The deposit for standing in General Elections in 2010, only four years before the recent elections, was Rs250. The 6-fold increase to Rs1, 500 is quite crippling for some 50% of the voting population, effectively disenfranchising them, by making candidature well-nigh impossible – for them, or for parties they might set up. So the very little democracy that the capitalist system allows is now thus even further curtailed.
What is the argument of the Authorities for this grotesque change in the law? In L’Express 16 November last year, Electoral Commissioner Irfan Rahman says, “Nous avons augmenté la caution après mûre réflexion. La somme de Rs 250 date de 1968. La valeur réelle de cette somme aujourd’hui est de Rs 8 868.”
How strange that an electoral officer of his standing should bring forward so mindlessly bureaucratic an argument. Any statistician can certainly come up with a figure similar to this, which in any case we, in LALIT, are not questioning. The cost of living is just not the point.
But how can Mr. Rahman not see that the original sum of Rs250 as a deposit was a left-over from the hideous, colonial “property qualifications “for voting and for standing as candidate? These property qualifications had existed for 80 years from the late 1880s until the year 1959, when finally there was universal suffrage, just 9 years before Independence. It was in that decade that, as a compromise with the conservatives, who were against universal suffrage and against Independence, that the sum of Rs250 was imposed as a deposit, a hefty sum at the time.
To make the point clearer: if a party fields 60 candidates today at the rate that Mr. Irfan Rahman’s statisticians worked on, it would cost that party half a million rupees, i.e. Rs500,000. This proves that it the Rs250 deposit in 1968 was a vestigial property qualification.
And such a vestigial property qualification does not change its nature when you take it and multiply it again and again for increases in the cost of living. The language and literacy “qualifications” are similar vestiges of slavery that have lived on, just as this Rs250 was, in 1968, a relic of the same unequal, domineering system. Over the past 46 years since Independence, this property qualification (the deposit of Rs250), in contrast with the language and literacy qualifications, became less and less a real qualification, because Mauritian money has inexorably lost its value. Mr. Irfan Rahman and others, who believe in democracy, should have rejoiced. But, no. They pretend it was a “just figure” in 1968, a figure that any statistician can by bureaucratic means multiply to get the sum of Rs 8,868, and then be magnanimous about and reduce to a “mere” Rs 1,500.
Maybe senior staff at the electoral commissioner’s offices is out of touch with reality. Rs 1,500 are a lot of money to the 8% unemployed in Mauritius, with no income at all. Since “unemployed” is defined by Statistics Mauritius as anyone who has worked less than one hour (repeat, ONE HOUR) in the previous week before their survey, let us assume that the real unemployment is at least double this. Well, that is a lot of people to disenfranchise by a mere Regulation. And what about the 100,000 workers that earns around Rs6,000 per month or less, and this according to the labour laws? Are they to be expected to expend a quarter of the income on which they feed their family, on a deposit? And what about old-age pensioners and those on disability pensions, some 100,000 - 200,000 people living on just Rs5,000 a month. If the senior electoral staff are in touch with the reality of the poorer half of the country, must we believe that they just intentionally want to disenfranchise this half of the people of the country?
As everyone knows, the right to vote is closely linked to the right to stand candidate. Without candidates, nobody can vote. The democratic principle is that everyone who has the right to vote, has the right to stand as candidate. In Mauritius there are already serious inroads into this principle: the civil service prohibits all its employees from standing as candidate; many common work-contracts in the private sector similarly prohibit participation in elections, without the relevant clause being struck out as illegal; those who cannot read and write, nor speak fair English, can see their elections annulled, should they stand and be elected. So, democracy is still very undeveloped in Mauritius.
Now, things have got worse since 2014. Now we are back to a money qualification. In the late 1880s, you had to own a building with a monthly rental value of Rs25, or earn a monthly salary of more than Rs50. We would probably need to multiply by 100 in 2014, as a guess, to get the figure for today: Own a building bringing in a rental value of Rs2,500 per month or earn a salary of Rs5,000 a month, in 2014. The Rs1,500 deposit now stipulated in the new Regulations is probably a tougher money qualification than the 1880 property qualification. It is just as effective in disenfranchising poor people.
We call for this abominable Regulation to be rescinded before the next elections, as part of any electoral reform.
LALIT, 22January, 2015.