS courageously. (How ridiculous, too, that a politician gets away with this!)

The intelligence of our adversaries who are in favour of maintaining the BLS and/or communal classification is, of course, intact. Yousouf Mohamed, Raouf Gulbul, Gaetan Jacquette, Jimmy Jean Louis, Philip Fanchette, Pramila Patten, Me. D’Unienville, and Kris Poonoosamy are all intelligent people but, so far, still in favour of new communal classification for BLS purposes. Of course, the Views of the UNHRC have put wind in their sails.
Fortunately, Ramgoolam and Bérenger reject outright any new classification for BLS purposes.

What about Labour, as a party? It has no position on the BLS. The PMSD will follow suit, it seems, whatever.

However, Ramgoolam has got his line, and he thinks “L’Etat c’est moi”.

He is against the BLS – though sometimes only against classification of candidates. But he uses the issue to make himself even more Monarchical e.g. when the Privy Council statutes that Rezistans pay costs incurred by the State in its defense, he personally waives this money. Ramgoolam’s line trumps all – the Labour Party has no position on the BLS, let alone the Government, still less the State. The bourgeois State, of course, has an ordinary duty to defend its Electoral Officers, uphold the Constitition, respect judgments of the Full Bench and of the Privy Council. Unless we are some kind of a crazy Alice-in-Wonderland Republic. Now Subron calls on Ramgoolam to step forward in Court and promise electoral reform, as if “L’Etat c’est Navin.” But he is merely PM. Here today, voted out tomorrow. It is Parliament that amends laws. And Ramgoolam already has too much power. And that brings us to the third level of argument.

“New Constitution”, “Second Republic” a-la-Ramgoolam: MMM and Labour’s Views

The MMM is fortunately not too keen on the Ramgoolam idea of a President with power. However, Paul Bérenger is getting worn out trying to become Prime Minister, and he may end up clutching at these ghastly straws.

Ramgoolam has publicly said he wants to be President with power. But, otherwise, negotiations are secret. Now in Beau Bassin in the dark of night. Now with Alan Ganoo.

And what is the exact link between all these layers of negotiations? When one layer becomes public, does it means others are already negotiated in private? 99% of what was settled?
Ramgoolam is linking PR, communal classification, and the BLS, to his bizarre and worrying project to get more power. “Bizarre” because if there is, as Guy Carcassonne put it, nothing broken, why fix it? “Worrying” because communal barter is dangerous. It threatens a new form of institutionalized communalism of the worst ilk.

Weak Reflection
As if in a reflection of the weird donan-donan of the Labour and MMM leaders, Ashok Subron and Jack Bizlall have done a similar deal.

Subron tells the Courts all he wants is to get rid of the obligation to classify himself to stand for Elections, swearing this will in no way hinder the BLS, while he simultaneously tells the Press he is bravely attacking the BLS head-on. He thus inverses Bérenger’s trick.

Bizlall publicly says he disagrees with Subron on this tactic. Yet he is in Blok 104, and even in the new Group 72. So, it is his tactic, but he does not agree with it. (How ridiculous that a politician gets away with this!)

The tactic is clearly erroneous. While it may lead to the removal of the BLS, it may also have delayed the electoral reform that could have dealt with it seven years ago. But either way, it has unfortunately already led to a resurgence of the political “will” for keeping the BLS, to a dubious Pronouncement from the UNHRC on updating the 1972 Census, to a political “will” for new communities.

But Bizlall goes along with Subron. Why? Because Subron goes along with him on his pet project of a “2yem Repiblik”. So, they set up a formal alliance,“ Platform pu enn Nuvo Konstitisyon”. All they will get is the risk of a New Constitution a-la-Ramgoolam, which could be much worse that what we’ve got now, given the present balance of class forces in the country.

What they do, in sum, all ends up playing right into the hands of Ramgoolam. He is the “progressiste”. He is the “socialiste” . He is the “anti-communaliste.” He heralds a “New Constitution” for which they paved the way.

What to do?
We are now further back than where we were in 2000, after Yousouf Mohamed took LALIT and others to Court, bringing the Seetulsing Judgment that called for urgent electoral reform. And the balance of forces in society as a whole is now much less propitious than then. The communalist organizations in Mauritius have increased their leverage relative to the Regime and to the Parliamentary Opposition.

We need to understand all that is going on. We need to be on our guard for the absurd cobbling together of Constitutional amendments and political alliances to suit leaders in tight corners. We must remember we are dealing with rather desperate men. Ramgoolam wants his ¾ majority. Bérenger wants to be PM. Communalists want ethno-religious social bases to whip up. And the country is in a grave economic crisis.
We need proper informed and rational debate, amongst the broad masses at every level. This is the way to bring about political change for the better.

Lindsey Collen, LALIT, 10 October, 2012.