It is as though the MSM does not understand the role a “Speaker” is supposed to have in the Parliamentary system. The previous MSM Speaker Ms. Maya Hanoomanjee thought the Speaker was a kind of “discipline master” in an archaic primary school. She thought her role was to shout parliamentarians into silence, and to give an extra little advantage to the executive Branch, in particular the Prime Minister, Jugnauth Snr. and then Jugnauth Jnr., with whom, incidentally, she had close family ties. She was a former civil servant and thus carried the professional deformation of being a stickler for bureaucracy. She was also an ignoramus on ideas about “democracy”, which is a system in sharp contrast to “bureaucracy”.
Present Speaker Soorooj Fokeer is worse still in every way. He sees his role as ensuring that the executive, in particular the Prime Minister, is not bothered by the Opposition at all.
In fact, it is worse than that: he thinks he is an important part of the executive itself.
Understanding Parliamentary Democracy
Understanding the role of the Speaker means understanding the nature of parliamentary democracy.
Any claim of a “parliamentary democracy” that it is a “democratic State” (as opposed to any other kind of state) lies in its legislature (that is its Parliament or National Assembly) being elected and, in turn, this elected legislature, being the supreme branch of government. That is the assumption on which we say Mauritius is a “democracy”.
What this form of democracy is supposed to mean is that the executive is answerable to the elected members of the National Assembly. In fact, in LALIT we call it “bourgeois democracy” to distinguish it from “no democracy” on the one hand and “a proper democracy” on the other. Its claim to being “democracy” is thus limited to its supreme branch of government being elected by the people, and being supreme.
As Section 1 of the Constitution states, “Mauritius shall be a sovereign democratic State which shall be known as the Republic of Mauritius.” The key words, for the purposes of this article, are both “sovereign” – no-one else rules anymore from beyond or from outside – and “democratic” – a State with an elected parliament which is the supreme branch.
The Speaker is the officer elected by the National Assembly, ideally from amongst elected MPs, whose role is to assure that this branch remains the supreme branch of Government, relative to the executive. That is what a Speaker does. That is the role of the Speaker. A Speaker has to prevent the National Assembly getting brow-beaten by the executive. He has to do this even though it, this executive, is present within the National Assembly, emanating as it seems to do from the National Assembly in the form of the Prime Minister (appointed by the President) and his Cabinet (appointed in turn by the Prime Minister) being amongst elected members of the National Assembly.
The Speaker’s role is to ensure that elected MPs that represent the 21 Constituencies of Mauritius, i.e. “elected representatives of the whole of the people”, maintain their supremacy, thus the supremacy of democracy in the bourgeois democratic sense of the word.
However, the executive Branch, does not really entirely “emanate” from the National Assembly, as it turns out. By being “nominated by the President” who has replaced the Monarch, the Prime Minister, the one with the actual power, ends up also being the direct descendent of reign by an undemocratic, feudal monarchy. So, the Prime Minister gets all the king’s powers to control the whole civil service and any armed and discipline forces.
Both realities – the State being a democracy and a feudal autocracy – exist within the parliamentary democratic system.
And so it is that we have to fight constantly for the National Assembly just to maintain its semblance of supremacy over the other sections of Government. And this is where the Speaker has an key role. He or she is supposed to prevent the constant drift towards the autocracy re-establishing itself, as it constantly does attempt to do.
Once the President “names” the Prime Minister, he becomes the head, or sometimes mere figure-head of the “permanent state” which has been continuous since French times, through British colonization, i.e. the civil service, the police force and other parts of the Administration.
The power of the National Assembly to remain strong relative to the executive has always depended, in turn, on how mobilized we, the people, in particular the working people, are. It is us who have to keep the Police in check. We have to keep the bureaucracy in check. We have to keep the Electoral Commission and Commissioner independent. We have to keep the judiciary relatively independent of the executive. We do this as a society – remember it is a class society, so our power as oppressed classes is limited by class-related laws – and we do it through our elected representatives, on the one hand, and independently via constant mobilization, on the other.
So, all this to explain the significance of LALIT’s transitional demands for more democracy.
The role of the Speaker in maintaining the relative strength of the Legislature is thus key, as you will see:
1. We want to increase the power of the people, and also the power of the people’s elected representatives, relative to the power of the executive.
2. To do this, we propose simple changes to the existing parliamentary democracy in Mauritius:
(i) Introduction of the right of recall, i.e. a system of electoral petitions by electors being granted the constitutional right to revoke one or all of the MPs in their respective constituencies from the National Assembly, and to set off the process towards a by-election.
(ii) Introduction of a system whereby, after counting is over in general elections, the National Assembly sits for the election of a Speaker, who we propose must be one of the elected members of the National Assembly, and the election of the Prime Minister by all MPs; the new Prime Minister then puts to the National Assembly his Cabinet list for a vote. There will also be a system introduced so that the elected members can also revoke, by a resolution, any Cabinet Minister, the Prime Minister, or any number of Cabinet Members. Then the newly re-enforced National Assembly will have, and can maintain, some power over the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
These amendments show the importance of the independent Electoral Commission and Commissioner, for elections and revocations to be legitimate, and the importance of a Speaker understanding the role of the office, as protector of the legislature from the executive. The demand for these changes is that kind of demand that helps us all understand how democracy, proper democracy, might one day function. When there is no longer a dictatorship by the capitalist class – which is the underpinning lie of bourgeois democracy – proper democracy can begin to flourish – in all civil and economic and social life.
But meanwhile, we need constantly to keep the existing democratic rights we have from being eroded. During the Brexit debates in the UK parliament, the then speaker John Bercow gave the world a lesson on the independence of the Speaker in parliamentary democracy.
But curiously, it is a truism that it is often revolutionaries like us in LALIT who, at the same time as struggling for more democracy than Parliamentary democracy offers, end up being the only force leading the struggle to maintain the little bourgeois democracy that exists so far.
The Dangers in Mauritius now
In fact, there is a tendency right now in Mauritius towards the executive becoming more and more powerful. That is what we are seeing under Pravind Jugnauth and his MSM reign.
An Example of the Drift to Autocracy
Take the Government web site, as an example of how, even by bureaucratic and technocratic means, democracy gets eroded and the National Assembly gets demoted from its role as supreme power. There is a Government site www.govmu.org in which one would expect the National Assembly to be the home page. After all, if Mauritius is a democracy, that should be the central home page. Then the other two branches of Government should have their sub-pages, the executive Branch with all its Ministries and Judicial Branch with its Court system.
LALIT has previously published an article on this (www.lalitmauritius.org) in which we explain how the Jugnauth Government has a web-site that humiliates the National Assembly by filing it under the ridiculous sub-heading of the Government Directory (executive Directory) “Other Institutions”. This comes after “Ministries”, after other “Departments” and then after “Parastatal Organizations”! The only elected bit is not seen as central to Mauritius’ system of Government at all. And, that’s not the end of it. When you open the pathetic little heading “Other Institutions”, the National Assembly falls between the anti-corruption commission ICAC and the National Audit Office!
The ideological influence of this kind of “derive” towards suppressing democracy is quite real. Young people using the internet will, quite naturally, if they are bright and see the structure of the web-page, come to believe that the National Assembly is a tiny little “other institution” well below everything else. In fact, it is fast becoming this.
We have to mobilize to prevent this dangerous drift towards autocracy, at the same time as we struggle to change the entire system.