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The Best Loser System and Communalism, in Perspective


This article by Rajni Lallah and Alain Ah-Vee was first published in Le Mauricien 21st April 2010.

To get rid of the communal Best Loser System, we need to think and act both rationally and politically. Acting only on emotion and hugging legal terrain can prove a faulty and counter-productive tactic. We shall explain in three points.

But before that, by way of introduction, we should insist that since the 1970's until today LALIT has been amongst those who have consistently built up a strong body of support for an electoral reform that includes the replacement of the Best Loser System. This was done at elections by the action of "drawing lots" to fill in the Nomination Paper for the 1983, 1987, 2000 and 2005 elections, and by the great leap forward in analysis that came with the Movement Against Communalism (MAC) which in the 1990's made conceptual breakthroughs. Our actions led to a legal challenge of our drawing of lots by advocate and politician, Yousouf Mohammed, in 2000. The Seetulsing judgement, though flawed, openly called for electoral reform, but Sachs Commission was instructed by the MMM-Labour Government not to touch the Best Loser System. By 2005, when our 250-page book on the subject came out, it included a long list of people and institutions, in fact the quasi totality of commentators, who were in favour of its replacement by some form of proportional representation not based on "community". The pressure was continuing to mount.

1 Only attacking one corner of the best loser system
But when there is a legal challenge which has a principal demand "the right to stand as candidate without declaring one's community", though this is indeed a fundamental right (and much infringed in many different ways in Mauritius), it will not necessarily affect the Best Loser System. It is quite easy for the judiciary to create a little niche for those who want to stand without declaring their community to do so, and to stay outside the Best Loser exercise. We are not just guessing that this is a vague possibility. It has already happened in the recent past. The Balancy judgement of 2005 did, in fact, allow the eleven Rezistans ek Alternativ candidates to stand as candidates. They did stand. They called it a victory. And yet right in front of everyone's eyes, the Best Loser System went ahead totally unaffected by the "victorious" judgement. Yet, the logic of the challenge represented by the Platforme Commune pour une Nouvelle Constitution once again attempts the same thing. This is poor leadership. Those who are masterminding the action are leading those who follow to believe that the action will bring the end of the communal best loser system when its very demand does not even do this.

2 Attacking the Best Loser System outside the context of general electoral reform
In addition, actions that call on the Supreme Court or the UN Human Rights Commission to abolish the the Best Loser System without, at the same time, being very clear about the need for some form of simultaneous generalized electoral reform, are clearly not thinking the political issues through properly. The system invented at the time of Independence was a clumsy compromise that has ended up by the late 70s institutionalizing the very phenomenon it was trying to appease, that is to say organized communalism. All electoral systems involve the cut-off point of a "majority" at some point, a majority of votes for your candidate, a majority of seats for your party. That is the very meaning of the rather threadbare democracy we have until today world-wide. The winner takes all at various points in the electoral system. Where there is, even to a certain degree, a communally organized electorate with a "majority" community, the system of winner taking all can produce perverse and insulting results. This is mainly due to economic vested interests corrupting the electoral process, in an unequal society, rather than because of any mysterious increase in communal voting. In fact, the 2005 results were worrying. They caused many people who had erroneously hailed the Balancy judgement as the end of the Best Loser System, to shamefacedly admit that the results before the communal nominations were of concern. One flagrant example was Raj Dayal's communal party which got him 13,000 votes in his constituency, at the expense of two communally selected victims. The so-called minority communities were very under-represented in the 2005 results until the Best Loser exercise. And this, despite electoral boundaries already bending over backwards in order to prevent this effect.

All this to say that, if we want to avoid causing an increase in the very communalism we are struggling to decrease, we must insist on putting clear proposals for specific electoral reform as a whole on the agenda, and avoid attacking the Best Loser System piece-meal.

Clearly, just to give an idea, there are quite easy very minimal constitutional changes that could do this: the eight best losers could be selected on a "party" basis. This would cushion organized "majority community" chauvinist voting, while not institutionalizing communalism any further. It would take the wind out of the Grégoire sails, too. It would remove the institutionally embedded assumption that the Prime Minister comes from the so-called "majority" community. It removes communal classification by the State of both candidates and electors.

3 The historical time
Obviously there are times in history when communalism is rife and times when it almost disappears. And it depends not so much on what people want to do about communalism, but to what extent they are organized behind conscious political programs for change.
At the time the Constitution was being drafted, there was not just communalism, but violent race war. And yet, with the build-up in the worker's struggle, the women's struggle, the students' struggles, of the 1970s behind a coherent program for change, this changed and communalism disappeared. We lived these times, many of us. In 1979 and 1980, for example, communal identity was well nigh zero. To have removed the Best Loser System then, and replaced it by a dose of proportional representation by party would have been dead easy. Today, we are once again in times when sectarianism is becoming rife. There is the Federation des Creoles Mauricien led by a priest, now announcing a new strategy of grouping "minorities", there is the Voice of Hindu, Kranti, the political action of leaders of the Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation supporting the Lalyans pu Lavenir, there is the MMM's openly communal interpretation of the ousting of Rama Sithanen. And the configuration of the two alliances in 2010 aggravates things: the MSM and Labour both having the same communal identity have come together, while the MMM has seen fit to ally with Guimbeau who clearly represents not just big capital, but a communal minority, too. What the roles of Cehl Meeah and Raj Dayal, who are both good at electoral conspiracies, will involve is anyone's guess.

This short article is designed to make abundantly clear some of our reasons for opposing the present tactic organized by the Platform Commune pour une Nouvelle Constitution. Anyone wanting more detailed arguments can search our news archives on over the past five years since the last general elections.

Alain Ah-Vee ek Rajni Lallah
For LALIT, 20 Avril 2010