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Boris Johnson Bye-Election Defeat highlights value of Right of Recall v/s Jugnauth Bill to increase state control over parties

06.08.2019

Boris Johnson’s Conversative Party last week lost a bye-election. In addition to being of political interest, it is also important that the bye-election was triggered by a right of recall, or right to revoke MPs – just what LALIT has been calling for over the years: more democracy, like the right to recall, as a way of preventing corruption in politics. Recently other parties like Ganoo’s Mouvement Patriotique and Obeegadoo’s Platform Militant have taken a position in favour of the LALIT proposal for the first time.


In Britain, Chris Davies was revoked as MP after being found guilty of fraud. He had in 2018 been referred by the equivalent of the ESC to the Courts, and then found guilty of fraudulent parliamentary expenses claims. An electoral petition rallied 19% of the electorate to recall him, when 10% would have sufficed. It is the second successful recall petition in the UK, where the grounds are, by the way, very limited. But, it shows how the right of recall is one of the democratic ways to tackle corruption.


 This bit of news from Britain highlights the reactionary nature of the Political Financing Bill that Pravind Jugnauth proposed in Parliament supposedly to deal with corruption. It also exposes the dangerous “bureaucratic” logic behind the Transparency Mauritius ongoing campaign for the State to control political parties via repressive laws.


 It should, of course, be the people, not the state, that get more power. It should be democracy that is strengthened, instead of introducing even more bureaucracy.


 Political Financing Bill: Repressive law fortunately lacked necessary votes


The MSM-ML Government, in its haste to show how it has fulfilled electoral promises, came up with a Political Financing Bill (PFB) in Parliament. They avoided any consultations with the Opposition, even though they well knew that they needed a 3/4 majority to make the concommitant constitutional amendment. This indicates they did not mind at all if the Bill failed. It did fail.


 In LALIT, we say it is fortunate that the Bill did not get 3/4. Good riddance to a dangerous Bill.


 LALIT had in fact written to the Opposition Leader, Xavier Duval, and all the other leaders of Parliamentary parties (the MMM, Labour, Mouvement Patriotique, and the two independent MPs, to oppose the Bill. Finally, the Opposition Parties did vote against. But their reasons were not the same as those of LALIT.


 LALIT’s objections to the Bill


To start with, the very idea that legislating to give the State control over political parties is a bad thing. It is not lack of State control over political parties that is the problem. State control would herald a new series of problems even more serious than the existing one of the corruption of mainstream political parties.


 What is the problem? It is the lack of ongoing peoples’ control over political parties that is the problem. It is the poverty of our democracy.


 Most of the mainstream parties – with the exception of the MMM, to some extent – don’t even have a semblance of internal democracy. They have no means for the members to control the leadership. This is a problem of lack of democracy. So, the solution is to nurture democracy more. It is certainly not a solution to go for State control over parties or bureaucratic solutions or, worse still, repression, as the Bill does.


 The law being proposed would give the state ultimate control over political parties – and it is not lack of state control that is the problem. Very quickly this will mean that political parties will be controlled by the regime in power, i.e. the political party in power.


 So, we have, first and foremost, to mobilize to vote against parties that have no internal democracy, or that are controlled by outside capitalist lobbies. There is no short-cut.


 But, the problem is the difficulty that the masses of the people have in removing a corrupt party or one that has not respected its program. This is partly because of the money that the parties get from the capitalists, money they then use in order to confuse and manipulate by ads, and otherwise corrupt the electorate – often by buying off working class opinion leaders at the grass-roots level.


 There are two or three ways we can begin to get this kind of control, which will always be fragile within capitalist reign:


 1. In the long term, voting people will have to be conscious of the necessity for a program to change society, and to be prepared not just to vote, but also to work, for this program for change to become reality. Twice in history, the broad masses have, in fact, voted against the party the bourgeoisie finances. First was when the Labour Party beat the Parti Morisyin (later called the PMSD), the sugar barons’ party. Second, was when the MMM in 1976 got more seats than Labour (by then controlled by a section of the bourgeoisie) and more than the bosses’ party, the PMSD. This will mean voting out the corrupt parties.


2. The existing laws on “electoral expenses” and other forms of electoral corruption have a major loop-hole that needs to be closed. This can be repaired by a change in the law. It is not difficult. In the past, one MP’s seat was declared vacant by the Courts for his abusing state power in an electoral context. That was Ashok Jugnauth.


3. A constitutional amendment to introduce the right of recall for, inter alia, electoral malpractice or fraud.


 The Jugnauth Bill would have, had it become law, made things worse. The regime in power would have gained control over other parties. This is very serious. It would open the way to a dictatorship.  The first thing that would have happened is that the Electoral Supervisory Commission, until now a much-respected institution, would first become a “Super-Registrar” with powers of investigation, and then gradually become a kind of Gestapo in the hands of the regime. (Already, as if to signal this, Pravind Jugnauth nominated his private attorney Ammanah Ragavoodoo on to the ESC. And this came after having withdrawn an earlier nomination of someone even closer to his family, Sharmila Sona Ori.) This tendency towards state, and then regime, control over political parties was LALIT’s main reason for opposing the Bill.


 The Opposition parties, by contrast, had different reasons. Some thought that the Bill should have included State funding for political parties, as an earlier proposal had done. Others thought the ceiling for spending too high. Other thought the fines too draconian. Others thought it would make it impossible to get anyone to be a party treasurer with these draconian fines. But they missed the main point: the Bill gave the regime a route to controlling all other parties.


 There is a whole dossier on the reasons to oppose any Political Financing Bill that gives more state power over political parties in Revi LALIT Number 138 (August-September), which will be uploaded into the web-site’s “Documents Section".