Six key takeaways from the UK elections for the forthcoming polls in Mauritius

10 juillet 2024, 11:57


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After the first four takeaways published on Tuesday’s issue, here are the last two ones.

1. National vote does not matter much in FPTP voting system

The UK Labour Party (LP) took 63% of seats on only 34% of the votes. It won where it mattered most. If we factor in the doubling of support for Labour in Scotland, the party has not improved its vote share nationally compared to 2019. Yet, Labour won a huge majority and more than 210 additional seats on a vote share almost similar to 2019 when it lost decisively. Simply amazing because of the distortions of the FPTP system. Labour gained seats in the Midlands, North and South, and also in London with the same vote share. It took almost all seats in Wales. It did extremely well in Scotland from one seat only to 39 seats. It prevailed in many large cities.

This geographical oasis or desert exists in all FPTP system. It also very much prevails in Mauritius. The MSM won the last two elections by leveraging its strength in the 4 to 14 cluster of constituencies, while the MMM has not won a single seat in these ridings for a very long time. No prize for guessing that the MSM will attempt to weaponise its comparative advantage in the 4 to 14 belt while the Opposition will try to maximise its seats in the nine urban constituencies. Similar to what the UK LP has done, where its range of votes varies from a low 5% to a high 65% across constituencies.

The geography of votes matters significantly. Both in the UK and in Mauritius. While the MSM polled 37% of national vote in 2019, there was a massive dispersion between its 30% of vote in constituencies N°ˢ1, 15, 16, 17, 18, its 25% in constituencies N°ˢ19 and 20 and its 20% of vote in constituencies Nos2 and 3. However, the MSM took more than 40% of votes in N°ˢ4, 5, 6, 12, 13 and 14, more than 45% in number Nos10 and 11, and around 50% in constituencies N°ˢ7, 8 and 9.

The PM was elected with 57% of vote in N°8 and Hurdoyal with 55% in N°10. Maudhoo in N°9, Gobin in N°7 and Jagutpal in N°13 were all elected with over 50% of the vote. Callychurn in N°5 and Seeruttun in N°11 won easily with over 45% of the votes. That makes a total of 7 constituencies already and if the MSM holds its 2019 tally, it could potentially win around 19 to 20 seats out of 21. One could carry out the same exercise in constituencies N°ˢ4, 6, 12 and 14, and show that they will be tightly contested.

As usual, averages hide many key regional differences which are critical in election strategy. Both in the UK and in Mauritius. So, national vote hardly matters. What is critical is the battle in each of the 20 constituencies.

2. The efficiency of translating votes into seats in FPTP

The efficient conversion of votes into seats is critical in winning elections in a FPTP system. The MMM has often been a victim of this phenomenon where it wins by very large majorities in some urban constituencies with many ‘wasted votes’ and loses narrowly in many rural constituencies. Winning with 75% of votes in constituency N°3 and losing with 47% in at least 6 constituencies in 1987. The LP in the UK also suffered from this with very large majorities in many cities and marginal losses in small towns and villages. This time , the UK LP articulated a highly robust strategy to enhance the efficiency of its vote translation into seats.

In 2019, the MSM had a very good vote/ seat efficiency as shown in the table below


The MSM won 38 seats on 37.68% of vote and 805,036 actual votes. It required only 21,185 votes to secure each seat. The LP/PMSD needed 49,986 votes and the MMM 54,300 votes to obtain each one seat respectively. The Opposition must imperatively improve its vote/seat efficiency to enhance its chances of winning. Looking at the alignment of potential candidates and the glaring lack of vote optimisation based on the specific socio-demographic support of the two parties in each constituency, the LP/MMM alliance could be at a major disadvantage on vote efficiency. It should work very hard like Starmer to cure this strategic deficiency.

These risks could potentially impact the seats won by each alliance at the next election. The MSM will work hard to hold its seats, even narrowly, in the constituencies it won with over 45% of the votes in 2019. And expect to benefit from the vote fragmentation in many urban constituencies in a three or four way contests. And aided by the poor choice of some unelectable candidates and the very weak presence of women on the Opposition list.

Totally opposite to what Keir Starmer has done to win the elections decisively. He chose mostly competent and electable candidates in each constituency as opposed to loyal and subservient ones who were not popular. The risks are a MSM victory on around 40% of the vote as it is better at translating votes into seats. Basically, a party winning the elections on fewer votes than the opposition. Another quirk of an odd FPTP electoral system.

3. Is there a reciprocal relationship between women representation and women vote?

The UK LP focused on some key demographics to win the election. Women was its most important targeted group as they represent around 51% of the electorate. Women, especially younger ones, shifted their support from Conservatives to deliver a huge victory to LP. It has turned out to be a reciprocal relationship. Based on both policies that favour women and on meaningful female representation.

The Labour party fielded the highest proportion of women candidates at 46%. It also leveraged the importance of women by promising key Ministerial positions in case of victory. As a result, more women voted for the LP. There are now 190 LP women MPs, representing 46% of the 412 LP Mps. Real change and not change in rhetoric and hollow promises only.

It was a win win scenario for the LP and for women. Both in policy substance and in political representation. The LP won the elections with much support from women and women have both quantitative and qualitative representation from Labour. The gender difference for LP voters was in favour of women. And Starmer has reciprocated with 11 women Ministers in a cabinet of 25. This 44% women presence includes the historic milestone of a first woman Chancellor of the Exchequer, the DPM, the Home Affairs Minister and the Education Minister. It is the most gender balanced Cabinet ever in the UK. Not only many women in Cabinet but they also hold key positions. Real change does pay dividends.

In Mauritius, the spectacle is woefully sad and an unbecoming embarrassment. There are very few women on the list of candidates. And no chance of occupying senior Ministerial positions inspite of their competence, qualifications and merit. And yet Starmer has shown a reciprocal relationship between the voting pattern of women and the consideration they are given by political parties. With women making up over half of the electorate, political parties would be best advised not to ignore their potential for driving election results. Can the Opposition rise to this reciprocal relationship? The more so when the MSM has five women Ministers and will likely field many more women at the next elections. And it is also assiduously targeting pensioners and low wage voters.

4. Concluding remarks: take a leaf out of Starmer’s book

Many who do not want to change or are so cut off from realities would argue, as expected, that Mauritus is different from the UK. The usual hubristic excuse against change even if the consequences are not different based on the same electoral system. True, the LP won a landslide in terms of seats. Also, voters punished a deeply unpopular party. But the anatomy of the UK election is more complex because of the oddities of the FPTP voting system. Exactly what could happen in Mauritius. Because of the similarity of the electoral systems, there are deep lessons to be drawn from the outcome of the UK elections for Mauritius. Especially on the ‘quirkiness’ of the FPTP in terms of the huge disproportionality between vote share and seat share, the impact of vote fragmentation, the consequence of tactical voting or ‘vote utile’, the geography of votes, the efficiency of vote translation into seats and the reciprocity between gender policy offers and representation and voting pattern. Those who ignore such FPTP ‘anomalies’ do it at their own risks. As Starmer rightly pointed out, winning elections does not fall from the sky especially after a very long spell in the Opposition. He has however blazed the trail from Opposition to Government by crafting a robust electoral strategy and an intelligent tactic of both negative and affirmative vote.

Four of the takeaways will be presented here and the two others in a future issue.

1. History does not repeat itself but it often rhymes

As Mark Twain observed about history, while circumstances, details and settings change, similar events or systems will mostly produce the same effects. Mauritius inherited its electoral system from the UK with a tweak. Both use the FPTP (Ed. First-past-the-post) voting formula where the winner takes almost everything with spectacular disproportionality between vote share and seat share. In the UK, elections are held in single member constituencies while in Mauritius, we have three member ridings. As both have the FPTP formula, the consequences are very similar. As amply evidenced in the recent UK elections. In crafting their electoral strategy, are there lessons that political parties in Mauritius can draw from the results of the UK elections which are based on exactly the same voting system? And could these takeaways somewhat shape the outcome of the next elections? The two articles purport to shine light on six takeaways with potential implications for the forthcoming polls in Mauritius.

These are

i) the clamour for change versus the advocacy for continuity is largely amplified by the FPTP voting system;

ii) the party that comes first often takes almost all even if it captures only 34% of national vote;

iii) the fragmentation of votes could have significant impact on the outcome of elections;

iv) the national share of vote is not as important as what happens in each constituency;

v) the efficient distribution of votes across constituencies is fundamental to better translate votes into seats and to win,

vi) there could be some reciprocal relationship between women’s representation and their voting pattern.

2. From a historic low to a Labour landslide: the real change blueprint

Kudos to Keir Starmer. He became MP in 2015 and leader of the Labour Party (LP) in 2020, a year after its worst election defeat for 85 years. Four years on, he has secured a seismic win with a significant majority of 174 seats. Starmer worked tirelessly with discipline, dedication, team work, laser focus and at times, ruthlessness (by getting rid of its former leader) to transform the LP, to bring it back to the centre where elections are won, to select candidates on the basis of competence and electability, to appoint many women and young people to senior positions ,and to campaign furiously on a ‘CHANGE’ platform, explaining clearly and unambiguously where and how the LP will be substantially different to the Tories. A change in policies, practices and actions as opposed to a change in personnel and rhetoric. Driven by a mission for national renewal, building back trust in politics, fielding 46% of women as candidates, and promising a government of service and delivery to the nation. Basically REAL and tangible change. He embraced a twin but complementary ‘change’ platform based on a negative vote to oust the Conservatives and an affirmative vote to bring about meaningful changes in policies and practices. The twin strategy resonated with the electorate even if there are other factors that helped Labour win a landslide.

The Opposition in Mauritius is also campaigning on a platform of CHANGE. Change is its mantra. Of course, the ‘change’ and ‘anti-incumbency’ factors will likely play for the Opposition, especially after ten years of MSM in office. However, the other component of this ‘CHANGE’ strategy must be clearly spelt out to the population. Both in substance and actions, and in form and style. Hopefully, this will happen as the election draws nearer. Up to now, it has been a negative campaign to get rid of the MSM. Beyond a few generic measures announced on May day, the Opposition should clearly indicate where and how it will differ positively and significantly from the Government on ideas, policies and practices in key areas. The more so as on social measures, there will not be much difference between the two as it will be a populist auction as to which one will offer more freebies even if they are uncosted and unfunded .

The LP in the UK campaigned effectively on both a negative vote (kick the Tories out) and an affirmative vote (how they will be different in policies, actions and style of Government). While negative campaigning may be necessary to win, Starmer realised that it could be insufficient as people need hope and aspirations for a better future with different policies in education, health, equal opportunities, purchasing power, climate change, gender fairness, drug, insecurity and immigration, amongst others .

3. MSM won with 29% of the electorate in 2019, the UK LP with only 20% in 2024

The UK Labour Party won one of the largest majorities o f s e at s i n Britain’s electoral history on the lowest share of votes of any election winner. Many have argued that in 2019, the MSM won 63% seats on only 37% of the votes with a 77% turnout. They still contend that only 29% of the electorate voted for the Government in 2019 ( 37% of 77%). And they conclude that 71% did not support the MSM. Indeed. But these are the quirks of an odd FPTP electoral system.

In the UK, the LP took 63% of seats on only 34% of national vote with a 60% turnout. So, the LP has a super majority of 174 seats with only 20% of the entire electorate (34% of 60%). It implies that 80% of people did not support the incoming Labour Government. It happens in many countries with a FPTP electoral system. In 2019, PM Modi won a landslide in seats on only 37% of popular vote in India which has the same FPTP system as us. If France had a FPTP system the Rassemblement National, which came first on 30th June, would have won an overall majority with 290 seats. With a two round formula, it came well behind in third position with only around 143 seats. Conversely, if the UK had France’s two round system, the LP would not have gained a majority of seats. So, who wins an election does not depend only on votes cast but on how the electoral system converts votes into seats.

4. Vote fragmentation and tactical voting helped the LP, and destroyed the Conservatives

The LP did not move the needle when it comes to its proportion of national votes. It gained 211 more seats with almost the same share of votes as in 2019. However, the fragmentation of votes by the Liberal Democrats, Reform UK and the Greens dealt a severe blow to the Conservatives and significantly helped Labour in a FPTP system. Almost 180 seats lost by the Conservatives are due to Reform Party taking around 80% of its 14% vote from former Tory voters. Had Reform UK not fielded candidates as in 2019, the Conservatives would have done much better. In around 103 ridings, Reform came second behind Labour, with the combination of Conservative and Reform vote higher than that of the LP. Shunning vote division explains the success of ‘le front républicain’ in France to desist in many ridings to deny a majority of seats to the extreme right.

Could the division of vote in Mauritius benefit the Government with the anti MSM vote split between the LP-MMM alliance and the two extra Parliamentary parties. Avoiding vote fragmentation is the principal reason behind the LP-MMM alliance. It is also the rationale behind the call for a united opposition of all parties to confront the Govt in a straight two horse contest. The outcome could be uncertain with a potential division of the anti-Government vote that lowers the threshold for the MSM to win in some ridings, with Bhadain’s Reform Party and Bodha- Valayden’s group taking votes away from the mainstream opposition. Frankly, they are unlikely to win any seat but they could inflict damage to the LP-MMM alliance in some ridings. The perspicacious Lindsey Collen aptly summarises the paradox of these small parties by stating that “their main aim is to oppose and weaken the government politically but their effect is the opposite as they harm the opposition electorally”. How true.

In 2019, Adibero of the MMM lost by 92 votes while Belcourt of Lalians Lespwar took 2,966 votes in constituency N°19. Sayyed Hossen of the LP lost by 49 votes while one Reform party candidate polled 1091 votes in N°15. A. Duval of the PMSD was short of 162 votes while Moirt of 100 % Citoyens obtained 1,379 votes in constituency N°17. Anquetil of the LP lost narrowly in No16 by 25 votes with one Reform party candidate on 688 votes. The same phenomenon occurred to LP candidates Jhuboo in N°14, Bissessur in N°12 and to some extent to Ramgoolam in N°10 and Bundhoo in N°13. Also Arianne Navarre-Marie of the MMM in N°1. In all these nine constituencies the fragmentation of vote played against Opposition parties and in favour of the MSM.

The context may be different this time. Will people vote tactically and choose the alliance best placed to beat the Government as in the UK? Or could third parties disrupt the elections with around 8 to 10% of votes each in some constituencies where the LP-MMM alliance looks strong? Time will tell.