Young people may not know this important fact: Village Elections were abolished by the MSM-MMM-PMSD Government in 2002 by a vote in the National Assembly, and LALIT ran a three-year campaign that got them re-instated in 2005.
We did not do it alone. LALIT branch members all over the countryside contacted residual “Village Councilors” and even teams that had lost in previous village elections, and mobilized the entire countryside against the abolition of Village democracy. We mobilized so much support that the Opposition Labour Party agents all over the country insisted that the Labour Party include the resuscitation of rural democracy in its electoral program in July 2005, which they did. And under pressure from rural people, especially grass roots activists, and as a direct result of LALIT’s grassroots political campaign, Labour and its Lalyans Sosyal passed a law repealing the anti-democratic laws passed by the previous MSM-MMM Government within months of coming to power.
Here is the history.
Village Councils, representing local-level democracy first won in 1952 after mass rebellions in the countryside during the economic crises of the 1940’s, were totally dismantled by the MSM-MMM-PMSD government. They postponed any regional elections in rural areas for three consecutive years, and then abolished Village Elections and Village Councils altogether.
LALIT’s campaign was attacked in the bourgeois press. So our campaign was against the Government and the leaders of the Press.
(1) The MSM-MMM-PMSD brought in a Bill, which, half-way through Lalit’s initial campaign amongst Village Councillors, they then drastically amended, themselves. For example, the MSM-MMM Government removed its original drafting which enabled the appointment of Comite Quartier to replace Village Councils. They also removed another bit about the President of the Republic having the power to wipe out any new-style “municipality” that would replace village councils for any reason. However, the Bill still maintained the abolition of Village Councils. It “replaced” all the existing Village Councils with centralized, bureaucratized institutions that could be run by the two or three big parties and not by the neighbourhood-level groups, teams and parties, as was (and still is) the practise until now in Village Councils. The law was voted in the National Assembly in 2002. However, it was not proclaimed. The MSM-MMM then kept nominating new Village Council members - mainly their party agents - to the expired Village Councils as the elected members resigned, one after the other, following our campaign.
It was only then that everyone saw the reason for the centralization: the Government wanted to push through changes in where roads went to make way for big hotel projects and to get through big Integrated Resort Scheme projects, without any democratic consultations. Which later Governments, including Jugnauth’s present MSM Government, have since done, through other means.
At the time, the Parti Travayist as Parliamentary Opposition party, had only a very cool, formalistic resistance to the law. When a LALIT member was delegated to approach the then Opposition, they actually refused to run a campaign against the abolition of Village Elections, confessing that the new system would “benefit their party”.
So LALIT was the only political force to campaign.
And campaign we did. It was only after pressure from the people of the countryside that, during the electoral campaign in order to gain support, that Labour included this measure in their program.
LALIT’s campaign had a number of prongs. We sent a letter each to the 1,500 elected Village Councillors, calling for them to take stands against the Bill. Many did. And we called on them to resign, as a sign of respecting their popular mandate. Some whole councils did, and many individual councillors.
We also sent a letter to each of the over 2,500 who were defeated candidates in the previous Village Elections of 1997.
Then we went to meet councillors and candidates individually, and as whole councils. This is what won over all the local grass-roots leaders in the country.
We actually met councillors for formal sessions in about three-quarters of all villages in the country, and had formal assemblies with some 23 villagers.
We also distributed leaflets (some 10,000) nation-wide.
We sent letters to the Press and held Press conferences. We had a long polemic with Gilbert Ahnee, the then editor of Le Mauricien, who chided us for thinking the government would ever be so dastardly as to postpone elections more than once. He also showed that he had no idea what village democracy means to people in rural areas. He described it with arrogance, as we mentioned, as “folklorique”. He, like many intellectuals in the country, failed to see that the democracy people actually want is a process, and not just a little show. What they often don’t understand is that prior to Village Elections, which used until recently to be every THREE years (and we want to return to this way), some three or four groups, teams, local parties are formed. And this involves dozens and dozens of people, mainly young people, in the process of conceptualizing their village. The process of preparing a program - most teams or groups have programs - involves a process of discussions that both nurture the intelligence of people, and foster a unity along programmatic lines, cutting across the destructive forces of communalo-religious groupings. Women are often group leaders and Village Council Presidents. And public meetings see literally dozens of orators learning to speak in a formal, political register into a microphone. People by the dozen learn how to plan and run public meetings, private meetings, how to distribute programs, how to work on polling and counting day. And it is all voluntary work. A veritable university for every one of us in villages.
The fact that successive governments had reduced the powers of Village Councils and starved them of funds, is not a reason to do away with them. It is a reason, in LALIT we say, to give them more funds and all the power they need to take decisions about the village, and about any developments in their area.
In LALIT, we go further. We say that it is urban people, especially the urban poor and working class people, who have, up to now, remained deprived of this kind of democracy.
LALIT has, since then, campaigned for the setting up of Ward Councils in urban areas. This will already be very easy, because voting is done by Ward already. These Ward Councils should have the power necessary to organize life in the Ward, as well as a budget that they dispose of. Elections should be every three years. This enables young people to participate as they leave school, and to learn about Mauritian society.
Taken together with our proposals for Post-Covid new economy based on creating jobs in food production and preservation – from planting food basics, animal husbandry and fishing in Mauritius’ 2.4 million square kilometres, and based on the right to good housing for all, the contents of this brief article give an idea of LALIT’s program. We imagine a society post sugar-cane, post textiles, post-tourism, post-offshore, where production of essentials is treated as essential.
(1) An example of our campaign regarding the Press. Here is an Open letter to the then Editor of Le Mauricien.
A Call on the Good Sense of Gilbert Ahnee and of the Press as a Whole (2002)
In your editorial of 5 August, you refer to: “L’Election d’un nouveau président au Conseil de district du Nord” while making a point about next year’s by-election there.
This kind of glossing over of the truth about the District Council “elections” is worrying, especially when it is in the editorial of a newspaper that prides itself on being democratic.
This “election” was not any ordinary District Council election as your phrase pretends.
It was a trick “election”. It was a fake “election”.
Firstly, it was the “election” of a “nominee” not someone under electoral mandate as it usually is.
Secondly, he was elected by a set of “nominees”, not a set of elected people.
All of them are without an electoral mandate. The Village Councillors, from amongst whom District Council Representatives were elected, were elected in 1997 by the people in villages for five years, then the Central Government has nominated them, by “decree”.
It is wrong to postpone elections like this. Everyone knows this. So, the “decree”, being rather ugly to look at, was rushed through the National Assembly, with a Certificate of Urgency. What could be so urgent about this? The answer is that it was not “urgent”. It is a long term “tricherie”. The Certificate was slapped on so as to avoid people knowing about the “decree”, to avoid debate. Why? Because debate will show up the immorality of what they have done. Debate will show up that the MSM-MMM-PMSD Government has assaulted democracy. Just as the postponement of the 1973 General Elections forever discredited Ramgoolam Snr, so this postponement will forever discredit Jugnauth and Bérenger.
Thirdly, the Central Government has not even bothered to inform the Village Councillors of the 141 Villages that it has turned them into Government “nominees”. They found out in the Press.
Fourthly, as at each District Council election, the Bérenger and Jugnauth Alliance has again been involved in the usual “sequestration” and heavy-handed corruption of the representative of each village – with one difference, the representatives they are overpowering now are no longer “representatives”, but mere nominees. This is what needs abolishing: this corruption by the Alliances, of District Council Representatives.
Instead the Government is trying (rather sneakily) to abolish the Village Councils. The Village Councils are the elected body closest to the people, most democratic and most under-funded. These are the elected bodies that should be given independent means to accomplish their action, instead of being deprived of funds. The elections of Village Councils every three years (until the already dubious decision to make them only once every five years) has been the main process for keeping a village whole, for nurturing a rare unity, for developing a belonging. Perhaps people like you forget just how important it is to continue to build unity at the level of each village. We have the terrible reminder of how occult forces can wreak havoc when there is division; the villages of Triolet and Goodlands have had their unity broken; the good villagers there are still working to piece it together. [Reference being made to the torching of the houses of people in two hamlets in 1999, as part of the State and bourgeoisie’s reaction to the uprising at the time of Kaya’s death.] Democracy would help.
Fifthly, the Government has not published any Report on what it proposes the rural people. No public submissions have ever been heard. People have not been asked what kind of democracy they want. All we have had is a few snide remarks here, a bit of duplicity there.
Meanwhile, the Government has fed us on a series of carefully calculated leaks in the Press.
The Press thus risks becoming part of the propaganda arm of the State: habituating readers to a horrible idea (the banning of Village Elections), by sending a “message” for a while that nothing is official yet about the new supposed system so why debate it yet; and then, no doubt, sending another “message” later to the effect that by then it will be too late for debate. Through the Press, Jugnauth and Bérenger hope to create a fait accompli: Abolish Village Council Elections. [They did vote in the National Assembly to abolish village elections, and so this, in fact, happened.]
The Press should not lend itself to this, on principle. In practice, too, it has been shown to be mortal for Press credibility. The Press (not Le Mauricien) lulled the populace into believing that there was a “sunset clause” in the repressive POT Bill only to find it was a trick by the State: POTA has no sunset clause.
The Press should have reporters do research, instead. They could find out how Village Council Elections were brought in, after the Moody Report into the 1943 massive rebellions in the countryside. The reason for elected Village Councils with some executive authority was to give a broad democratic voice to the people of rural areas.
The independence of the Village Councils, their refusal to bow down to the political Alliances (PT-PMSD-MMM-MSM over different partnerships) over the past fifty years is the reason why the Central Government is attacking them. It is the only reason.
The Press should point out that even the disgusting spectacle of “sequestration” of District Council Representatives by the Alliances over the years (a phenomenon which you have personally denounced) is, paradoxically, a tribute to the independence of mind of the Village Council. The big Alliances have to use brute force and corruption in order to get their own way i.e. to separate the District Council Representative in each Village Council from his own peers in the Village Council with him.
The Press should also draw the attention of the public to the true nature of the supposed “elections” for these new “District Councils of nominees” and not gloss over their total irregularity.
And one last consideration. Does the Jugnauth-Bérenger Government have any idea of the fury building up in villages over this issue? We can only suppose that they do have. Otherwise they would not have to rely on the Press to do their dirty work for them – not that the Press is doing this on purpose, but simply that it is being relied upon to underestimate the gravity of the attacks on democracy.
LALIT, 7 August, 2002