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Speakership: lessons in democracy

Written by on October 4, 2023

History was made yesterday in two countries regarding the selection or dismissal of the speaker of Parliament:

  1. In Canada, the House of Commons elected the first Black Speaker in history, namely Greg Fergus, a Liberal MP from Quebec. He was elected by a majority in Parliament to replace the former speaker who resigned last week.
  2. In the United States, the Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, was ousted from office by his own party, which has a majority in the House of Representatives.

In both cases, democracy was at play. In Canada, MPs elect a new Speaker freely by secret ballot. In the US, the speaker is elected in a competitive race and can be removed from office by a majority of Representatives in Congress.

Contrast these two cases to the situation in Mauritius, where there is an anti-democratic process to select a speaker. The Mauritian speaker is appointed by the PM, he is not an elected MP and he cannot be removed from office by a majority of MPs in Parliament. He owes his appointment to the PM and he is accountable to him only.

He can suspend and expel opposition MPs from the House according to his will and nobody can hold him to account. Disgruntled MPs can try to seek a remedy from the Supreme Court but so far the highest court has not ruled on the conduct of the Speaker. So there is a constitutional vacuum with respect to MPs’ legal recourse against unfair treatment from the Speaker.

Having a non-elected Speaker (political nominee) is really a curse on parliamentary democracy in Mauritius. The solution is to have an MP elected as Speaker by a majority of MPs in the House.

Prakash Neerohoo

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