Mauritius: Electoral system

Reviewed 25 November 2019

Extracted from: Rouikaya Kasenally 2009 "Chapter 8: Mauritius" IN Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, EISA, Johannesburg, 276-281.

Mauritius is in its fortieth year of independence, and many believe that the country has reached the crossroads of its existence and that this requires a more introspective analysis of the society. Notions of representative and inclusive democracy have surfaced and questions pertaining to the manner in which the constitution serves, represents and situates the Mauritian citizen are frequently posed. The constitution defines and guarantees status and citizenship to all Mauritians irrespective of colour, creed and religion. Yet, at the same time, it establishes community classification as per its first schedule. In fact, it is this contradictory (which often becomes conflicting) status which is at the heart of demands to revisit the Mauritian constitution.

Mauritius has had a Legislative Council with some elected members since 1885. However, the franchise was extended to those who had educational qualification and owned immovable property of certain value, resulting in the fact that only 1.5 per cent of the population was entitled to vote. In 1947, changes were brought to the constitution. This saw a widened franchise, a legislature with a higher elective element and an executive that had members appointed from the elected and nominated members of the Legislative Council. The right to vote was granted to any resident aged 21 or above who can speak and can read and write simple sentences in, and can sign his name in, any of the languages. In 1957, an Electoral Boundary Commission was appointed, under the chairmanship of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, to demarcate up to 40 electoral districts with minimum electorates of 5,000 in such a way as to give each main section of the population in Mauritius an adequate opportunity to secure representation in the Legislative Council corresponding to its own number in the community as a whole.

To this end the Commission divided the population into three main sections (see Report of the Banwell Commission, 1966):

  • Indo-Mauritian Hindus;
  • General Population; and
  • Indo-Mauritian Muslims.

On the recommendation of that commission, a new constitution was set up, whereby 40 constituencies were demarcated and proclaimed, each returning one candidate by simple majority. The franchise was extended to universal adult suffrage with a residential qualification. The constitution also empowered the governor to nominate up to a maximum of 12 extra members to ensure representation of special interest or those who had no chance of obtaining representation through election.

In 1966 Lord Banwell was asked to devise an electoral system. His report comprised two elements: electoral boundaries and voting system / allocation of seats. He advocated that the existing 40 constituencies simply be grouped into pairs of two, giving 20 new enlarged constituencies which would return three members each. The island of Rodrigues would henceforth elect two members. No controversy arose in response to this simple exercise of boundaries regrouping, as politicians in the country could not devise a better solution. The proposal concerning the voting system and allocation of seats in the Legislative Assembly was not so straightforward. The election of 62 members would be carried out by direct voting according to the principle that each elector would cast three votes (two for Rodrigues) and the three candidates having the highest number of votes would be elected directly.

To compensate for the under-representation of minority communities or inadequate numbers of elected members with respect to the percentage of votes polled nationally by certain parties, additional seats would be allocated through corrective seats. A first set of five seats (constant correctives) would be filled consecutively by a person who was a candidate of the party which would have the highest number of votes cast per member of Assembly, if that seat were filled by a candidate of that party; (the requisite party) and was also a member of that community).The person chosen was the candidate of the requisite party and the requisite community scoring the highest percentage of votes at the election and was not elected directly. The second set of seats (variable correctives) was indeterminate in the sense that seats were progressively allocated to parties until they achieved near parity with the percentage of their popular vote. Only parties securing 25 per cent or above of the total votes cast would be entitled to the variable seats. It was a system based partly on proportional representation.

The Banwell proposal of constant and variable correctives was amended and instead a system of best losers was devised by which eight additional seats (to the 62 directly elected members) would be allocated to the communities most under-represented.

The need to reform the existing electoral model has been an ongoing debate since the mid-1990s. Mention was made in the introduction of the Sachs Report commissioned by the government of Mauritius. The Report was made public in 2001 and identified a number of democratic deficits with the present electoral model. One of the major deficits is the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system, where the three member constituencies frequently produce results which are grossly disproportionate to the share of votes obtained by the different parties. The phenomenon of 60-0 was referred to as an anachronism of representativeness, fairness and stability. Another important deficit highlighted was the under-representation of women in Mauritian politics. Despite having ratified a number of protocols and conventions for a more gendered representation in parliament, Mauritius lags behind a number of other SADC countries in terms of gender representation.

The Sachs Report (2001) examined five different electoral models and concluded that no single model meets all the requirements in an unqualified manner. The following recommendations were made by the Commission:

  • That 62 seats be maintained (20 constituencies x 3 members + 1 constituency x 2 members) on the basis of the present FPTP system.
  • That a further 30 members be chosen on the basis of lists provided by parties receiving more than ten per cent of the national vote. Such lists would be in descending rank of eligibility. They would be published in advance of elections and may contain a restricted number of names of persons standing for constituencies (should such persons be successfully elected as constituency members then their names on the list would be disregarded). The objective of the lists would be to introduce a measure of compensation in the outcome of elections so as to make the final totals of seats held by the different parties reflect more accurately the support that the parties had received in the country at large. The lists would be composed in such a way as to secure greater gender representivity and to provide the reassurance that the best loser system (BLS) had until now provided (Darga 2005).

Following the Sachs Report, the government instituted a Select Committee of Parliament to make recommendations (see Select Committee of the National Assembly 2004, Recommendations on the Sachs Report). Unfortunately, there was divergence and failure to agree on which model to recommend. The debate around electoral reform is still very much of the essence, also in the context of the decision of a number of civil society organisations (Rezistanz Ek Alternativ, among the most vocal ones) to contest the constitutionality of the BLS.

With the 2010 general election nearing it is hoped that electoral reform will be implemented in time for that election [This hope did not materialise]. In May 2008, Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam reiterated his commitment to electoral reform and mentioned his intention to invite key political parties to brainstorm on the various proposals (Bhookun 2008).

Current Electoral System

According to the Constitution, there are 62 seats in the Assembly representing twenty constituencies which shall return 3 members each. The Island of Rodrigues shall return 2 members (The Constitution 1968, first schedule (1(1))).

In addition to the 62 seats, there shall be an additional 8 seats that shall be allocated by the Electoral Supervisory Commission who shall make "a separate determination in respect of each seat to ascertain the appropriate unreturned candidate (if any) to fill that seat" (The Constitution 1968, first schedule (5(2))). The entire process can be read about on Schedule one, section five of the Constitution,

Concerning the issue of floor-crossing, there are no provisions, either in the constitution or the law of the land, that deal with this feature. The various post-independence parliaments have occasionally seen members crossing to the other side. Although concern was expressed at such behaviour, nothing has been done to address this. The current parliament has seen a number of defections from both sides of the House during the period 20072008. The Sachs Report proposes the introduction of anti-defection provisions aimed at discouraging wheeling and dealing between the leaders of one party and members of another (section 58). Discussions concerning electoral reform have highlighted the fact that seats secured under Proportional Representation belong to the party and not the candidate and if in case of defection the candidate would automatically lose his /her seat.

References

BHOOKUN, D 2008 Electoral reform, LExpress, 5 May, 3.

CONSTITUTION OF MAURITIUS 1968 (accessed 20 Nov 2019).

DARGA, A 2005 The electoral process in Mauritius, Journal of African Elections 4(1).

REPORT OF THE BANWELL COMMISSION ON ELECTORAL REFORM 1966 Sessional Paper No 5.

SACHS COMMISSION 2001 Report of the Commission on Constitutional and Electoral Reform 2001/02, [www] http://www.gov.mu/portal/goc/pmo/file/reform.doc [MS Word document] (accessed 22 Feb 2010).