Lindsey Collen was spokesperson for LALIT at the Media Watch and Gender Links workshop on WOMEN IN POLITICS and WOMEN IN THE MEDIA held on Monday, 14 February, 2005. The Seminar was presided over ably by Loga Virahsawmy and Colleen Lowe Morna, of the respective organizers, and attended by women from all political parties, women academica and political leaders, who formed part of the morning panel.
Lindsey Collen, from the floor, raised a point concerning the disenfranchisement of the rural electorate, including rural women, for the past three years, when village elections were first postponed, then subsequently abolished to be replaced by centralized District Council elections. Later, two women who have been in Village Elections and who were present added their voice to the outcry against the abolition of village elections. The Leader of the Opposition, Navin Ramgoolam, present for the Labour Party, said his party had spoken against the postponments of elections on all three occasion.
Lindsey Collen also said that the continued existence of the Communal "Best Loser" System in the General Elections, because it makes racial/religious classification obligatory for all candidates, and thus Members of the National Assembly, is an institutionalized way of encouraging communal lobbies. These communal lobbies of all ilk are invariably anti-women, by their very nature. The power of these dangerous lobbies, which is so visible right now, would be curtailed if the best loser system had its communal content eliminated, and this immediately, prior to the next elections. It would, she explained, have a double effect. Firstly, the best losers may include women where there is a close result, if there are campaigns against women candidates and they tend to come third of their team of three, as was claimed by Xavier Duval, representing the PMXD; and communal lobbies would lose their raison d'etre., or at least their semblance of legitimacy that the communal Best Loser system gives them.
She said how the communal lobbies are compounded by the fact that the loophole in the electoral expenditure law allows for the capitalists to invest massively in the two major blocks. The capitalist lobbies also prefer men than women to represent their sectorial interest. This loophole can easily be closed, she explained.
Paul Berenger, Prime Minister who was to speak for the MMM, did not turn up. Mrs Navarre Marie did not reply to any specific questions, except to one which was not on the subject, electronic voting machines. Nando Bodha, speaking in the name of the MSM, was also evasive about questions. He also had a rough ride when during his speech he said it was necessary when recruiting women to check on their "loyalty". Women present started laughing and shouting "what about the men", referring to the recent spate of resignations from the Government ranks.
In the afternoon session on the media, Lindsey Collen, on the session on relationships with the Press as a woman in politics, she put on record the way in which the Press in 1987 was involved in an all-out plot to break the alliance that Lalit had built up with OMT-FNAS. This new left alliance already had 60 candidates lined up together while the MMM was still waiting to see if it would manage to get into an alliance with Anil Baichoo's MTD. It was then that Le Nouveau Militant came out in a "Nouvelle Serie", Number ONE, with main banner headlines alledging that Lalit had met with Aneerood Jugnauth and agreed to cede the MSM their "tan-dantenn", implying some alliance. A totally falsified article was published to supposedly embroider around this invention, and published in this newly born supposed "series". The editor was Subash Gobin, the Campaign Manager was Jean Claude de L'Estrac and the leader was Paul Berenger. She mentions their names because they are still around today, in the press and politics. The fabricated article, she said, included two anti-women elements, one against the women's movement, alleging that the imaginary meeting had taken place at the MLF's Women's Centre, and one against Lindsey Collen herself, making some contorted reference to Mr. Mangolah, father of the child who was sexually assaulted. (She mentioned in passing that the press had shamelessly printed the photograph, name and quotations from this young minor girl, as part of a political campaign.)
The press was even more involved in the conspiracy, Lindsey Collen explained. The next day, the plot continued, because Le Mauricien then picked up on all the calomnies and reprinted them for wide circulation, adding further falsifications. These added falsifications also concerned women's issues. And effectively, the OMT-FNAS broke their alliance off with Lalit, under other unmentionable pressures from the MMM. Lindsey reminded people present that OMT-FNAS members had then, just to show the cynicism of the whole charade, given their "tan-dantenn" to the MMM.
Lindsey said that the press tended to use women's rights issues as a kind of "scare-crow" especially in electoral periods. If you mention divorce laws, abortion, Muslim Personal Law, or any other woman-related topic, you risk getting the press attacking you. They will often say or imply that you are "against religion".
Lindsey Collen also showed a newspaper cutting, in the more trite anti-woman vein quite common in the press, titled PETTICOAT REVOLUTION for a serious interview with her colleague in Lalit, Rajni Lallah. This was interesting because in her slide presentation of another SADC country on a woman in politics, Colleen Lowe Morna showed a slide of a cutting with a similar title with the word PETTICOAT in it.
Asked for comments by the Lalit de Klas web publication, Lindsey Collen said: "It is interesting that in an epoch when politics is very derided, and when electoral politics is being emptied of its meaning, that women have become interested in politics and in getting elected. It is an interesting counter-current to the "anti-political" propaganda that spreads cynicism," she said. "It is also interesting to see the media responding very well to being held accountable, as they were by the women present."