Down with PR!

Mauritius Times 60 Years

We may be living in a unique colony but we want to develop on normal lines. No such things as PR for us

 Government has told us by means of two radio talks what is the kind of Proportional Representation the draft proposals of the Secretary of State for the Colonies contains.

Every device has been used in the radio talks to present PR as the ideal thing needed in Mauritius. We have started wondering why the wonderful thing was not thought of earlier to grace our constitutional pattern. And we have also been thinking why the English Parliament prefers to cling to its age-old system instead of adopting the new-fangled PR. The thing called PR is so equitable and gives so much satisfaction after all.

JNR and NMU have been respectively loud in the condemnation and adulation of PR. That’s about all we have by way of public reaction up to now. The Labour Party, we hope, will soon take its stand as one man and remove the atmosphere of uncertainty prevailing at this moment. While journalists JNR and NMU have been thinking aloud, neither politicians nor political parties – either existing, half-existing or struggling to come into existence – have expressed any views so far. How long will they take to know what they want?

We have been offered universal adult suffrage together with PR. Mr Lennox-Boyd is adamant about the combination. It is time people who are for the growth of ideological parties told him: “Down with your P.R!”

* * *

Today some people are filling the skies with the cries of protection of the minorities. And till 1948 the majority of the people of this island had practically no say in its government. It is not the fear of submersion that is at work in some quarters but the desire to bask once more in the glory of representation. It is the shifting of powers that is so disquieting. How can rulers be the ruled so soon?

All the ingenuity of diplomacy and statesmanship has been let loose to deviate the people from the path of responsible government. As if an Executive Council elected by PR were not enough to hamper the development of collective responsibility of ministers: PR is being dragged into the Legislative Council also. In the attempt to make of the council a “mirror of national mind”, it is being forgotten that “unity of action is of more consequence than variety of opinion.”

Supporters of PR with single transferable vote are jubilant because they think all the minority communities will have elected members to sit in Council. In an island where we have still got to learn to live and let live in so many departments of life, PR will but create more communal strife and that is the biggest immediate danger. PR is technically not communal representation, it is true. But who will deny that in practice it will produce quite the same evils?

* * *

If PR is meant to secure minority representation, what is the use of retaining the system of nominated members? To have the best of both worlds, some people can go to the extreme. They would like to have the guarantee of getting into the council either through election or nomination. Go in they must at any cost – they want to have the door as well as the window wide-open to admit them.

It is still questionable how far PR will give satisfaction to the minority communities. We are afraid that the rosy dreams of the advocates of PR might dash to the ground if labour were to vote with discipline. Even then – even if no non-labourite had any chance of getting elected – we would oppose PR. Why? Because it is against the tradition of British parliamentary system.

Living, as we do, in a British colony we look to the English Parliament, the Mother of Parliaments. The Colonial Office and the local government should think twice before directing our attention elsewhere. Colonial territories want to grow and live within the Commonwealth. The very idea of looking beyond is repugnant to colonial policy.

Moreover, who will sincerely maintain that we are living in an age where constitutional progress should be checked by means of safeguards like communal representation or PR? When Asia is free and Africa is on the threshold of freedom and when we boast of living at a cross-road of the East and the West, is it to our credit to think in terms of communities in politics?

* * *

We have been given the names of places where PR has been functioning satisfactorily. Side by side it would be instructive to quote the names of places where people are so discontent with the forms of government that troubles have flared up. There could be a danger in focusing too much attention on the paradise of PR and ignoring the colonial danger spots.

Mauritius is a comparatively quite place. It is no land of violent upheavals. No matter what self-appointed guardians of British law and order may say, we believe that a peaceful co-existence is not impossible. But if the old game of ‘divide and rule’ is played in its modern version peaceful co-existence may become and remains high sounding but empty words.

In solving the constitutional problem of Mauritius, we must not lose sight of the bigger and more profound issues of life. A seat at the council at the cost of communal animosity does not rank high in the scale of human values. Ideological warfare may be bitter but as cross-sections of the population are involved, it is soon forgotten. PR will eat into the Mauritian community like cancer.

It cannot be said now that the whole adult population of Mauritius cannot vote. If it can vote with PR, it can equally, if not in a better way, vote without PR. All we want by way of franchise is universal adult suffrage. We may be living in a unique colony but we want to develop on normal lines. No such things as PR for us. And so we say – down with it!

 

  • Published in print edition on 8 September 2017

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