Election and Democracy: Lessons to be learnt from Mauritius

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    (A report on the backdrop of vexatious election of Manipur, India)
    By L. Muhindro Singh
    This paper is specially developed when the writer joined Rodrigues Regional Assembly Elections, Mauritius recently held on 5 February 2012 just after a week of Manipur Legislative Assembly Elections 28 January 2012. As the writer found a drastic contrast, it seems to compel to see the way for consolidation of democracy, whether it is possible in Manipur. The writer is now attaching in the University of Mauritius as nominated by UGC, New Delhi to make a comparative study on contemporary electoral trends of India and Mauritius.

    “Mauritius has never developed a ‘bullet’ culture, adopting instead a culture of the ‘ballot’.” (Bunwaree, EISA 2005)

    According to the newly released London-based Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index which monitors 167 nations, Mauritius ranks in 24th out of 25 “full democracies” whilst Norway in the top rank and India in the 39 as “flawed democracy”. The Index is based on five criteria: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture. On the basis of electoral democracy, Freedom House report 2011 also mentioned that Mauritius is free in political rights and civil liberty.

    The Republic of Mauritius is a group of islands in the South West of the Indian Ocean, consisting of the main island of Mauritius, Rodrigues and several outer islands. The islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues, with a total area of 1,969 sqkm, have an overall population density of 644 persons per sqkm. The population, estimated at 1.3 million, comprises Hindus, Muslims, Sino-Mauritians and mixed European and African origin. Mauritius has been successively a Dutch, French and British colony. It became independent from Great Britain on 12th March 1968 and acceded to the status of Republic within the Commonwealth on 12th March 1992. The official language is English, but French is widely spoken. However, Creole is the predominant mother tongue and several ancestral languages are still spoken. (Bertha C, EISA, 24 June 2005)

    Mauritius has a good track record in respecting human and fundamental rights as well as democratic principles. Civil society is today regularly consulted on national policy formulation and stakeholders are involved in issues of national interest. (National Assessment Report 2010) Since its independence in 1968, Mauritius has a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster system. Since 2002, the island of Rodrigues enjoys significant autonomy as well as its own regional assembly. National and local elections are held every five years under universal adult franchise and all the registered electorates who have attend the 18 years have the right to vote.

    Mauritius is considered one of the most stable and democratic countries in Africa. Mauritius has an acceptable constitutional and legal framework, a largely satisfactory electoral system, a sound and transparent electoral process and legitimate and credible electoral management bodies (Bertha 2005). The constitution provides for freedom of speech, press and assembly and the government generally respects these rights in practice.

    The electoral system used in Mauritius is the first past the post block vote (FPTP-BV) and best looser system. The present National Assembly comprises 62 elected members who are elected by party list from 20 constituencies returning 3 members each and only two members from (21) Rodrigues. Each voter has to vote for three candidates of their choice. If the voter chooses two candidates (for example), the ballot becomes invalid. Furthermore, 8 additional seats are allocated to the best losers who represent ethnic groups that would have been missed by the elected parties. The advantage of the block vote system is that it allows voter preference for individual candidates. The disadvantage is that if voters cast all their votes for candidates from the same party the BV system produces highly disproportional results. (Mauritius Election Observer Report 2000, EISA) The independent Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) and the electoral commissioner determine how the ethnic and political balance of the National Assembly will serve minorities by naming a maximum of 8 best losers.

    Election related conflicts are quite prevalent in Africa. However, Mauritius has been fortunate in that in its more than 40 years of holding elections the country has never fallen victim to serious electoral conflict. (Bertha 2005) This has led to its becoming renowned as one of the most stable and democratic countries in Africa with its citizens enjoying political and civil rights. Any electoral challenges are managed through the judicial process. Mauritius has been committed to upholding the fundamental rights and freedoms embodied in its constitution and legal framework as well as to holding free and fair, credible elections. 

    Vote buying case is a big issue in many developing democratic countries. It is also learnt that no vote buying case is found so far in this tiny island, when I asked to some electorate, they said that “all the electorates have mobile phone so it will inform to the concern police officials, so such kind of happening like distribution of cash for vote will be very tough”. The same response was also found when I made conversation with Chief Electoral Officer of Mauritius. The significance of mobile phone on the eve of election is very high for free and fair election in Mauritius.  Yes there is little bit suspicion that some candidates might have indulged in the malpractices that there is allegation of distributing some utensils and other material to the poor electorate with a view to influence them. The culture of donation by well wishers or corporate bodies to the prospective parties or candidate is appeared that can be influencing factor to unfair election. To get nominated from a party is very crucial that new comers has less chance though they said parties required any sum of money from candidates to secure their candidacy; however, once candidates were offered seats they must be ready to contribute a huge amount for party campaigns. (Bunwaree, EISA 2005) 

    Significantly election code of conduct was started on trial basis when there was by-election in the Quartier Militaire/Moka in March 2009. In prior to this, there was no specific rules or codes of conduct although there are various informal practices and unwritten rules by which parties have to abide. The media is a critical stakeholder in helping the electorate to make a well informed choice. Prospective candidates use newspapers, radio and TV to influence voters. Of these, TV is the most powerful electoral apparatus, followed by radio. The publicly funded Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) enjoys an absolute monopoly in the Mauritius media structure. The monopolistic status and the broad audience that the MBC enjoys combine to make them the most powerful tool in the management of public opinion, especially during the election period. (Mauritius Times) During election campaign, streets and building facades in each constituency strewn with banners, posters and plastic ribbons popularising the symbols and colours of competing parties. Election manifesto is considered very seriously that all the parties have strong commitment to follow their policy programmes led down in the party manifestos that was also formulated through different level of responsible committees of the parties.

    The Rodrigues Regional Assembly Elections 2012

    All the electorates have well aware of their electoral system but one outsider will have tough to understand the system easily. The Rodrigues Regional Assembly is consisting of 18 members elected, 12 of whom for local region members and the other 6 for Island region members. Election system is mixing in the sense that electorates have 3 votes comprising of two local region votes and one Island region vote. The local region votes shall be given for 2 candidates to be members for the local region. The Island region vote shall be given for a registered political party having submitted a list of candidates for election as Regional Assembly members for the Island region. The 2 Regional Assembly members for each local region shall be returned under the simple majority system. The members for the Island region shall be returned under the system of proportional representation. (The Rodrigues Regional Assembly Act 2001)

    For this 2012 elections, altogether 24 candidates were in the fray as nominated by four political parties, all the four parties have submitted a list of 6 candidates each {FPR (Front Patriotique Rodriguais); Mouvement Rodriguais (MR); Muvman Independantis Rodriguais (MIR); OPR (Organisation du Peuple de Rodrigues)}.

    Election is very likey to India, out of total 27,776 electorates 22,550 casted their vote (on 5 February 2012 at Rodrigues) which is 81.19%. For the convenience of electorates and officials the election was conducted in 78 voting rooms of different 15 polling stations. Surprisingly the election was very very peaceful that no report of violence or intimidation was found which is also proved that the police personals who engaged on the election duty had not possessed weapon / armed; this is the symbol of true and democratic election. Election campaigns started with music gathering where party leaders have been trying to woo their supporters by consolidating their policy programmes that led down in election manifestos. In this regard, mention may be made two important issues that they pledged to strengthen or solve the water problem and the other for more autonomy for Rodrigues. Note, Rodrigues is another island that depends on the Mauritius but they have separate Regional Assembly to govern the region.  

    Factor contributing free and fair election in Mauritius

    • Good governance / incumbency factor

    Voice of repentance against the government is very minimal and coming up mostly from the opposition leader of the national assembly who made positive criticism to alert the ruling party. The main issue of the nation is to be water problem, electoral reform which also includes women reservation so as to enable them more participation in the decision making bodies. Differences are not appeared in between hill and valley / urban and rural that almost all the road and other facilities are provided the same. All the roads are connected with national bus transport. One of the remarkable appearances of the government is “Practicability” that all the laws and regulations can be implemented up to the expectation. For instance, free education up to 16 years (Hr. Secondary), free transport to all the students, free health care to all the citizens, old age pension and housing for poor, and other many more welfare programmes are implementing very effectively. Besides government respect all the fundamental rights. Action taken against the people who contravened law of the land is very fast. For the matter of corruption there is also Independent Committee Against Corruption (ICAC) that looks into all the cases of corruption, so the corruption rate is also relatively less, as per the report of the worldwide corruption perception ranking 2011 published by Transparency International, Mauritius is in the 46 rank while India got 95.  

    In Manipur, both the central and state government have no sincere that every issue and matter is carrying forward for another issue and ultimately politicised it. This is one of the most important factors to ignore the existing laws and failure of implementation of various schemes for the welfare of the people. Almost all the government departments have issues of abnormal activities like, ignorance of duty, monopoly, favouritism, corruption… is it not the in-activism of governance. It is also seemingly influenced to general populace to develop a stereotype mindset to indulge in malpractices. Recent inauguration of many central funded projects like City Convention Centre will still remain to complete and it will take more time to have its utility.

    • Rule of law

    All the people respect law of the land very strictly that most of them have try to protect public  order which is also result of good governance in the sense that government has also care of their activities that whether it is against the fundamental rights and freedom of the citizens. As such police forces usually have not carried armed weapon, instead they are engage in the traffic control. Yes, at times, the cases of theft and other minor illicit cases are reported in the newspapers but no report of killing by state and non-state or terrorist is found.

    What we have experiencing in the Manipur is very negative that if the government orders band something someone will search the way to go through backdoor, as such the order seems to be only namesake. Besides the government has no cared of its subsequence effect whether it is against the will of the people or against the basic rights. Very interestingly most of the people do what they wish that they do not bother of others right or respect. You see the HSLC exam scandal, frequent band and blockade, overestimated power of different organisations. It is vis-versa, if the government is weak or failed the civil organisation will strong and even encroach as law enforcing agency. It is seemingly normal process as the civil organisation sanctions reward to the people even settles the guilty. See the matter of present state election; the election commission of India have tried to bring maximum free and fair election. Having aware of the conflict situation and the previous election records of malpractices the commission has taken up various novel strategies but all the stakeholders (party, candidates and electorates) do not cooperate even though they are talking about democratic election. Most of the political elites and candidates had busy to search the loopholes of the election code of conduct and also supported by maximum electorates that is proved by cash for vote that doesn’t claim all the electorates. Violation of election code of conduct and cash for vote is taking in to consider normal electoral phenomenon in India. Even the Minster of Law (Khursheed) acted against the recommendation of ECI that witnessed the ignorance of the law.  Very remarkably, it is known to all that the mentality of the candidates supported by Nagaland’s regional party who speak senseless voices alleging one and all even against the efforts of ECI.

    • Mentality and civic sense

    All the citizens wanted to live in mutual coordination and understanding that shows by their normal practices. They will not throw any waste on the roadside or other that it will put down Dustbin placing in every corner of the road and public places. They care of environmental pollution that no one can see smoke from such huge amount of vehicles they are using. All communities live together in every place where they prefer or owned and support the inter-caste marriage. Though the island has inhabited many ethnic groups none of them committed any act that may lead or heart the other sentiment, community or individual. None of them criticised other religions and respect each other and try to strengthen their religion with the financial assistance of government. Most significantly, they maintain discipline which is one of the core elements to consolidate democratic culture that they will follow what the elders say.

    In Manipur most of the leaders whether in the public and private has very less commitment that they do on the wrong way that has more self-centre interest which shows the mental standard. One or another conflict will come up when any task carried out by using in the interest of people. For instance the gimmicks of Manipur-Japan friendly football match, one way traffic system of Paona Bazar where powered groups will encroach the binding while they advise to follow the public; HSLC exam scenario etc. It is indeed very confused that even who talk for the better of the society turns immediately and involved in unexpected allegations without considering human integrity and dignity. Plurality and multifaceted issues is becoming a common phenomenon in various movements, perhaps there might be influencing factor from the politicians. Confidence to one and another is seemingly lost as such unethical and immoral practices are very often. 

    Yes socio political background is so difference that no issues, conflict and movement is there in Mauritius whilst umpteenth issues and movements are normal procedure in Manipur as the government is irresponsible. In democratic states, parties everywhere have the potential to be effective and accountable, but they face enormous challenges of the political context and the conflict environment in which they function. But it is late to change their mindset to pay attention for consolidation of democratic government. For the better society and good governance, free and fair election will possible only when the political elites respect political morality, that they have to draw attention to renovate people / electorate’s mindset to feel free to vote whatever they like without any influence on the basis of good governance. Let’s try once, to produce a government who elected by democratic election that political parties have responsibility to do. By the way all the electorates are also appeal not to expect influential materials from the party or candidates. Such mental change can be activated by the political party only that all the civil societies and other illegal organisations cannot bifurcate from the pool of electoral politics which is experiencing today itself, it is quite natural.

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