A Fair Electoral System

The Deputy Prime Minister, Xavier-Luc Duval, was asked to head a Committee, with the responsibility to review the existing electoral system in Rodrigues.

As we know, the system under which Rodrigues votes since the “reform” of its First Past The Post-based electoral system of the early 2000s involves a dose of proportional representation (PR).

The system is fundamentally flawed. Its application after the last Rodrigues Regional Assembly elections was so lopsided as to reduce a comfortable straight majority of 3 seats secured by the winner, the Organisation du Peuple Rodriguais (OPR), to one. The Mouvement Rodriguais (MR), came second in terms of number of elected members. Another opposition party, the Front Patriotique Rodriguais (FPR), which secured no seats on the straight run with 11% voting in its favour, ended up securing two seats under this new PR-based system.

At the end of the day, it was sufficient for a single member of the OPR to defect or not participate in a crucial vote for the winning party at the last polls, for the OPR to be defeated on a No Confidence motion or to have to hand over power to the opposition. The Prime Minister who saw the anomaly of the situation decided that the Rodrigues PR system should be reviewed and recommendations made to ensure political stability. A Cabinet decision was taken accordingly.

While the OPR and the MR participated in the discussions held in Rodrigues in this respect with the Committee headed by Mr Duval, the FPR chose not to do so.

The Deputy PM’s Committee has, after consultations with stakeholders in Rodrigues, come up with certain recommendations. The main thrust of the recommendations is to limit the number of PR appointees to the Rodrigues Regional Assembly so as not to distort the electoral outcome, which would have the effect of making the winner a loser in the elections. There are also recommendations against defections of elected members.

Soon after, the FPR’s leader, rejecting the Committee’s recommendations, came out in public claiming that Rodrigues’ fate was being decided in Mauritius and not in Rodrigues. In reality, he chose not to engage in discussions with the Committee headed by Mr Duval in Rodrigues when invited, along with other political parties in Rodrigues, to meet with the Committee set up by Cabinet.

But that is beside the point. Mr Paul Bérenger, leader of the MMM, who had piloted the project for creating an autonomous regional assembly for Rodrigues in 2001, asked that PR being recommended for Rodrigues should also be applied to Mauritius.

As we well know, PR as was recommended for Mauritius before the country’s independence by the British Constitutional consultants, was subsequently rejected. Instead, Mauritius was given a Constitution whereby the electoral outcome is decided largely by the First Past The Post system (FPTP, winner-takes-all). This is the case in the UK as well. To allay sensitivities of minorities in Mauritius, however, the Constitution also provides for the election of “best losers”, whereby “best losers” are picked up from among those who stood for the elections but were not returned in the polls. The objective is to restore a balance in the event of any of the four groups identified in the Constitution for election purposes being under-represented in the Assembly. The system has worked well in this respect, despite its communal connotation.

There is no PR in Mauritius. The opposition, the MMM in particular, has been unrelenting in its quest to have the PR introduced in Mauritius. It is a long-term quest to overcome the outcome of the FPTP system. This was part of the underlying understanding behind the Labour-MMM alliance of 2014.

There is an apprehension that introducing a PR in Mauritius’ electoral system will effectively distort an existing system that has, in large part, given some sort of political stability to a relatively non-homogeneous society, which is different from what obtains in Rodrigues. Even there, the PR system has created distortions, as seen after the reallocation of seats following the last regional assembly elections.

The view is therefore taken that if our electoral system should err, it should err on the safe side, without being further burdened by the addition of a PR system. Besides, any contemplated introduction of a PR system in Mauritius cannot abstract from the fact that the entire electoral system relies for its checks and balances on disparate constituency sizes. In fact, there are constituencies which, in some cases, have three times the number of voters compared to others electing the same number of representatives: the aim is to tolerate such discrepancies in representation for the sake of securing an adequate representation of minority groups in the Assembly, which constitutes, besides the Best Loser system, an additional provision for minority representation, but which effectively defeats the cardinal principle of One Man One Vote.

This means that, as suggested by the leader of the MMM, once the Mauritius electoral system has to be made to accommodate an element of PR, as in Rodrigues, other discrepancies such as the relative sizes of constituencies cannot be allowed to continue just the same. The bottom line however is that it is because the PR system in Rodrigues is fundamentally flawed, resulting in material distortion of election results, that it is sought to cure it to minimize its negative impact. We will have to think twice before introducing similar distortions in Mauritius’ electoral system.

M.K.

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