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Ram Seegobin on the Best Loser System: Tactics and Strategies


The communal Best Loser System is a democratic and political aberration and not simply a moral issue. It is therefore not enough to rise up in indignation about it. Nor is it enough to oppose it through blind tactics which could be counter-productive.

What, in effect, is the communal Best Loser System? It represents a codification at a particular time in the history of Mauritius, that is to say at the time of the Independence, of communal consciousness. It is even a codification of the "minimum necessary" at the time, in order for the State to be able to quell more rampant forms of violent communalism that threatened it. It was introduced, it must be remembered, at the time when the level of communal consciousness even led to a "bagarre raciale". It was introduced with the express aim of limiting social fragmentation. It was introduced as a compromise in order to avoid separate electoral registers that had been the main demand of some strong right-wing parties and lobbies that claimed to represent "minorities", at the same time as oppose Independence.

What this codification of communal consciousness meant is that it put into law, into the Constitution itself, the assumption that we could supposedly reasonably attribute all forms of genuine injustice and inequality in society to purely communal factors. Then, in turn, the communal mobilization that this produced was used in order to protect the economic interests of the ruling class, a class "minority" if ever there was a "minority", and to ensure the social mobility of intermediate classes, of professionals, intellectuals, planters and merchants. In general, the day-to-day interpretation of the Best Loser System is that it was and is "in defense of minorities", and that it is a kind of "guarantee" for minorities. But all it is in fact, is the guarantee for some very superficial communal representation, not even in Government, but in Parliament, which in turn, is not even a guarantee for minority rights, or for any rights at all.

In a society like Mauritius with its extreme social inequalities, the anti-dote to communal consciousness is not "citizenship". The antidote is in fact class consciousness. We saw, as proof of this, that during the 1970s, the students' struggle for equal education for all, the workers' struggle for rights and the insurrectionary strikes of 1979 and 1980, were, in fact, almost total antidotes to communalism. And they worked. Communalism well nigh disappeared. The codification of communalism, cemented as it was in the Constitution, was now a brake to freedom from communalism. It imprisoned society in well-nigh imaginary communal ghettoes.

The MMM, which had been the political expression until 1980, of the working class struggle, and the struggle of other oppressed sectors like women, fishermen, students and very small traders and planters, then in 1981, made two alliances, one with the bosses in a "Nouveau Consensus Social", and the other with Harish Boodhoo's PSM supposedly in order to "reassure the Hindu community". This tactic of the MMM leadership thus destroyed the MMM's genuine representation of all the oppressed, true until then, and converted its political challenge on the Labour-PMSD hegemony into an essentially communal one. And this was both a sign of and a cause of a down-turn in the class struggle beginning.

At the moment, today, we are still in this downturn in the class struggle, a downturn that began in 1981. LALIT is amongst those who have kept the embers of the struggle alive through these hard times.

There has been a retreat from class politics. This has then allowed the communal basis for politics to become "acceptable" once again, and has permitted political alliances of a communal nature to become the norm. Communal considerations once again found their way into political discourse. Today, the "reaction" has become so strong that there are demands for re-naming certain existing communities, and for introducing new communities for the purposes of the Best Loser System.

If in 1982 the MMM had not already sold out, when it won its 60-0 what it should have done was to amend the Constitution, not in order to prolong the communal Best Loser System as it in fact did, but to transform the system at once into a "party Best Loser System", thus introducing a degree of proportional representation for under-represented parties, at a time when the anti-communal struggle was still riding fairly high. In fact, all the MMM succeeded in doing was to remove the question put to the population as to what "community" each person is "in" in the 10-yearly Census. It had become impossible to put the question. Which is why until today the communal Best Loser System is still linked to statistics from as far back as 1972.

But today, in the present context, any exclusive emphasis on the elimination of the communal Best Loser System alone, especially an obsession with Paragraph 5 of the Nomination Paper, does not lead us anywhere. Our tactics and strategy need to be thought out properly. We have seen how in 2005, the Balancy judgment, and more recently the appeal to the UN Human Rights Committee, did and could once again lead to the unwanted establishment of a hypothetical "5th Community". The tactic of attacking Paragraph 5 of the Nomination Paper in isolation from the rest of the communal Best Loser System, has the curious effect of creating a community of "conscientious objectors to auto-classification", who then fall outside the communal Best Loser System which continues as if nothing at all ever happened. The tactic leads to a co-habitation of the Best Loser System for everyone in the country with a little spot for those candidates who want to "opt out" of it. This is not pure conjecture on our part. It actually happened. Only five years ago, there was the much-acclaimed "victory" in the Balancy case, but the communal Best Loser System went ahead as if nothing had ever happened. This means the tactic is not a useful one, and has been shown not to be.

In fact, Paragraph 3 of the First Schedule could easily have the following added to it after saying that every candidate in a general election has to state their community: "provided that any candidate who does not wish to participate in the exercise of allocation of the 8 additional seats may be exempted from this declaration relating to his or her community". Then we would have legislation that would put into effect the Balancy judgment. And the communal Best Loser System would remain intact. The demand is thus flawed.

However, the situation is worse than that. The tactic is not just not useful. It is also dangerous.

With the rise in communalism, with the participation of the VOH, Kranti and Mr. Dulthuman of the Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation in the election, with the MSM and Labour allied, with the political intervention of Grégoire, and with the objectively unavoidable double-meaning of the word "majority" (democratic majority and communal "majority"), there are grave dangers ahead. It is not possible to just by-pass Section 5 of the Nomination Paper. Not only does this leave the Best Loser System intact, but it is irresponsible to attack the Best Loser System without proposing at the same time a full scale electoral reform, with enough Proportional Representation in order to resolve this dangerous resurgence of communalism.

In addition, we can easily see ahead that any exclusive emphasis on this particular issue, the communal Best Loser System, in isolation from other political and economic issues, obscures the need for a programmatic challenge to the inequalities and injustices that are inherent to the capitalist system, and that underpin communalism. And this focus on a single issue is happening at the very time when the capitalist system the world over has exposed its bankruptcy, both literally and figuratively. The tactic produces a "buzz" around a single non-economic issue, while in fact, addressing the economic issues on class terms is what will actually decrease communalism, which is what our aim should be.

In fact, this kind of single issue "tactic" which sometimes seems to have become a whole strategy, that is to say to challenge a part of the communal Best Loser System in isolation, in fact, delays the construction of a working class movement on the basis of a socialist program, delays addressing the very real injustices and inequalities that the existing economic system engenders and to which communal interpretations are then given ex post facto.

The present anti-Best Loser System initiative has been linked to a call for a "Nouvelle Constitution". In the same way as we have looked at the Best Loser System in its historical and political context, it is important to look at the call for a new Constitution in its historical and political context. At present there is talk of Navin Ramgoolam wanting a three-quarters majority in order to get through a possible political project to establish a new Republic where the President (no doubt himself) has executive powers. At the same time, Paul Bérenger is proposing a new Republic where there is to be a Senate.

It is perhaps worth remembering that in 1958, there was a "new Republic" in France, the Fifth Republic. De Gaulle established both a President with executive powers and at the same time a "senat" in France. What with all the red-white-and-blue banners and the various slogans for the values of "Citoyenneté, Egalité, Ecologie" and "Unité, Egalité, Modernité", there is some cause for concern.

What is needed now is a campaign in favour of a generalized Electoral Reform which includes the kind of proportional representation on party lines that would make the Best Loser System no longer maintain the illusion that it is necessary in order to supposedly re-assure anyone at all. And this should be part of a general mobilization of working people on the basis of a clear Program that aims to do away with social injustice and inequality. This has to be a conscious process, and not one where genuinely concerned people are brought together for an action without a clear strategy, at least not one that they are aware of, or have thought through.

By Ram Seegobin
20 April, 2010.