Winning fair and square

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The question was simple, and to any independent observer, totally innocuous! All the leader of the opposition was asking is if we can put an end to foreign workers coming to the island and being eligible to vote after only two years of staying in the country. He also made some suggestions about registering voters and making sure that the now notorious ‘computer rooms’ are used properly to ‘ensure the integrity of the database’.

In other words, the Private Notice Question (PNQ) could be summarised as “Can we make the electoral system fairer, more democratic and representative”? That’s all there was to it. There was no suggestion whatsoever of jeopardising or even denting the MSM’s chances of winning the coming elections in any way. It was really one of those questions where you would have expected the prime minister to thank the leader of the opposition for the suggestion and promise to set up a committee – which would include members of the opposition – to follow up on the suggestions as these would enhance the democratic process, promote transparency and reduce the perception of unfairness and foul play that the government is still reeling under.

What is more, the PNQ sums up the feelings and expectations of most right-thinking Mauritians. There are, according to Xavier Duval, around 34,000 foreign workers originating from Commonwealth countries. Many of them are poor and desperate – a situation that can potentially be exploited by unscrupulous, ravenous politicians who are interested in power at any cost. Most of these workers do not have even the most basic knowledge of the languages spoken in this country let alone its political system. So what exactly is the point justifying the persistence to keep them on our electoral register? As it happens, in many of their countries, Mauritians are not allowed to vote, even if they spent a lifetime there. In fact, Duval’s suggestion of allowing them to vote after having resided here for five years is far too mild in my opinion. If we can’t vote in their country, why should they vote here? And even if we were allowed to vote in their countries where the voting population ranges in the millions, there is no reason why we should extend the same hospitality considering the tiny number of electors on our electoral register and the fact that in several constituencies in the last election, the difference in vote was a couple of dozen! A Bangladeshi or Indian coming here to work for a couple of years cannot be allowed to swing the vote. Any argument to the contrary is preposterous.

Yet, Pravind Jugnauth was adamant and his stubbornness impenetrable. He gave no valid reason other than the fact that the UK allows Commonwealth citizens to vote! In the UK, 47.6 million people registered to vote at the last election. A few thousand foreigners going to the poll are unlikely to swing the vote. In Mauritius, there were only 941,719 at the last election! A few votes can and have made a difference! Notice, by the way, how we worship India when it suits us but we turn to the UK as an example when it serves our purpose!

As for rejecting the suggestion of modernising the electoral register and keeping it open until two weeks prior to the election to avoid the terrible injustice – intended or otherwise – inflicted on many of our compatriots who were deprived of their democratic right to cast their vote at the last election, no comment! No comment about the computer rooms either. Who would dare to suggest counting the votes the same day now that the whole country has electricity?

It is clear that we are heading for another election marred by similar controversies as the ones that characterised the last one. It is equally clear that it is not this government’s intention to change a system that works for them fine. Pity as the perception of winning fair and square would avoid many of the problems they are encountering today!  

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