At the post-election LALIT assembly of members held Sunday 24 November at the Grand River North West party headquarters, Ram Seegobin described the contestation of the recent general elections as being like a “bal fane” or “scattered shot” attack. Afterwards, during open discussion, people began to discern who most likely stands to gain from such a generalized, unfocussed series of attacks on the bourgeois electoral process – in addition, that is, to the “bad losers”. We came up with interesting observations.
LALIT notes at the outset that there are too many people not on the electoral rolls, a problem that needs to be addressed. And that the fact that two stray ballots got out of polling stations (or from somewhere else?) needs, also, to be enquired into very seriously. The fact that a third such ballot seems to have materialized, this time in Beau Bassin, is beginning to make the series smell rather more like a pre-planned attempt to afterwards discredit the elections. So, anyway, these two matters need investigation. LALIT has also, throughout, denounced the MBC’s outrageously biased reporting in favour of the Jugnauth regime, and in particular the falsified clips the MBC broadcast against Navin Ramgoolam. And we denounce the over-spending by candidates of all the bourgeois parties
But what is fueling the fire of this “bal fane” attack on the elections?
Ram Seegobin said let’s take a look. He said that the elections were challenged for not being “free and fair” even from, curiously, Nomination Day itself – i.e. before the elections. The Rezistans & Alternativ candidates said that the entire elections should be declared not “free and fair” because they had not been able to stand because they were unable or unwilling to auto-classify themselves by so-called community. (LALIT has opposed this auto-classifying and fought it from before RA existed, and LALIT protests, while standing, by drawing lots publicly for what to fill in.) RA have already, they say, contacted the UN to have the elections declared not “free and fair” – by what route the UN could do this is not clear. So, the RA contestation began before the election, and was widely reported in headlines in the Press and on private radio, and set the scene for what was to come.
The main opposition parties elected to the National Assembly (all of whom had lost at the elections) have now also begun preparing a legal challenge in the Courts. It is expected that they will file cases before Friday this coming week, when the 21-day time limit for challenges will be up. The PMSD, according to press reports, will concentrate on challenging the elections in Curepipe-Midlands Constituency No. 17, while the PT and MMM will concentrate on a series of other constituencies, including No. 1 in Port Louis, and number 14 Black River and numbers 15, 16 and 19 in Plaine Willems. All the constituencies where they are due to challenge the results are where scores are close. The parties argue, amongst other things, that with the irregularities (some 7,000 people reporting not being on the roll and two – now three – ballot papers being found after the elections), this could have changed the results. When their plaints are published, we will know whether they seek a recount or new elections, or what.
But, RA and the main opposition parties are not the only ones contesting the elections.
In the background, there is a kind of on-going hysteria from various other groups. These, too, began, here and there, before the elections. Once electors could SMS the electoral commission to check names on the voters’ roll, people began, quite early on, to discover that they were not on it, and that they had missed the window for rectifying this. The resentment this caused was then amplified on social media.
Since the elections, all manner of forms of contestation have developed, including on irrational points based often on the arrogance of ignorance. Let’s look at them:
1. There is an on-line petition to get the elections completely annulled, and to be held anew on 7 February. It is signed by some 60,000 people. The petition “is worth what such on-line petitions are worth”, Ram Seegobin said. In fact, the petition is drafted badly, starting somewhat confusingly, “People of mauritius (sic) are completely frustrated and unhappy with the election general (sic) of 2019. Too many fraud for their own personal gain (sic) …” and continuing in the same vein. The petition was initiated by someone not known to us called Farhaan Mohamed.
2. There is another initiative to go ahead with a “citizens census” of all those not on the voters’ roll. Jean-Francois Leckning, an ex-PMSD member, turned MMM, and then again PMSD (as far as we can follow) and someone close to the Labour Party Geraldine Hennequin-Joulia (she was in charge of Ramgoolam’s Confluences Literary Festival) gathered some one thousand people, they say, at the Centre Social in Rue St. Georges, and decided, while not contesting the elections, to gather people’s personal data and make up a register of those who had not been able to vote. So, they ask people to send them their names, addresses and ID card numbers on line!
3. There is yet another initiative around the platform called “Nu lavwa, Nu dinite”, which gathered people in Plaine Lauzun. Someone called Aneeshta Babooram, a Labour Party person denied investiture at the recent elections, is spokesperson. All sorts of other minor parties somehow coalesced in this effort. These included Dev Sunnassy and Yvor Tan Yan of 100% Citoyens, Parti Kreol Morisien, Ralliement pour la Patrie, Mouvement Patriotique (the Barbier half) and Lalyans Lespwar. It is worth adding that, during the election campaign after Nomination Day, LALIT member Lindsey Collen received a phone call from someone purporting to be a representative of the 100% Citoyens, inviting LALIT to a joint press conference of all “small parties” in the elections! Lindsey Collen said it sounded a bit weird, and she would get back to them. She said she assumed they had not invited any purely communal parties. Their representative replied that they had invited both the FSM and the PKM. Lindsey duly consulted with other LALIT leading members, who laughed out loud, and so she phoned the representative of 100% Citoyens and formally refused, saying that the proposal was “absurd” and “bizarre”. But anyway, a similar gathering did eventually take place, it seems, just after the elections at Plaine Lauzun. This assorted group then organized a series of mini-demonstrations of between 2 and 11 people in different constituencies and has called a central demonstration as well.
4. Then came the PT-PMSD-MMM challenges (already mentioned), which are not nation-wide, but constituency by constituency, Ram Seegobin said. First, lawyers from the parties met and then the parties began to gather “proof”. There is something curious about how it happened. For example, when results came out, MMM leader Paul Berenger said that we should all respect the results “san amertim”. But then, once there was the “malaise généralisé” in the country, he followed behind this, saying the election was “mal-gayne”. Xavier Duval acted in a similar way. It was as if these Opposition Parties were “tail-ending” the generalized hysteria that was brewing here and there, and being amplified on social media.
5. And there is one other legal contestation from an unusual quarter: Roshi Bhadain’s Reform Party. It has challenged the elections in Rose-Hill (no 19) where its candidate there came 13th! The aim, apparently, is to attempt to get the elections in all constituencies annulled on the basis of winning in this one constituency. The case is to be based on “electoral bribery” i.e. the decision to increase pensions and bring forward Pay Research Bureau payments, and the promise to deal with Super Cash Back Gold refunds after the crash of the BAI. But, Bhadain would have to put in 19 other cases, as the law stands, and his 21-day delay would be over by then.
Role of the Media
Leaving aside the social media, which tend to accentuate various kinds of hysteria, we note that two of the Press groups did not particularly promote the hysteria but instead reported factually on problems in the electoral process as they came up. Le Mauricien-WeekEnd were largely factual, while even the Le Defi group reported problems factually without going over-board. However, the daily newspaper L’Express, the main voice of the historical bourgeoisie, the sugar cane barons, has consistently amplified the hysteria around electoral fraud and turned the elections to derision. L’Express quotes, for example, completely anonymous sources to tear the elections apart. L’Express generally views the elections as if it is the Press of an imperial power criticizing elections in a somewhat inferior ex-colony. There is a very ignorant video-clip, posing as sophisticated satire, that L’Express has fabricated and pasted on-line – with hideous xenophobic “comedy” as well as possible race stereotyping and anti-woman overtones.
It is clear that L’Express has had a long-standing feud with the MSM – sometimes on excellent points, like exposing the former President of the Republic for her business dealings from Le Reduit. But, that does not excuse attacking the electoral process. We must not lose sight of what class L’Express represents. But more about that later in the article.
The lack of knowledge of how elections are run
LALIT members are shocked at the uninformed nature of the criticisms of the electoral system and its procedures coming from the so-called intelligentsia. People seem not to know that it is the political parties that have the democratic role of checking on the way the electoral system works, and that this is the strength of the Mauritian system. The work of checking is the work of party activists, militants and agents. So, all the arguments about whether ballots were pushed into piles inside the transparent urns (over the course of 11 hours of electoral staff nudging them with a ruler) is really a silly debate. The jokes about it are infantile at best, positively harmful at worst. All the agents of the big political parties who sat watching the staff, the ballots and the ballot box in the room, have not been brought forward as witnesses by those who claim fraud. It is as though the parties have become so feeble that they just pay agents for a day’s presence nowadays without training them. It is as though the mainstream parties have forgotten that democratic processes rely upon the vigilance of their own members during the electoral process. And then, the Press just blindly follows suite without thinking.
People, including many of us in LALIT, did not even go and check our names on the electoral rolls that are re-constructed each year. Even when we can now, in 2019, just send an SMS to check, and do not even have to go to a local school, we have become careless and we do not check. Parties, too, have a role here in mobilizing everyone to go check.
Who stands to gain from the questioning of the results?Obviously those who lost the election, though they lost quite thoroughly, hope to gain something by making out they should have won, or at least lost less badly. In addition, Navin Ramgoolam has given us this kind of performance once before. In 1991, he said he was “perplex” and then that it was an “eleksyon marday”. He thinks he should have won so therefore, if he did not, it means there was electoral fraud. So, 2019 is a kind of “re-make”. It turns out that he even negotiated to have some special metal seals (four or five per ballot box) imported from the USA put on all the ballot boxes in at least two constituencies (Nos 5 and 10 – where he, himself, was to stand). But, what happened to his party agents when it came to breaking the seals? Either they could not open them, or they were not even present? In fact, no-one there could open the gadgets. So, the electoral officers had to go out and by dozens of pairs of pliers to cut through these stainless steel bands.
Navin Ramgoolam seems to have no confidence in his own agents to check anything at all. He insists on personally checking. Even his two colleague candidates in his party do not seem to have his confidence to do checking. All this added to making counting of ballots begin very late, and end way into the night, or even only the next morning. All this to say, that the Opposition Parties obviously stand to gain by the disorder created, even when they contributed to it.
During debate at the LALIT meeting, it became clear that there are two other powers (or forces) that stand to gain from the effects of any generalized contestation of the election results.
First, though we in LALIT know that the MSM-ML alliance is pro-capitalist, the capitalist class is furious with the MSM-ML’s concessions to the working class – whether the new Awards (Remuneration Orders) that improve work conditions and pay in 34 different work sectors, the new minimum wage and an increase in it, the sharp increases in pensions for the old, widowed and those living with a disability, the negative income tax, as well as the new contributions bosses now have to make to “portable lump sums on retirement” for all workers in the formal sector. All these measures have infuriated the bourgeoisie. So, while the last thing they want is yet another election, the sugar cane bosses do want the newly elected government to feel weak (at least relative to them) especially when their very existence in this lame-duck industry is at stake, and depends upon absurd increased government subsidies, and scorched-earth selling-off of arable land to the world’s millionaires with State permission. L’Express is, as we mentioned, the main voice of the boss’s political current.
Secondly, while we, in LALIT, continually deplore Pravind Jugnauth’s bowing down to the UK and USA by saying they can keep the military base on Diego Garcia while restoring the rest of Chagos to Mauritius, the UK and USA are both absolutely furious with Pravind Jugnauth for daring to challenge their occupation of Chagos at all. The UK and USA have been publicly humiliated by both the ICJ and the General Assembly. They also need a weakened, encircled Jugnauth regime.
The big delegation of International Election Observers (including senior people from the SADC countries) concluded that the elections were by-and-large free and fair. They were impressionné par le déroulement des élections. They did, however, point rightly to abuses by the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation, already reprimanded by the Electoral Supervisory Commission, and to the fact that so short a time between declaring elections and holding them made all preparations extremely difficult. This, we in LALIT say, is the fault of Pravind Jugnauth. He no doubt intended, as he had in fact said, to hold elections in 2020 after having launched the new Metro properly, the beautiful new ENT Hospital, two fine new Eye Hospitals (Souillac and Jeetoo), the new Supreme Court, the new Stadium in Cote d’Or, as well as other regional projects like the big new Area Health Centre in Petite Riviere. However, with a by-election to avoid, and two pending court judgments that could derail his campaign, he was forced to bring the election forward and impose a very short campaign, in the difficult period when schools used for voting and counting centres were still being used for SC and HSC examinations and when less trained staff were available. As it turns out, Pravind Jugnauth could indeed have had his campaign affected negatively – there was a guilty verdict and jail sentence for one of his main aides, Prakash Maunthrooa, in the Boskalis corruption scandal, and then there was the dismissal of the criminal case for the Rs240 million found in the coffers of his main rival, Navin Ramgoolam.
Anyway, the SADC announcement after the elections ended in more of this “bal fane” type contestation. The RA militants and Jeff Lingaya questioned the SADC observations and recommendations, and caused enough of a disturbance to lead to the expulsion of Jeff Lingaya.
All this to say, the elections, as a whole, were indeed organized under extremely difficult circumstances for the Electoral Commissioner and his staff.
LALIT believes that the democratic control of ordinary people in their political parties is what needs to be nurtured during elections. We do not call for more bureaucratic controls or State controls, but for more democratic controls.
Important changes in electoral law should include a tightening up of expenditure of candidates and of their respective parties and well-wishers.
It is ironical that, as usual, it is a revolutionary party like LALIT (which aims for much more democracy than the little provided under bourgeois rule) ends up being the only party to defend bourgeois democracy from attack. The bourgeoisie does not defend it, and the petty-bourgeoisie, a class without a political project, does not even realize it is attacking the little democracy that there is.