This introductory chapter projects a clear idea about the central issue of concern in the research. The reasons for this particular investigation are also elaborated. A full statement of the research aims and objectives, based on the stated research problem is included. The chapter ends with a brief of the structure and content of the remaining chapters of the dissertation.
Section 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Mauritius states that Mauritius “shall be a sovereign democratic State which shall be known as the Republic of Mauritius”. Section 2 defines that “the Constitution is the supreme law of Mauritius and if any other law is inconsistent with this Constitution, that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void”.
Mauritius is a constitutional parliamentary democracy, based on the Westminster model, which consists of the President and the National Assembly. Elected on a First-Pass-the-post system, at an interval of 5 years, during the General Election, the Assembly makes provision for 70 candidates on 20 constituencies. (The Constitution of the Republic of Mauritius)
However, this model has been often subject to critics. Michael Duggett (2009), in his thesis about the Westminster Model, states that this model is one-dimensional, simplistic and has weakened as well as privatised. Rod Rhodes (2005) expressed his opinion saying that the model is “hollowed-out”. This might be a cause which is affecting the level of voter turnout in Mauritius.
1.1 Scope of the study
In this study, I propose to study the different causes of abstention at the General Elections and the policies that can be adopted to reduce this phenomenon. This research relates to the island of Mauritius only and therefore does not include Rodrigues and the other outer islands.
The research title is:
“A study of the causes of voting abstention at the General Election in the Island of Mauritius”.
Definition of voting abstention
Abstention occurs when an eligible voter does not cast a ballot during an election process. It has been observed that many countries are suffering from a high abstention rate due to the citizens’ low participation during elections.
1.3 Problem statement
An election is a formal decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office while vote is a citizen’s civic duty; however there are some people who abstain from voting for several reasons. Since our representative democratic model relies on citizen participation in elections, less participation means less representation, therefore, less people who decide for everyone else. “Falling turnout is often seen as a mark of disengagement, if not of actual disaffection” (Norris 1999)
The General Elections of year 2005 and 2010 will be used to show the issue; that is, a rise in voting abstention. Table 1 below shows the rate of abstention at the General Election during the year 2005 and 2010. A detailed analysis of the statistics is given in Appendix A: ‘The rate of voting abstention in year 2005’ and Appendix B: ‘The rate of voting abstention in year 2010’.
Table 1: Rate of abstention during year 2005 & 2010 General Election
No of Registered electors
No of voters
% of voters
Source: Electoral Commissioner’s Office
1.4 Research Aim
The main aim of the study is to analyse the causes which are decreasing the rate of turnout in the Mauritian General Election.
1.5 Research Objectives
The objectives of this research are as follows:
To calculate the level of abstention and the evolution thereof during the General Election of year 2005 and 2010;
To identify the factors which are likely to affect the decision of Mauritians whether to abstain or to vote;
To find out the policies that can be adopted to alleviate this problem of voter abstention.
1.6 Structure of the dissertation
CHAPTER 1 introduces the issue of voting abstention, the actual electoral system in Mauritius, the right to vote under the Mauritian Constitution, the scope of the study, the research title, the statement of problem is identified, the research aim and the research objectives are pointed out and finally the structure of the dissertation is elaborated in details.
CHAPTER 2 focuses on the political system and its evolution since 1810 before adopting the actual system.
CHAPTER 3 provides a literature review which analyses the different causes that could affect voters from abstaining.
CHAPTER 4 encompasses in detail how the research has been carried out and comprises all relevant information regarding the research methods to meet the objectives of the study.
CHAPTER 5 provides a discussion of results and findings from the survey which has been carried out. Each aspect of the questionnaire had been analyzed and interpreted.
CHAPER 6 provides a conclusion and some recommendations for the benefit of policy makers and administrators and other people interested in this field, together with a conclusion.
1.7 Chapter Conclusion
This first chapter has helped to set out an overview about the topic under investigation. The scope of the study is worked out before giving way to the research aims and objectives. Finally the structuring of the whole report has been elaborated.
THE ELECTORAL EVOLUTION IN THE ISLAND OF MAURITIUS
2.0 A Historical Background
The Island of Mauritius has been consequently conquered by Arab Sailors, Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British. The Arab sailors were the first who visited the island which was named as Dina Arobi. The Portuguese came in year 1507, followed by the Dutch during the year 1598 who renamed the island as Mauritius. In 1715, the French took control of the island and renamed it Ile de France. Ile de France was formally surrendered to the British, on the 3rd December 1810, where the island’s name was reverted to Mauritius. During their abdication, the French was allowed to keep their land and property and to use the French language and law of France in civil and criminal matters on the island. (Prisheela Motee, The library Congress, South Travels, Oracle, Encyclopaedia 2007, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa)
2.1 Electoral System
Mauritius has experienced a number of electoral systems since 1810 before adopting the actual system. The electoral system of Mauritius is based on the majority rule and government stability as it comprises of a fair representation of the population. The choice of government is made by citizens. (Prisheela Motee, The library Congress, South Travels, Oracle, Encyclopaedia 2007, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa)
2.1.1 One Man One Rule (1810-1886)
During 1810-1886, Mauritius was under the British Colonial Rule whereby the governor was enjoying all the law-making and decision-making process over Franco-Mauritian elite. It was a one man one rule policy.
In 1825, Mauritius obtained its first Constitution under which a Council of Government, which consisted of 4 top officials: Chief Justice, Chief Secretary, Commander of forces and Collector of Customs, was set up.
Later, in 1885, the Constitution was revised and enlarged to make room for elected representatives. The new Council of Government provided 27 members, including 10 elected members, on a restricted franchise. (Prisheela Motee, The library Congress, South Travels, Oracle, Encyclopaedia 2007, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa)
2.1.2 First-Pass-The-Post-System (FPTP) (1886-1958)
Year 1886, welcomes Mauritius’ first General Election (G.E) under the British Rule. The G.E was limited to wealthy property owners, who constituted only 2 percent of the adult population; that is, out of 365,000 inhabitants, only 12,000 of which all were men, could vote.
2 out of 10 elected members were from Port-Louis and 1 from each 8 districts. Under the 1885 Constitution, Mauritius was divided into 9 constituencies and each constituency elected one representative and Port-Louis, the capital, in relation to highest number of population returned two candidates to the legislative.
The elections were held during nine days: from 11-20 January; and were based on the first-past-the-post system. Traces of the 1886 Constitution, can be found in the actual electoral system as the FPTP has been prevailing in Mauritius whereby the candidate receiving the highest number of votes were elected.
Due to World War II, G.E could not be held during 1939-1945. The second G.E was then held in 1948, after that the 1886 Constitution was replaced by a new one, which allowed all those above 21 years old who could sign their name in any of the following languages: English, French, Creole, or any Indian languages, to vote through FPTP. Out of 419,000; 72,000 inhabitants, including 12,000 women, were registered electors.
Following constitutional conventions held in London in 1955 and 1957, the ministerial system was initiated and G.E was held on 9th March 1959. Voting took place for the first time on the basis of universal adult suffrage and the number of electors rose to 208,684. (Prisheela Motee, The library Congress, South Travels, Oracle, Encyclopaedia 2007, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa)
2.1.3 London Agreement (1956-1957)
Due to Mauritius’ multi-ethnic society the issue of an ideal electoral system has been a real concern. Since 1956, there was a need for a proper representation of the citizens in the Parliament. In the first London Agreement in 1957, the concept of Proportional Representation (PR) in the system was bluntly rejected. The agreement was supposed to eradicate communal ideology and encourage a system based on political parties not religion. The citizens wanted an ethnic reassurance where PR could prevailed in the National Assembly.
The Mauritius Labour Party (MLP) under the successive leaderships of Dr Maurice Cure and Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam persistently struggled not only for universal suffrage and responsible Government, but also a ministerial form of Government, a decrease in the number of nominees and an increase in that of elected members, changes in the composition of the Executive Council, the appointment of a Speaker and the majority party leader to be styled Prime Minister. During the 1955 Constitutional Conference which was held in London, the MLP requested some constitutional changes. The London Agreement envisaged nomination of maximum of 12 nominees to ensure fair representation. The right to vote was franchise to both sexes over the age of twenty-one and symbols were introduced to facilitate uneducated voters. The number of electors rose to 207,000 at the 1957 elections. (Prisheela Motee, The library Congress, South Travels, Oracle, Encyclopaedia 2007, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa)
2.1.4 Trustram-Eve Recommendations (1957)
In year 1957, Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve; member of the London Agreement, recommended a 40 single-member constituency system along with the FPTP system. This implies that there is no need for a majority overall to win over a seat.
The year 1957 had launched the Ministerial system where the elected candidates were able to decide upon policy issues in many areas. The Ministerial system comprised of nine ministers out of whom six were elected and three nominated. Despite the fact that it was not a fully elected body, the island had its first representative body and the Executive Council was chaired by the Governor.
Trustram’s recommendation was to ensure ethnic and communal representation in the legislative. The nominees are the ancestors of the best loser system. In 1964, in view of not upsetting the population, the governors did not increase the number of nominees. (Prisheela Motee, The library Congress, South Travels, Oracle, Encyclopaedia 2007, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa)
2.1.5 Banwell Report (1966)
The Banwell Report was initially based on the Trustram’s-Eve recommendations. Part of Mauritius actual electoral system is based on Banwell Recommendations. Banwell Commission was set up after the proposals made for an electoral system, at the Lancaster House Conference of September 1965, failed.
Banwell then proposed the followings:
20 constituencies returning 3 members in Mauritius and 2 members in Rodrigues.
A division of the population for electoral law purposes: Hindu, Muslin, Chinese and the General Population.
Use of FPTP in theory and the three pass the post in practice.
5 constant best loser seats to be filled as soon as results of general election are official so as to overcome the problem of under representation.
Candidates chosen as best losers should secure largest number of votes among the defeated candidates belonging to the under-represented community and 10% of the general votes.
Any party receiving more than 25% of the total vote and less than 25% seats in Parliament would be reallocated to bring its share to 25%.
The last proposal was rejected by the MLP, then Stonehouse; MLP’s friend, was called as a negotiator. (Prisheela Motee, The library Congress, South Travels, Oracle, Encyclopaedia 2007, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa)
18.104.22.168 Stonehouse Modifications
Stonehouse modified the 5 constant correctives to the 8 best loser votes. The variable correctives and the 10% votes were also rejected. The first 4 best losers seats were to be allocated to parties belonging to under presented communities irrespective to party affiliation .The community for the first 4 best losers is obtained by dividing the population of each of the communities by number of seats obtained by that community in general election plus one. The second 4 best losers were allocated on party and community basis. (Prisheela Motee, The library Congress, South Travels, Oracle, Encyclopaedia 2007, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa)
22.214.171.124 The final proposal and actual electoral system
The final proposal and the actual electoral system is based on Banwell recommendations and modified by Stonehouse.
There are 70 members in the parliament ,60 out of the 70 are directly elected through FPTP in 20 constituencies with returning 3 candidates each and Rodrigues 2 candidates as shown in the table below. The remaining 8 are the best losers chosen by the Electoral Supervisory Commission immediately after results of general elections. This structure has been basically maintained up to now. (Prisheela Motee, The library Congress, South Travels, Oracle, Encyclopaedia 2007, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa)
The 1967 election brought a milestone in the history of Mauritius. About 90% of the electorate voted. PMSD fought against independence while MLP fought for independence. PMSD was defeated and MLP won 39 seats by obtaining 54% of the national votes. Mauritius acceded to the status of independence on the 12th March 1968.
The first parliamentary election which took place on the 20th December 1976 amended the right to vote. Those aged 18 and above could vote. Out of 462,034, 170,000 were new eligible voters. The first general election after independence was an electoral victory. It was the first time that a single party alliance; Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) and Parti Socialiste Mauricien (PSM), won all 60 seats. Subsequently, the contribution was altered to guarantee that legislation elections occur every five years. Parliamentary by-elections were also reinstated. (Prisheela Motee, The library Congress, South Travels, Oracle, Encyclopaedia 2007, Electoral institute for sustainable democracy in Africa)
2.1.7 Westminster Model
“The Constitution of Mauritius provides for the Parliament of Mauritius to consist of the President and the National Assembly. The Parliament of Mauritius is modeled after the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy, where Members of Parliament are voted in at regular general elections, on the basis of a first past the post system.” (Official site of the Republic of Mauritius-The Parliament)
The Westminster System guarantees the separation of the legislative, executive and judicial powers. Political power rests on the Prime Minister and the cabinet. Sixty-two members of Parliament are elected every five years by universal adult suffrage and all major political parties are represented in Parliament.
The Legislative Assembly became the National Assembly. The Governor General was replaced by the President of the Republic. The latter is elected by the legislative upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister. (Dukhira, 2002)
CHAPTER 3: REVIEW OF LITERATURE
A vote is an electorate’s act of voting, whereby voting is the civic duty of every citizen. It is the starting and the ending point of every democracy. In general, the voting system allows electors to select a candidate or a party.
The citizens’ participation in election is important for democracy. If citizens do not have a hand in political things (especially elections) democracy is exposed to weakening risks. (Pasquino, 1983).
Citizens derive a direct benefit from fulfilling this duty. However, it is indeed serious because some citizen abstains from their civic duty. The decrease in the rate of voter turnout has been constantly observed. It is contended that voter turnout and voter abstention are closely related to one-another. These two factors will be used interchangeably throughout this study but as opposites of each other.
Poole and Rosenthal (1997) argue that the decision to vote or to abstain can be formulated with the equation:
where R is the net reward from voting, B is the material benefit brought about by voting, P is the probability that one’s vote makes a difference, C is the cost associated with voting, and D is the fixed benefit of voting.
Electors will abstain if the perceived benefits of abstention will exceed the perceived costs. This can be formulated by an equation: R= (P (B))-(C+D))>0.
On the other hand, Corey Brettschneider (2007) claimed that: mutual respect, equality or autonomy, are the core substantive values associated to the right to vote. These values should make the right to vote worth being enjoyable and exercisable, rather than the other way round. Riker and Ordeshook (1968) introduced the “citizen duty” notion to explain the issue of voter turnout.
This literature review addresses the causes, factors leading to a decrease of voter turnout and an increase in voting abstention.
3.1 Voter Abstention
Abstention occurs when an eligible voter does not cast a ballot during an election process. It has been observed that many countries are suffering from a high abstention rate due to the citizens’ low participation during elections.
“Abstention is ‘a real concern’ and ‘a challenge for politicians, who must persuade the public of the need to vote, according to Seddik Chihas of the National Democratic Rally (RND).” (Ademe Amine, 2012).
Abstention shall not be compared with “blank vote” where an eligible voter purposely spoils a vote by marking it wrongly or by marking anything at all, whereby abstention is when the electorate does not vote at all.
3.1.1 Un-informed electors
According to Arianna Degan’s and Antonio Merlo’s study in 2004, “who votes and for who people vote determine the outcome of the elections.” It is of high importance for candidates during elections to ensure the participation of their citizens and as well as their voting decisions.
Abstention occurs when there is a lack of information about the candidates, (Arianna Degan and Antonio Merlo, 2004), who make the wrong decision or the wrong choice. This can be costly to the elections where a wrong candidate might be elected. Some electors might also feel unmotivated to vote due to a feeling of uncertainty towards candidates but when a citizen is well informed about his “civic duty” and the “electoral candidates”, he will definitely participate during elections and vote for the right candidate.
3.2 Voter Turnout
Voter turnout is the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot in an election. Eligible voters shall not be compared with the total adult population because some adults are not eligible to vote. Voter turnout is an essential quality of fair election and is considered to be a necessary factor for a healthy democracy. Low turnout is generally accredited to disengagement from the system because of perceived efficacy of voting in altering policy decisions. Consequently established democracies with free elections usually have higher turnout than other states.
Understanding voter turnout
Voting turnout has often been used to judge the evolution of democratic countries, (Scot and Barbara, 2005). The act of voting depicts the preference of the citizens as this show “the extent to which the citizens are actually interested in being represented.”(Fair Vote Canada; Lijphart, 1996)
However, low level of participation is being noticed on behalf of eligible voters. This is due to disenchantment, indifference, or contentment. As such a poll with low turnout is not reliable, because it does not show what the whole country wants; it shows only part of the citizens’ will. For example, an elector may have abstained from voting because her favourite party had no chances of attaining representation.
Different countries have very different average voter turnouts. Low turnout can be expressed differently. For example, in developed countries, the young and the poor are the abstainers. However, India which comprises of an electorate of more than 670 million people, the contrary is found. The poor, who comprises of the majority of the demographic, tend to vote more than the rich and the middle- class, and turnout is higher in rural areas than in urban areas ( D.Gupta, 2004)
3.2.2 Socio- economic factors
Citizens participate politically when their level of wealth and education increases because they are more informed and has a feeling of efficacy. This leads to a higher political participation (Lijphart, 1997). According to Ioannis and Phil (2005), sociologist argues that the political behaviour, the identification with a party’s values and people’s interest to vote are affected by the socio.economic characteristics. Turnout is higher among those with higher income, those of higher education, white -collar workers, whites, men, middle-aged , older voters, those with closer community ties, those married and the members of organizations.
In developing countries, to maintain security and economic development in case when things are bad, citizens tend to vote in great numbers (Radcliff 1992; Fornos et al.2004)
The educational level and the wealth of the country affect turnout but these are not reliable measures as in countries like Europe, in spite of the fact that it is wealthy and have a high rate of literacy, the level of turnout is found to be low.
Despite the fact, that countries, like those in Europe and Latin America have a newer democracy, they do not have the cultural habit of voting. The eligible voters do not have the sense of civic duty, which takes time and certain social conditions to develop. These social conditions developed by G. Bingham Powell are:
trust in government,
the degree of partisanship among the population,
interest in politics, and
belief in the efficiency of voting.
Crewe et al. (1992) traced four factors associated with turnout irregularity:
having recently moved home,
the type of housing tenure, and,
marital status(single or divorced).
These factors are inter-correlated but they have an independent effect on turnout. According to Crewe et al. (1992), isolation from personal and national networks resulted in a lack of political information or pressure to vote, thus, lowering turnout due to a lack of motivation.
Weak or absent party emerged as another important source of irregular voting (Crewe et al, 1992). According to their study, the identification of age and strength are inter-dependently related to voter turnout.
A lack in the government performance also carries a negative impact upon turnout. Strong political competition and ideological cleavages between parties tend to increase turnout (Dalton, 1988).
Institutional factors have a significant impact on voter turnout. These variables are classified into three categories:
Perception of the effectiveness of governing institutions,
Variables in electoral rules include compulsory voting, registration rules and voting age.
Compulsory voting increases turnout because once voting is made mandatory, people follow the rule irrespective of the punitive sanctions for non-voting (Lijphart 1997). However, in Venezuela and the Netherlands compulsory voting has been rescinded, due to a decrease in turnout. On the other hand, Paraguay having a compulsory voting system imposes payment of a fine and ineligibility for elective office for a prescribed period. Colombia and Nicaragua also have compulsory voting. In Greece voting is compulsory; however there are practically no sanctions for those who do not vote. In Belgium voting is compulsory, too, but not strongly enforced.
Automatic and compulsory registration often leads to a low turnout because even those who are not eligible, as stated below in the case study: The Republic of Mauritius: Disqualified voters, are on the registration list which gives false survey.
Conversely, an election where registration is voluntary or requires a personal initiative ought to be associated with higher voter turnout, because the institutional obstacle of registration has already been surmounted. (Payne et al, 2002)
Voting age has been found to be positively associated to voting turnout as younger citizens are “less exposed to politics” (Wolfinger and Rosenstone, 1980) and are less likely to vote as older voters. Compared to the youths, the older generations tend to have the sense of civic duty. Older people vote more than youths. The act of voting is also seen as part of the young people “coming-of-age” ritual.
126.96.36.199 Perception of the effectiveness of governing institutions
Variables in the governing effectiveness category include the number of political parties, the relative power of the lower house, federalism or the centralization of the government, and concurrent elections. These variables may affect voters’ perceptions of the effectiveness or the policy of the powers of the elected officials.
The number of political parties
Jackman (1987) argues that multi parties’ lead to coalition building to policy ambiguity and compromise. It is expected to reduce the probability of legislative majorities and worsen executive legislative cooperation which may lead to rendering the electoral process less consequential.
The relative power of the lower house
This unicameral legislature has to adopt the majoritarian policy to be more effective. This is supposed to render voting to be more meaningful.
The centralization of the government
Centralized government is more effective, efficient and decisive. Jones (1997) argues that federal political arrangements create new electoral dynamics. The federalism variable is ought to capture longer ballots, which are believed to reduce turnout and the presence of unique local election laws that may deter voting.
Concurrent election means the instances when presidential and legislative elections are held at the same time. Concurrent election is supposed to increase voter turnout as it is expected to contribute to the perception that the election is more relevant.
Institutional variables in the mobilization category include district magnitude and electoral disproportionality.
As district magnitude increases political parties have more incentives to retain all seats found in a particular district (Powell, 1986). With a smaller pool of candidates or political parties competing for votes in the district, the distribution of patronage will be more visible and more certain which is ought to result in greater voter mobilization.
Electoral disproportionality occurs when parties receive electoral support that does not translate into representation in the legislature in which case, votes have been wasted (Burnham 1987). Wasted votes are found to be associated negatively with voting turnout as parties have less of an incentive to turn out to vote.
Mark. N. Franklin (1997) argues that salience is the effect of a vote of an eligible voter over a country. Salient issues are politically important as public opinions are likely to structure party support and voting behaviour and form the subject of political debate. Voters’ perceptions of fairness impact on salience. Citizens will not cast any ballot if they feel that the election is not worthy, corrupted and determined by fraud thus relating to low voter turnout.
For ages, gender inequality has been prevailing. Women were considered to be inferior to men. Women were confined in a more private sphere leaving men in a public one, especially in politics due to a combination of psychological and sociological causes. If we refer to classical literature, we shall see how women were kept away from the social aspect of life. Women roles in the society were to be a mother, a wife, a sister or a friend. This practice has prevailed for years. There is only a minority of women who participates in the society.
However an analysis at the end of 90’s in 19 centuries (Norris et al, 2003) confirmed that Norway had a female participation rate significantly higher than men, in Germany, Great Britain and Spain men and women abstention rates were very close, and in all countries there was an invasion in the youngest ages, female children vote more than their mothers.
Voter fatigue tends to lower turnout. This occurs when participants do not find any interest to cast a ballot. They get bored and reject participation. This may be due to frequent election. Eileen Park, a journalist, reported on 31 March 2012 that voter fatigue might be a cause to influence the public not to vote though being at the eve of the GOP (Grand Old Party) Presidential Election in Wisconsin. The public were no more motivated to vote.
Voter suppression is used as a stratagem to influence the outcome of an election by