The value of a petition is that each signatory knows exactly what he or she is signing, and thus, by this common understanding, adds an additional voice to give more weight to a collective action. The action, in the case of a petition, is its demands. Demands in a petition must be coherent to be powerful. The power of a petition is that it unifies people in a single action, via the solemn act of each individual signing up to a clear-cut, conscious demand. This is the moral strength of the long tradition – here and in the whole world – of petitioning those in power.
If you ask a signatory to a petition, “What was it you signed?” if he or she cannot reply with precision, that means the petition is weakened. A petition represents the will of the signatories. So, signatories need to be proud of what they signed up to for the petition to be strong. They need to be able to explain to their friends, colleagues, relatives why they signed.
The petition being circulated during and after the Bruneau Laurette demonstration is not at all precise. The confusion in the drafting is so advanced that it is not possible to know what it was you signed, if you signed it.(1)
Here are a few of the principles that underpin ordinary good petitions:
1. It must be clear who is responsible for the petition
The first thing, when you sign a petition, is to know who launched it, is circulating and co-coordinating and then gathering and submitting it. The person or organization doing so must be known, and known to have some credibility. Signatories need to know that the co-ordinator, before submitting it, will take care to cross out clear forgeries, not to count any illegible names, or those without clear addresses, those where someone has signed more than one time, and those with frivolous pseudonyms.
The petition announced in the Bruneau Laurette march was taken charge of by the four people at the press conference the evening of the march: Bruneau Laurette, Trishna Balgobin, Sebastien Lenette and Corinne Lallman-Sit Yee, so it would seem they are the organizers of the petition. But they are not known to the public much. The petition is also on a site MorisPouTouDimoun and there are no names to be seen on the site, nor any precision as to the link between the site and the Bruneau Laurette team. So, it is not clear who is co-ordinating it.
The on-line petition at the MorisPouTouDimoun site has the merit of avoiding being one of those “click” petitions. You are requested to download, print, sign and hand in the petition. This is important because it recognizes a “conscious” element to the act of signing.
2. What category of people are invited to sign the petition
This petition is not clear on exactly who is supposed to be signing. In the name MorisPouTouDimoun it is perhaps implied that it could be “everyone”, i.e. not just citizens, not just residents. But, given the title, “Recall Petition”, those who would sign such a petition should be those on a relevant electoral register. Around this petition, Bruneau Laurette specifically invited the Mauritian diaspora to sign, not just electors.
There are two references in the petition to the fact that all signatories voted for the MSM-ML candidates in the November 2019 elections, thus it was them who elected this Government. We do not think it was their aim to restrain signatures this way, even though at least two of the four organizers, Bruneau Laurette and Trishna Balgobin, were, in fact, agents to MSM candidates, i.e. Kavi Ramano and Pravind Jugnauth.
3. The title of the petition must mean the same thing as its content
The title of the petition is “Recall Petition letter to the President”. This is not related to the actual demands in the petition.
The word “recall” has a precise meaning. It means to revoke. And the concept is clear: those who elect people are those who can recall them. For example, if members of an association elect its executive, then it is members who can revoke executive members. If it is regional delegates who elect the executive, then it is these delegates who can revoke them. So, for Members of Parliament, it would require a petition in the constituency concerned, and electors on the electoral list there would be qualified to sign for revocation. “We, voters in Constituency Number X elected Y as MPs, and we wish to revoke them on two points, A and B.” This would be a recall petition. Even if there is strictly speaking no Constitutional provision as yet for this kind of recall petition, it would nevertheless be a logical political act.
In the Laurette petition, however, there are three other concepts altogether in the content of the petition itself, none of which mean “revoke” or “recall”. They are three verbs, “dissolve”, “request” and “Call for” – actions the President is supposed to take:
“Dissolve Parliament” – dissolve does not mean recall. Recall and dissolution are two different concepts.
"Request the resignation of the Prime Minister.” Again, requesting a resignation is not the same as revocation. They are different concepts.
“Call for an Election” – call for an election does not mean revocation either. It is a different action.
The petition slips in a 4th demand as an afterthought: “imploring for the resignation of the failing government” – imploring is not revoking either. In addition, Government and Parliament are not the same thing.
Petitions involve signing, and signing has meaning. You can sign to acknowledge receipt of something, and then it is difficult to say you did not. You can sign to sell your house, and it is hard to get back. You can sign to swear you are telling the truth, and the consequence can be a fine or prison. You can sign to “accept full and final settlement” when your boss sacks you, or when the British kick you out of your home and then find they owed you a good deal more. Signing is an action. For a petition, it means you are calling for something precise.
All to say that the four demands enunciated in the petition do not corroborate with the title “Recall Petition”.
4. The person addressed must be the person relevant to the demand in the Title
When the petition “recalls” an elected person as mentioned in the title to the petition (“Recall petition letter”), it is not appropriate to petition the President of the Republic. He cannot “recall” MPs because he did not elect them. Each MP was elected by electors whose names are on the voting roll in one of the 21 constituencies, plus another 8 MPs who are nominated on the basis of their performance in terms of their votes, their party’s votes, and votes for their supposed “community”. Presumably the Electoral Commission would, should recall be introduced, recall these MPs.
So, it is perhaps inappropriate to be petitioning the President with a “Recall” petition.
5. Demands need clarity
Imprecise petitions are weak. And imprecision can have consequences. Dr. Catherine Boudet has shown the real life consequences of this kind of confused drafting (See her article in Le Mauricien 3 September). People end up signing something so poorly drafted that it runs the risk of promoting a putsch rather than the recall it actually aims to promote.
We do however know what the petition aims at, and we know it from the main slogan at the march, “Pack your bags and get out!” But, while it can be a funny slogan, it is not clear in the petition who should “Lev pake, ale!” It is certainly not the President.
But who is it? At one moment it is Parliament, at another, the Prime Minister, and at another still, the Government. These are not the same thing.
The tradition of petitions in Mauritius respects the need for signatories to understand with precision. This is why most petitions are in Kreol. Those not in Kreol have a Kreol translation. For people who cannot read, someone reads the petition to the signatory. We have only ever seen this petition in English.
6. The Addressee must be the person appropriate to the demands in the content
If we look at the four demands, they are either not appropriate or very weak – and it is not clear what the President of the Republic is supposed to do about any of them.
“Dissolve Parliament (under section 57 of the Constitution) with consultation of the Prime Minister.” There are only two conditions specified in this section under which such dissolution is permissible. If the President went outside of this, he might be moving towards a coup d’état.
“Request the resignation of the Prime Minister.” This demand would be better addressed to the man himself. Strangely, on the day of the march, while calling, in this petition, for the President to request the Prime Minister to resign altogether, there was another demarche: Rezistans ek Alternativ attempted to hand over a letter to the Prime Minister.
“Call for an Election”. This demand is reasonable and logical, even though not in the hands of the President. But, it is rather weak given that elections were just 10 months ago. Drafters of the petition seem aware of this weakness. At two places, they try to cover for this, by writing in the petition, “This is definitely NOT the governance and leadership that we voted for back on the 7th November 2019” and “Errors can be made, we have done so in electing this current government – We sincerely regret for this mistake, and hereby wishes to correct it by imploring for the resignation of the failing government.”
The fourth demand: “imploring for the resignation of the failing government”, if addressed to the President when he can’t make the Cabinet resign, is also inappropriate.
The reason given in the petition for all the demands is that signatories have, supposedly, voted wrongly in November when they elected their MPs. But, in truth, most signatories did not vote for the Government MPs. Only 37% made this “error” (in the “errors can be made” phrase). The rest did not vote for MPs who support Jugnauth, so did not make this error. The petition would thus be untruthful for the other 63% of people to sign since they did not vote for the Jugnauth supporters.
7. Avoiding Unintended Consequences
Then there are the dangers of unintended consequences. The petition reads: “... an oil spill from the Wakashio wreck on the coral reef. Could this catastrophe have been avoided? YES, with an efficient and prompt response from the Government.” Before any enquiry or Court proceedings, all blame is being lifted by signatories from the Japanese company that owns and/or manages the Wakashio and from their insurers. Is this what signatories wanted?
The petition is pasted below. While perusing it, you might check, paragraph by paragraph, how few paragraphs actually make logical sense.
The tradition of submitting petitions to those with power is sacred. We should be aiming to increase the value of our tools of struggle. There are not that many tools in the struggle for a more equal society, for a classless society, and petitions are a precious tool amongst them.
(1) THE PETITION
Recall Petition letter to The President
To The President of the Republic of Mauritius
During the last few months since the 2019 election, we have witnessed and endured the incapacity of the current government led by the Hon Pravind Kumar Jugnauth to be the leader and Prime Minister of our nation.
Government scandals immediately followed by cover-up, have been our daily lifestyle with a domination on us, the citizen, to beneficiate a FEW family members and close friends of those in power at the top of the Government.
This is definitely NOT the governance and leadership that we voted for back on the 7th November 2019
During the recent days since the 26th of July 2020, we have experienced the worst nightmare that any nation can dream of – our paradise island with its pristine beach and clear blue lagoon has turned dark with an oil spill from the Wakashio wreck on the coral reef.
Could this catastrophe have been avoided? YES, with an efficient and prompt response from the Government.
Unfortunately, we Mauritians are faced with the disaster and mismanagement of the elected Prime Minister Hon Pravind Kumar Jugnauth together with his government and this reality is known all over the world.
We have been deprived of our first constitutional right – the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law.
To this effect, and to ensure our future, and the future of our next generation, we hereby implore the President whose duty (under section 28 of the Constitution) is firstly - to be Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Republic of Mauritius and secondly – to uphold and defend the Constitution, to:
a. Dissolve Parliament (under section 57 of the Constitution) with consultation of the Prime Minister
b. Request the resignation of the Prime Minister
c. Call for an Election
As we, the citizens signing this petition have NO reason to believe that the current Prime Minister Hon Parvind (sic) Kumar Jugnauth can be the leader and Prime Minister of our nation anymore.
Errors can be made, we have done so in electing this current government – We sincerely regret for this mistake, and hereby wishes to correct it by imploring for the resignation of the failing government.
We need and desire a “Moris pou tou dimoun”.