Jean François Leckning: “Nobody came to see us saying, ‘I wanted to vote for the MSM, but my name was not on the list’”

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Jean François Leckning from the panecapavvoter.org platform is on a mission. He wants to find out how many people were actually deregistered during this election. So why does he think that this is a bigger problem than the authorities are making it out to be? Why are they angry about it this time round and why have a couple of citizens decided to challenge the system? He explains the idea behind this initiative and the outcome. 

After around 7,000 citizens were deregistered and could not vote at the last election, you took the initiative of inviting them to come and meet you to take stock of the situation. What exactly is the aim of this initiative?
We did invite voters who had been deprived of their right to vote to come and report to us in Port Louis in the aftermath of the election. Sometimes, actions are not planned or thought out... They are spontaneous. They come from the heart and are born out of a perception of injustice that shakes your body and agitates your soul. Géraldine Hennequin-Joulia and I felt very strongly the need to do something. It was necessary to dare, to stand up, to be indignant. 

What will this action lead to?
We have no idea. It was more of a cri de coeur than a deliberate and thoughtful action. We had the temerity to think that it was possible to quantify this anomaly, to come and prove that there are many more voters concerned by this anomaly than the 7,000 communicated by the electoral commission.

Have you managed to prove that?
Not yet but we believe that it was necessary to begin this citizen action with a proximity exercise, in order to measure the anger of the electors and better understand the reasons why they were deprived of their right to vote. The question was how far Mauritians would be able to get out of their comfort zone on a Saturday to take the time to come and be indignant. 

And what is the answer to that?
A thousand voters came to meet us in Port Louis, which is not negligible. It made us want to move on to the second stage, the online census via the panecapavvoter.org platform.

How many people have contacted you on both of these platforms?
Too many! Enough, in any case, to allow us to speak of a serious and unacceptable anomaly which, without a shadow of a doubt, had direct consequences on the electoral process. This should never happen in Mauritius, where democracy is its cornerstone.

You still haven’t given me a figure…
At this point, we do not want to give figures. It is still too early. 

Are there constituencies which are more concerned than others?
Indeed! We are able to say, without fear of being mistaken, that two constituencies are more concerned than the others: N°1 (Grande-Rivière-Nord-Ouest Port Louis Ouest)  and N°14 (Savanne-Rivière Noire). From these constituencies, we received respectively a 18.6% and 16.1% response rate, which is enormous. 

Any constituencies where there were fewer complaints?
Yes, one would think that there was no problem at N°7, where the response rate did not exceed 1%. No doubt the ESC canvassers did a better job there.

Or simply people from there did not contact you because they have other priorities?
Or no reason to do so. Why would they come to us if their names were on the lists?

But don’t you think that it is the duty or citizens to go and find out if they are registered before every election?
Yes, the elector has the duty and responsibility of ensuring, in the first place, that s/he is registered on the electoral registers. I am not denying that. But we still have to make it easier for citizens by having someone on the other end of the line to answer calls, making sure that the SMS platform put at their disposal works as it should! Putting everything on the elector’s back is too easy. And the authorities? Do they not have even greater obligations and responsibilities? I listened attentively to the speech of Mr. Désiré Basset on election night. He talked about the law, that is. But what about habits? For years, election after election, the ESC has found it useful, quite rightly, to keep on its lists the names of citizens previously registered. I am talking about those who have lived in the same house since Methuselah and who have always voted in the same school without having to report to the ESC each time. And now, overnight, the commission decides to apply the law, but in some cases only, not for everyone... I, for example, was able to vote at N°5 (Pamplemousses-Triolet) without having to re-register. Why have I been exempted from re-registration when others have not?

Why do you feel so strongly about such a situation?
Because it's very serious; the right to vote is sacred! It is a right that was acquired after a hard struggle. People died for that! And it is unacceptable today that this right has been denied to thousands of Mauritians because the census exercise was not done properly or because one morning someone at the ESC woke up saying, ‘This year, we will forget the habits and we will apply the law.’

Apart from the selective deleting of voters you highlighted earlier and which I do not want to minimise, isn’t the whole system outdated?
Totally! It is unthinkable that, in 2019, in the digital era, the fate of an elector depends on the goodwill of a few devout canvassers. What is the biometric identity card for? Why not introduce the voter card? I do not know. I do not necessarily have the right answers, the right method... But damn it, we have to stop believing we are in 1949!

The electoral commissioner says it’s a tiny fraction of the voting population. Why such energy on something so small?
The electoral commissioner spoke of 6,813 voters, or 0.72% of the electoral population. We have very good reason to believe that these figures do not reflect reality. In my opinion, they correspond to the number of electors who, on election day, took the time to enter a complaint to the Electoral Commission in each polling station. But what about those who did not know they could do it and who went home directly, furious and disappointed? What about those who already knew they could not vote and did not even move? In the interest of transparency, we once again ask the electoral commissioner to explain to the public how he got that figure. It’s his credibility, his commitment and his responsibilities we are talking about.

Let’s talk bluntly: do we have any idea who the people who were deregistered would have voted for in general?
I would have preferred to have no idea about the question... But it's clear that nobody came to see us saying, ‘I wanted to vote for the Mouvement Socialiste Militant (MSM), but my name was not on the list.’ On the other hand, there were many voters in Rivière-Noire who told us they are close to Ezra Jhuboo and are upset that they were not able to vote. I cannot help but think that the results, in this constituency, could have been different given the insignificant gap that separated Jhuboo from the third candidate. 

To sum up, your initiative is just about getting information about the number of people who did not vote. It is not about challenging the election results, is it?
No. This is not our battle at all. We leave that to the opposition parties. Ours is to count as best as we can the Mauritians who could not vote, beyond any political consideration. 

When will you stop this exercise and give us an official figure?
We will sooner or later end up communicating some statistics, don’t worry. This work however takes time. Even the Electoral Supervisory Commission takes several months to carry out a census. How do you expect two simple citizens to do better? Besides, there is a lack of interest. In Mauritius, we move on quickly to something else. It is in the DNA of Mauritians to claim causes vehemently and to lose interest the next day. Géraldine and I are doing what we can. We gave Mauritians the tools they needed to claim their rights. It’s up to them to use them, not us. If they do not do it, too bad. We have also asked the political parties to come back to us with information if they consider it necessary. Navin Ramgoolam, to whom I spoke, is convinced of the merits of our approach. But his relays are slow to come back to us. Nothing, on the other hand, from the MSM or the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM). For the MSM, I understand that they have better things to do. They have won and they wrongly see this as useless. But the MMM? I spoke personally with several MMM candidates and I have not received any feedback to date. I can only assume that they have no reason to complain and that the entire MMM electorate managed to vote. Unless I am the problem and they do not give any credibility to my action, considering our past relationship.

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