At some point time during the present electoral campaign the leader of the Labour Party Navin Ramgoolam stated that the 2019 elections are as important as the one fought by the same Party (together with the Comité d’Action Musulman and the Independent Forward Bloc) in 1967. He added that we need to wage a battle of “libération”, presumably to rid the country of the tentacles of the clan that has laid siege on the City, so to say.
One may agree or not with his assessment of the common stakes involved in these two elections, but what is notably different today is the political culture that prevails on the political stage from what obtained during the years of the battle for Independence. Never have politicians stooped so low as we have been given to witness during the past weeks in the run-up to the 2019 general elections. It’s not our intention to apportion blame amongst the contesting parties, but there is widespread feeling that many of those who are spending millions of rupees to seek the people’s mandate as their representatives in the National Assembly have made a sorry spectacle of themselves. The cheap and lowly attacks they have directed against the adversary have been equal to their ‘political culture’ – or rather absence of it.
The weekly reproductions of articles published in this paper 60 years ago tell the story of a different class of men who were more interested in the people’s advancement than in their own petty power, and who fought tooth and nail against the Old Regime that was intent on maintaining the grip of the few on the whole political and economic architecture, leaving the crumbs for the rest of the population. What was also different was the demonstration given by the then political leaders who could rise above pettiness and greed, communalism and casteism to face the common adversary – which was political and economic domination and wealth concentration by a few at the expense of the many. It is quite possible that History will not be kind towards the generation that followed — the second generation, in fact — for the mess they have made of it all.
It would not have been safe during the last few weeks to go by the “latest” surveys or analytics update of the relative strengths of the main contesting parties/alliances, because the information circulating showed that things kept changing “dramatically” by the day. These fluctuations seemed to parallel the vilification campaigns unleashed on the political stage and on social media by two of the main blocs which are fighting it out to win support from their common electoral pond. The fallout is that the leader of the MMM, Paul Berenger, is already seeing himself in the garb of the “kingmaker” – even as main actor, it would seem — who would have the last word in the formation of the next government – and by extension its political and economic agendas. We all know what that means as regards his political agenda which runs contrary to “the ethos, principles and values on which the independence and the foundations of the country was fought” as pointed out by Mrinal Roy in his article in this same edition. Whether Mr Berenger is right about his expectations in terms of electoral success enough to leverage his parliamentary strength to be able to call the chips in the next government remains to be seen. But we may end up with a weak government vulnerable to all manner of “chantage” both from within and without, unless the electorate decides in its collective wisdom to return a sufficiently strong government capable of setting and implementing an agenda of real “rupture” from the errings of the recent past.
For what has in fact happened is that, despite the pledges made by successive governments to pursue an economic agenda that would reflect the values that underpinned the struggle for independence, in effect what they did has been to pursue the neo-liberal agenda that not only consolidated those who already were in control, but created among the rulers a new wealthy elite whose interests were equally served by the same neo-liberal agenda. The result was that the old kings of the oligarchy and the new princes emanating from within the political class and its acolytes and which went on to capture the State became allies, again leaving the crumbs for the masses. Hence the growing inequalities on several fronts and contraction of opportunities of access to affordable land and housing, and the push towards privatisation of education among other things.
It bears repeating what we have said earlier that this country has had enough of governments that have thus lost their bearing or done much harm to the national interest. Since the country’s fate is more important than that of individual politicians who hold sway over everything, it is important to ensure that the electoral process does not keep returning to square one. It is also important to ensure that the system remains balanced for sustaining social stability and economic progress, while retaining the overall architecture founded on the principle of separation of powers between the Parliament, the Executive, and the judiciary.
Thus, irrespective of which party or alliance comes to power this time round, the hope is that it will be a ‘for’ rather than an ‘against’ win – that is, it will not be one by default. For this to happen, the potential winner will have to have an agenda for the future that will include, among others, a level playing field for business and employment; overhaul of the system of distribution of wealth to address inequality issues; prodding the private sector to be more proactive in providing jobs for the bright boys and girls of Mauritius, by going into productive industries with less emphasis on real estate and smart city development; more attention to the housing, medical, educational needs of the future generations along lines that will equip them to innovate and be empowered. So that they can be in the forefront in building the Mauritius of the future, and gear themselves to be its future leaders.
* Published in print edition on 6 November 2019