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Electoral Reform : Discrimination against Minority Protection

By Rafic Soormally

Rama Sithanen’s and Ashok Subron’s attempts to remove the Minority Protection System, in the form of BLS, from the Constitution amounts to discrimination against minority communities. How on earth can any reasonable human being deny the official recognition of people’s communities, religions and cultures in a census and in the constitution of a civilised country? Rama Sithanen said that minority protection should be « subsumed into a new mixed FPTP and Party List electoral system » (page xv of his 2012 report). Why not equally remove freedom of expression and freedom to religion from the Constitution and respectively subsume them in newspaper companies and television stations and in Priests, Imams and Pundits? According to Ashok Subron, recognition of minority communities amounts to ‘communalisme’ (a misused term). Equally, does he consider the recognition of the sexes to ensure that women are adequately represented in politics and jobs to be to ‘sexism’? 

Listening to former politician Rama Sithanen and Ashok Subron, spokesperson of political party Rezistans ek Alternativ, day-in and day-out hammering, with the help of an acquiescing section of the media which does not allow freedom of expression for dissent or right of reply to expose their schemes, bigotry, fabrications and downright lies, right-thinking Mauritians are entitled to be revolted. Minority Protection System Mauritius has adopted the British First Past the Post (FPTP) democratic system which is defective as it is skewed in favour of the majority community (majority here does not mean > 50%). 

Hence, as a condition for independence, a Minority Protection System in the form of the Best Loser System (BLS) was enshrined in the Constitution to ensure that minority communities are adequately and fairly represented in Parliament. M Rafic Soormally Since independence in 1968, Mauritius has always had the reputation of a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious country where communities respect one another and where minorities are protected by law. In fact, the Minority Protection System in the shape of the Best Loser System (BLS) was a condition for independence, as thrashed out by the political leaders at the time : 1. The Labour Party (Parti Travailliste), a majority Hindu-based party led by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. 2. The Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate (PMSD), a mainly minority Christian-based party led by Sir Gaëtan Duval, and 3. The Comité d’Action Musulman (CAM), a minority Muslim Party led by Sir Razack Mohamed. All those parties agreed to recognise in the Constitution the following communities : 1. The Hindu Community (the majority community), the Muslim Community (a minority) and the sino-Mauritian Community (a minority) by « way of life ». 2. The « General Population » where way of life does not apply. 

 For administrative purposes, this General Population residual category includes other minorities which are not specifically identified. But, Mauritian Christians, who are mainly of African descent, form a sizeable minority of around 30%, and are included under General Population. The lack of unity amongst those Christians was the result of the fact that, although most considered themselves as Creoles given their ancestors’ history of slavery, many wanted to divest themselves with such appellation which they believe stigmatises them as descendants of slaves, the term Creole itself being a European rather than an African term. Moreover, there are many Muslims and Hindus amongst African-Mauritians, which would amount to double counting. However, in practice, many Christians of African descent also benefit from BLS. For minority communities to be protected, they (and the majority community) must necessarily be identified by law. How else to implement the system? The same applies to the protection of women, the orphans, the handicapped. How many Afro-Christians are there in the Civil Service? How does one do this exercise if they are not identified? 

 Hence, for electoral purposes, if candidates do not wish to identify themselves as a Hindu or Muslim or sino-Mauritian by way of life, they should select the residual category where way of life does not apply, failing which their candidacies would be rejected. This is what happened to candidates of Rezistans ek Alternativ when they resorted to civil disobedience to afford them the opportunity to contest the BLS, case thrown out by the Privy Council as they were trying to challenge the Constitution through the backdoor. R&A is now directly challenging the BLS, which case is still pending before the Supreme Court of Mauritius. But this is not preventing them from using this as an excuse to put pressure on the government to remove the minority protection system from the constitution. Like Freedom of Expression, Freedom to Religion, the rights and freedoms of minorities cannot be removed from the Constitution, let alone for members of the majority to vote on it. FPTP, the real problem Yet, FPTP is the real problem. FPTP returns 60 elected candidates. BLS has gone some way to reform FPTP to resolve part of the problem by nominating up to 8 Best Losers from minorities. However, the real issue is the fact that FPTP tends to return a disproportionate number of candidates for the winning party or alliance compared to the percentage of votes it has won. A classic example is the results of the 1982 elections when the MSM-PSM Alliance returned 60 seats (excluding Rodrigues), that is 96.8% of seats when it won 64.2% of the votes. Under a full PR system, the MSM-PSM alliance would have obtained only 40 seats. 

On the other hand, the National Alliance Party won 25.8% of the votes but won no seats when, under a PR system it would have won 16 seats. A similar situation came about in the 1991 and 1995 general elections. Intolerance It follows that any further reform should concern FPTP and not the removal of BLS, which is a reform in itself. It is nauseating to see politicians, former politicians and some journalists attacking BLS, a minority-protection system which has preserved peace and harmony for 50 years. Given that the Muslim minority forms around 18% of the population, they are obsessed to shoot down Muslims from the Constitution and relegate them to the mercy of party leaders. This has nothing to do with justice and fairness for minorities, religious or otherwise. It has to do with intolerance and bigotry. It is about time that such bigotry is outlawed. Those politicians, former politicians and journalists who are intolerant against minorities want absolutely to destroy the minority protection system, a move which will have far-reaching effects in the country and even reduce certain minorities to insignificance. And the majority Hindu government is giving credence to such intolerance, because minorities really have to be protected against the majority. 

This constitutional protection does not give the majority community the right to remove minority rights. Similarly, the rights to freedom of expression, to freedom of religion, cannot be removed. Flawed arguments against Minority Protection Rama Sithanen refers to the ‘ethnicising’ of the electoral system and denounces a “recensement ethnique”. 1. The recognition of minority so-called ethnic communities does not mean the ‘ethnicisation’ of the census or electoral system. 2. Ethnicity is essentially non-white and not relevant to Mauritius. But the term is used loosely. 3. There is no proven definition of the verb ‘ethnicise’, if there is one. It looks like it has been invented by Sithanen. Rama Sithanen wants to subsume BLS in political parties when minority protection is government business. Why not subsume freedom of expression in newspaper companies and television stations, or subsume freedom of religion in Priests, Imams and Pundits respectively? For his part, Ashok Subron, spokesperson of the Rezistans ek Alternativ, argues that the BLS amounts to « communalisme dans notre système électoral ». 1. Communalism has to do with communes, not communities. The proper term is « communautarisme » or « communitarianism » in English. But Subron misuses the term, anyway. 2. By definition, « communitarianism is a socio-political term designating attitudes or aspirations within minorities and less commonly within majorities (cultural, religious, ethnic ...) within a larger social group. » Similarly, « sexism » has to do with « prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex. » According to Subron, does the recognition of the sexes to ensure that women are adequately represented in politics and jobs amount to ‘sexism’? 

What does he make of the European Community (Communauté Européenne)? Does this amount to ‘communalisme’? The recognition of the diverse minority communities in any free and fair country is a precursor to ensuring that they are fairly included in politics, jobs, housing, and so on, so they are not discriminated against by the majority. For that, a census is paramount and should be held every 10 years like in most countries. The Afro-Christian minority community has been screaming that they are not adequately included in the Civil Service. How can they make a case if that community is not recognised by law? Both Sithanen and Subron display a total misunderstanding of terms and they are being allowed to ram those lies down the throats of Mauritians to suit their own sinister political agenda. According to them, the European Community would be the result of ‘communalisme’ and ‘ethnicism’, and the recognition of Indo-Mauritians and afro-Mauritians would mean ‘Indianism’ and Africanism respectively.

 On the contrary, Sithanen’s and Subron’s attempts to remove the Minority Protection System from the Constitution amounts to communitarianism as they are advocating discrimination against minorities. Recognition of communities is essential to ensure minorities are protected. In Mauritian politics, the Minority Protection System takes the form of a Best Loser System under which a maximum of 8 additional seats to a defective FPTP system which tends to favour the majority community are allocated to candidates from minority communities. This safeguard is enshrined in the Mauritian Constitution and, like other safeguards such as freedom of expression and freedom to religion, it cannot be removed. Minority Rights 2012 The United Nations Human Rights Commission, to which Mauritius is a signatory, provides for the protection of Minority Rights, as follows: « Every country has national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities within its borders. Persons belonging to minorities aspire to participate in the public, social, economic, cultural and religious life of the societies in which they live, on an equal footing with the rest of the population. » « Twenty years ago, UN Member States adopted unanimously the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, an acknowledgment that a gap existed in minority rights protection. This gap persists today. 

The Minority Rights Declaration established that States have an obligation to acknowledge and promote the rights of minorities to enjoy their own cultures and identities, to profess and practice their own religions and use their own languages. » «The Declaration ushered in a new era for minority rights. It sets essential standards for protection and offers guidance to States as they seek to realize the human rights of minorities.» Conclusion The majority community, whether it is above or below 50%, has no right to remove the minority protection from the Constitution. Let the court decide. The politician Anil Gayan is a member of the majority community. He is wrong to target minorities under BLS. Those minorities are identified by law. It is the job of government, not political leaders, to implement such protection. Rezistans ek Alternativ should not be allowed to abuse the process of the court by filing a case against the BLS and, at the same time, use this to put political pressure on government to remove BLS, to the delight of Rama Sithanen. Rama Sithanen produced out of his hat 20 PR seats to ‘complement’ FPTP and for political parties to have at least 10% of the national vote to be entitled to PR, which means the decimation of small parties. He subsumes minority protection to party leaders where candidates will have to kiss their leaders’ feet to be nominated. This is corruption à l’outrance. Since FPTP is a defective system, does one keep the 60 FPTP seats intact, or reduce them? Remember, BLS already reformed FPTP. 

 M Rafic Soormally Economist 
07 October 2018

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