Prior to the 2019 election, no one ever thought that Electoral Commissioner Irfan Rahman was a person of anything but unimpeachable integrity and righteousness – a monument of rectitude. It is sad and saddening that he should end his career amidst growing calls for his resignation but he must go for his sake, not ours.
I don’t blame the man entirely for what is euphemistically called ‘irregularities’ that happened during the elections. I say ‘euphemistically’ because I don’t think that computer rooms pulled out of the blue, ballot papers taking a walk in the sugarcane fields, numbers of votes which don’t tally, voters struck off the voting register without any reason, ballot boxes where ballot papers seem to have been ironed and neatly stacked and an outrageous abuse of the MBC never seen in this country before are just ‘irregularities’. Still, Irfan Rahman may not have been aware of everything that was going on in the voting centres and he may therefore not be party to any of the ‘irregularities’ mentioned. That still leaves a few unanswered questions.
First, if he didn’t know about things he should have known about, what did he do once they were brought to his knowledge and he had time to look at all the facts in a calm way? Precious little! He conceded that the ballot papers gallivanting in nature were genuine but he seemed neither surprised nor worried. He dispassionately referred the case to the police and looked satisfied with himself. He gave us various figures for those who were deprived of their democratic right to vote and some incoherent explanations, again without feeling any responsibility whatsoever in the matter. As for the neat looking ballot boxes, he endorsed the nice bedtime story of a returning officer who talked about a very conscientious civil servant who took a ruler – no, not a ruler, a T-square – from her own house, carried it all the way to the voting centre to make sure the ballot papers looked nice in the ballot box for the night before the box was opened the next day. It was an endearing story that we are still telling our children to lull them to sleep but the lady, who must be suffering from an acute form of Compulsive Obsessive Disease remained anonymous. There must also be another lady or gentleman suffering from the same disease in at least two other voting centres – numbers 5 and 10, coincidentally, where former Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam was a candidate.
My second question is: what does a full-time electoral commissioner, his staff at the Electoral Commissioner’s Office and an entire Electoral Supervisory Commission do between two elections? We are talking about five years here. For two years, we didn’t have a whiff of an election, general, by-election, municipal or Rodrigues. Hasn’t anyone involved in the electoral process who is handsomely paid by our hard-earned money had time to grab a primary school kid and ask them to divide the number of votes by three in constituency no.19 and possibly others? Doesn’t any of these kind gentlemen and ladies have a calculator?
If Mr Rahman is now – two full years, 24 months later – conceding that there were irregularities, what did he do about that before Deputy Chief Electoral Officer Darmajai Mulloo brought that up in court? He is, after all, the one ultimately responsible for delivering free and fair elections, isn’t he?
Irfan Rahman should however not be made to carry the can alone. The Electoral Supervisory Commission – now reeking of political nominees – should also take responsibility for the ‘irregularities’ mentioned and explain what they did to redress the situation. And since nothing seems to have been done other than one denial after another, all the ESC members should also go and go now. Some of them will not be missed. Others will regain their lost dignity.