Legislative procedure: What’s the point of parliament?

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Only parliament acting as the legislative branch of government can pass laws. However, the legislative process holds little value other than allowing the opposition to express its discontent.

As an ideological exercise, we often tend to ask ourselves the purpose of parliamentary procedure in Mauritius. It is rarely about a policy disagreement and more akin to an allergic reaction to the public display of incompetence every single week. It would be almost unrealistic not to ask questions. However, the issues are a lot deeper and they seem to indicate that Parliament is becoming redundant. Our democracy is on the verge of a catastrophic collapse.

At the heart of this existential crisis is the obvious disregard for the separation of powers. Based on the classic tripartite system, our democracy rests on the distribution of responsibilities between the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. However, in recent years, the executive and the legislative processes have merged into a flawed monster.

The cabinet, which is the executive branch of government in our political system, is tasked with proposing legislation but it is only Parliament acting as the legislative branch of government that can pass a law.

However, the legislative process holds little value other than allowing the opposition to express its discontent. As we are bound by the Westminster model of government, the executive can do whatever it wants because it holds a majority in Parliament and will always get legislation through.

“…the executive holds the sole power of proposing and passing legislation. Parliament simply acts as a political spectacle…”

This is even more prominent in Mauritius where backbenchers are simply filling up the seats of the National Assembly because they are completely deprived of a political opinion. As a result, a backbencher from the majority voting against proposed legislation is almost unheard of. It means that – unless it is a constitutional amendment and requires a larger majority – the executive holds the sole power of proposing and passing legislation. Parliament simply acts as a political spectacle every Tuesday.

This issue cannot be resolved until we change the way parties choose their candidates for elections. As long as that process is not democratic, every member of a political bloc has to put aside their own values, if any, to become the ideological pawn of the party leader.

Dissent and political differences are not tolerated or the party’s leader will simply cut you off at the next election. We have seen a recent example with Bashir Jahangeer who dared to disagree with the government at times and was not given the opportunity to defend his parliamentary seat. It is a flawed democratic process if our choices are limited by the whims and caprices of the supreme leaders of the mainstream political parties.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the perpetual madness surrounding the speaker of the National Assembly. The United Kingdom and other countries using the Westminster model such as Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and Pakistan have a speaker in Parliament who was first voted as an MP by their respective electorate.

For some reason, we do things differently here. In 2014, Maya Hanoomanjee lost an election but was appointed speaker by Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth at the time. She spent the next five years “ordering out” politicians who were actually voted to Parliament by the electorate. Apparently, losing an election gives you more power in Parliament than winning one.

As for Sooroojdev Phokeer, it would be useless to waste more than a few seconds on him but, like Hanoomanjee, he was not chosen by the people to sit in Parliament. He was imposed on us and it is disgraceful that he has the ultimate power to act as a human shield for the government.

We can ask the same question over and over again but we seem to be straying even further away from an answer. What’s the point of parliament?

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