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Friday, 05 October 2012 15:25

The Best Loser System sparks passion

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Mauritius is living another important phase of its political history since the pronouncement of the United Nations on the case presented by ‘Resistans ek Alternativ’ protesting against the need for a candidate to mention his ethnic appurtenance when he registers himself for general elections.
Since the holding of the first general election more than a century ago, followed by subsequent ‘Rights to Vote’ until universal suffrage in the fifties, Mauritius never showed so much interest in the ‘People’s Representation’ as it does today; whether after 45 years of Independence, one should still feel the need to mention his community on the Nomination Form during registration as a candidate for elections and whether there is still need for somebody specifically chosen to defend the rights of a minority group.

There is much passion in the air. But observers can easily identify those who want the abolition of the Best Loser system and those who don’t: the horizon is clear - on one side those who belong to the majority community are in favour of abolition whereas minority groups fear for the loss of an acquired right.

Barbara de Smith, widow of the father of our Constitution was in Mauritius during the past week. She paid a courtesy call on the Prime Minister, Dr Navin Ramgoolam. She had already underlined during a former visit that what is inscribed in the Constitution relating to the Best Loser System is best for Mauritius to maintain peace and co-existence among the various communities.

The Prime Minister voiced out publicly that he wants to abolish the BLS which he considers obsolete for modern Mauritius, his partner in coalition, the PMSD says ‘no’. The leader of Remake 2000, Sir Anerood Jugnauth who participated in the Constitutional Conference before independence wants the statu quo whereas his partner, the MMM proposes ‘ 62 elected ‘first past the post, 20 on a proportional list and 8 nominated members’ after the proclamation of results following a general elections.

The newly formed ‘Federation’ grouping PAL of Ramsahok, MAM of Eliezer Francois and FSM of Cehl Meeah, is in a turmoil as they cannot agree on the issue: PAL wants the abolition of BLS as wished by Ramgoolam, whereas Francois and Cehl Meeah want the status quo resulting in cracks within the third large political alliance they wanted to create on the political platform.

 Let us see the rationale behind the arguments brought forward by Eliezer Francois, for whom ‘the BLS is a Must’.

POLITICS - EARLY 60s
During the turbulent political period that preceded the Independence of Mauritius, there was a great apprehension of Hindu hegemony expressed by the minority ethnic groups - Creoles, Whites, Muslims, Chinese etc. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, leader of the Labour Party with his allies Bissoondoyal of IFB and Mohamed of CAM were campaigning for Independence, whereas Koenig and Duval,  PMSD leaders, campaigned for an Association with Great Britain. The contest between the Pro Independence and Pro Association was rough and tough, often carrying the country on the brink of racial clashes. Tension was high in the air. And, violent racial explosions could have occurred at anytime due to the existing fear, suspicion and mistrust in the country.

CONSTITUTIONAL CONFERENCE, LONDON
Fortunately, thanks to the participation of technical advisers from the British Government and other experts on constitutional matters, the Mauritian Political Leaders meeting in London finally reached a compromise – The Best Loser System (BLS). 

“The essence of politics is compromise” says Macaulay. No doubt, the task of the participants – Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo, Sir Harold Walter, Jules Koenig, Sir Gaëtan Duval, Sookdeo Bissoondoyal and Sir Abdool Razack Mohamed at the London Constitutional Conference had not been an easy one.  They however allowed understanding, common Sense and wisdom to guide them in reaching their final decision.  Mauritius, because of its diversity and specificity is in need of a specific Electoral System like the BLS- in a recent press article I wrote: ‘I know of the reasons for the introduction of this system. History taught us that we were right.’

MAM verily believes that the BLS is ‘A MUST’ for the General Population, the Muslims and the Chinese.  One must not forget that the BLS has also been applied in the case of Sir Kher Jagatsingh, Motee Ramdass and Ravi Yerigadoo, all three, members of the Hindu Community.  The Electoral Commission is empowered to do the needful in regard to a minor change, just as it did after Gaëtan Duval had stood as a candidate in four different constituencies at the General Election in 1982. 

Since then, no other cheat or ‘Froder Elektion’ can stand as candidate in more than one constituency at an election.  Meanwhile, all this ‘Koze Kozé’ between Ramgoolam and Bérenger about BLS and Electoral Reform is tactical, just to divert attention from the real problems all Mauritians have to face at the moment.  One typical example is the postponement, sine die, of Municipal and Village Council Elections.  Both Ramgoolam and Bérenger have become like the reeds that bend in the direction in which the wind is blowing.

BANWELL – ELECTORAL SYSTEM
Banwell’s recommendations (among others): 20 constituencies in Mauritius returning 3 members each and Rodrigues 2 members. At the same time Banwell divided the population into 4 sections: Hindu, Muslim, General Population and Chinese for electoral law purposes.  The final proposal and actual electoral system is based on Banwell recommendations and modified by Stonehouse.

THE BEST LOSER SYSTEM
(a) “BLS was designed to provide “balanced” ethnic and political representation.”
(b) “The Best Loser System is a method used in Mauritius to make sure that the minority ethnic groups are well and equitably represented in Parliament.”
(c) “The Best Loser System was set up long ago to prevent political tension in the country…”
‘Rezistans ek Alternativ’ –“Un  combat visant à éliminer le communalisme dans le système politique et  à rétablir le droit démocratique de chaque citoyen lors des élections.»( A struggle directed towards the elimination of communalism in the current political system and to re-establish the democratic rights of every citizen during elections).  MAM still maintains that ‘Resistans ek Alternativ’ was wrong in 2005 and in 2010; that Justice Balancy was wrong in his judgment; that the Full Bench of the Supreme Court was right and so was the Privy Council. 

No authority whether National or International can dictate the Mauritian Government on its Electoral System.  Even the UN Human Rights Committee, in spite of all the ‘tam tam’ of ‘Resistans ek Alternativ’ and all those who like to jump on the band wagon, like “Les Moutons de Panurge,” cannot prescribe an Electoral System for Mauritius. The UN says: “The Committee urges the Government to consider whether the community based electoral system is still necessary.”  “YES, it is more than necessary,” says MAM.  Besides, the recommendation of the UN Human Rights Committee is not mandatory.

COMMUNALISM IN MAURITIUS
If ‘Resistans ek Alternativ’ sincerely wants to eliminate communalism in Politics, it should ponder on what I have said in my article on the Carcassonne Report. – ‘MAM also believes that if we are all sincere and want to get rid of the BLS, we ask the Prime Minister, Navin Ramgoolam to call for a snap election, with the sole condition that both leaders, Ramgoolam and Bérenger agree to put each one, three Hindus as candidates in Plaine Verte, three Muslims as candidates in Cassis/Vallijee, and three Creoles as candidates in Triolet.   It's only then that we will all be able to shout: Long Live Mauritianism!’

Moreover, if ‘Resistans ek Alternativ’ wants to eliminate communalism in Mauritius, they should campaign to remove the 7 effigies on our legal tender and replace them by only one, that of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the father of the Nation and the father of our Independence!  Why do we have many different ‘Associations Socio-Culturel’ based on ethnicity instead of one Association Socio-Culturel Mauricien? In which country in the world are public holidays purely declared on the basis of ethnicity? Do ‘Resistans ek Alternativ’ still remember the MMM/PSM slogan “ene sel lepep en sel nation of 1982?”

Can they remember Mewasingh’s song “Done to lamin pran mo lamin, lamin dan lamin” that followed the communal riots of the late 60s? What about the elimination of the names associated with our soccer teams: “Hindu Cadets, Muslim Scouts, Tamil Cadets, Faucons, Dodos, Racing Club? Can ‘Resistans ek Alternativ’ eliminate communalism in Mauritius? We all should face reality and stop acting like hypocrites, like white sepulchers. What we desperately need in Mauritius is a change of mentality. Until that can happen, I will tend to share the view that-“As long as Mauritius exists, communalism will exist.”(Mauritius Times 21-27 March 2008.)

Finally, there is nothing wrong with the BLS; it has helped to prevent political tension in the country and to maintain peace and harmony among the various ethnic groups after an election.  According to MAM, the status quo of the BLS should be maintained, except for a very minor change by the Electoral Commission.  In fact, the country needs No Electoral Reform, No Proportional Representation, No Senate, No Assembly of 90 Deputies, No Party List System in order to make that change, and at the same time, satisfy Resistans ek Alternativ, in line with the UN Human Rights Committee’s recommendation.  However, if the Electoral Commission implements that change that would allow ‘Resistans ek Alternativ’ not to state their ethnic belonging in their nomination forms, the Electoral Commission should automatically exclude them from any allocation of the Best Loser seats.

Indradev Curpen

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