Saturday, October 06, 2018

Thoughts on Electoral Reform (7)

I came to very clearly believe that 
a form of PR would be harmful to Canada.

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada,
Feb 1, 2018 on why he's sticking with FPTP

You can have any colour 
as long as it is black.
Henry Ford, about the Model T, 1909


Pravind Al Lapes Rekin 
Ek Enn Lapipi Danzere
It's clear to everyone who doesn't want to get distracted by its wrapping – the jargon, the apparent concern for increased female representation and other gimmicks – that the electoral reform the PM presented on behalf of the Lepep government about ten days ago will turn our country into an autocracy with leaders appointing MPs, suppress dissent which is the lifeblood of democracies and make it a lot more difficult for voters to keep politicians out of our National Assembly (NA).

See we collectively decided in 2014 not to elect many politicians for reasons that included proportional representation (PR), second republic and having the guy who killed our savings culture, broke the economy and start something which has caused an economic shortfall which is now measured in years of national output missing as Finance Minister again. That's a big weapon we have as voters and which we've used before against two other outgoing PMs. Not only we shouldn't let anyone take it away from us but it is necessary that we make it even more potent as we show below.

Essential Facts and Selection Criteria
At this point in the debate it is necessary to step back and have a look at some essential facts and criteria to pick the changes in our electoral setup which are right for us and compatible with the UNHRC ruling. We know for a fact that the BLS cannot be absorbed (subsumed) into a party list because leaders are under no legal obligation whatsoever to line up candidates from more than one community and that our NA is way too big – in 2014 there were 148 parliaments with better population/MPs ratios than ours. Another fact is that leaders of major political parties don't need dangerous party lists to start having a diverse list of candidates. They've been doing that for the past 11 general elections.

It is also crucial to acknowledge that bato languti never docked in Port-Louis. Instead the First Past The Post (FPTP) system, progressive taxation and good decisions we took have provided impressive opportunities for rapid upward mobility to all communities and we've come a long long way. We should take a moment to note that the first female President and the first female VPM to give just two examples don't appear to be Hindu women. We're not a rainbow nation. We're more of a masala nation. And boy is that tasty!

More Criteria to Evaluate 
Electoral Reform Proposals
Government formation and stability are two other criteria. We want our electoral system to generate clear winners fast and produce governments with a comfortable majority. Election after election. Government stability should also be evaluated at the time some of the winning alliances collapsed. We are aware that the FPTP produced a few extreme imbalances but we shouldn't get so academic about this that we design something which is vote wise outcome stupid. This has very serious implications with respect to the size of any correction contemplated. Accountability is a fundamental yardstick too. We want our MPs to be accountable to us and not to their leaders or party list managers.


So, How Do the Major Proposals Stack Up?
It's obvious that our current system has done a fantastic job (see 1). It scores great on government formation and on the two stability criteria. Our FPTP system has also blessed us with 11 general elections over 47 years and 11 governments of an average length of 4.3 years. This has enabled us to do very well at least till 2006. After that the flat tax has pushed us into a plutocracy which has reversed the march of progress for an overwhelming majority of us.

The second proposal is the one by Sithanen (2012) which is almost identical to those of Ramgoolam and Berenger (RS/NR/PB). It's a proposal which is deeply flawed as I showed within 48 hours of its presentation and one which voters massively rejected in 2014. It calls for a larger parliament, would create serious problems at the stage of government formation – it could take us several months like in Belgium, Italy and The Netherlands for an election result to morph into a government – and would have melted the big majorities produced by our FPTP system to dangerous levels. Dangerous enough for several Mauritian governments in the past 47 years to not survive a vote of confidence after a partner left the winning alliance.

In fact the simulations he used to conclude that his model does a fine job have been done only at the time the vote counting is completed which makes his analysis seriously detached from reality. Another flaw of his dangerous electoral galimatia is that 20 MPs are added to parliament irrespective of the election results. This extreme carelessness would have generated 220 additional MPs over the past five decades or three times more than our FPTP system. His proposal would also significantly blunt the weapon we have to keep massively incompetent politicians like himself out of Parliament and literally institutionalise political dynasties – which is why many politicians are for PR. PJ's proposal is as dangerous as Sithanen's. And there has already been widespread rejection of his option.


A Proposal So We Can Have 
a Colour Other Than Black
It's disinterested as I am not desperate to try to exhume a deeply-buried political career with a wicked electoral proposal to please a couple of party leaders so I get another opportunity of sinking Mauritius as my name will be very high on a LP/MMM party list. My approach instead takes our excellent FPTP setup as starting point and makes a small and very careful tweak. It transforms the 8 ethnic best losers into 6 non-ethnic and conditional best losers. That is the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) would allocate up to 6 additional seats to the unsuccessful candidates with the largest vote shares that were not candidates of the winning alliance or party so that we end up with an opposition of at least 6 MPs.* Each time.

This change keeps all the advantages of our current system plus it would have given oppositions that are 50% larger and better when we needed them the most (SSR and SAJ would have been the first to get additional seats in their 60-0), would not put us in a perpetual political crisis like the proposals of RS and PJ and would have generated only 15 additional seats over the past 11 elections. Seriously, who would not be happy with a result of 38-22, 41-19 or 39-21 and try to screw it up with mathematical skills that are quite poor? Someone who was not happy with our high savings rate and then decided to kill it with his reverse Midas touch maybe?

Back On the Edge of A 
Political Precipice Too Quickly
We thrashed a wicked plan of a scheming trio in 2014. And less than four years later we're way too close to another catastrophe. It would take only for PB to say yes to PJ's proposal or to something as evil for us to veer into an autocracy. Plus we have to accept that politicians can do a lot of damage during a term. How do we fix this? Essentially with three tools. One is recall elections. We've talked about that before. It's a tool for us to potentially dump a lousy MP within months instead of waiting for a general election. With recall elections as an option we would have been spared a lot of the affermage rubbish from Collendavelloo. With recall elections his attitude would have been a lot better.

We Need More Democracy, Not Less
The second one is statute referendums (SR). This is something that allows voters to have a bill or policy withheld and even reversed. With a SR we the people would have been able to cancel the tax on interest income that killed our savings culture, reversed the Sithanen flat tax that has caused several years of GDP to go missing, saved Promenade Roland Armand, roll back the billion-rupee gifts to a dead industry, prevented our rupee from being mistaken for a Christmas pudding, reverse a controversial beach deproclamation, cancel the identity card project, reinstate the demerit point system and more. The final tool is the initiated constitutional amendment (ICA). This is something voters can use to bring changes to our constitution like chopping off the BLS and adding kreol as an official language.

The Best Course of Action
Ask voters for their permission and opinion about these and other surprising challenges to basic common sense in a referendum (see 2). This would enable Lepep to fulfill the 9th of 12 commandments of its social contract which includes (see page 7 of their electoral manifesto) "Il y aura des referendums obligatoires pour des questions cruciales concernant l'Etat". Then use the results to fine tune any proposal that doesn't assume we are morons.


Read the six other pieces in this series.


*My preferred setup of 42 single-member constituencies which would improve the quality of debates and pave the way for same-day results would work with a maximum of four additional seats.

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