A By-election of Uncertainties

This by-election will give the much-needed clarity about the respective weights of the contending major players, and this will matter crucially for their future – By TP Saran

The science of making predictions about the future, futurology, is a risky one, because so many predictions turn out to be false – even scientific ones which are premised on more tangible trends and facts. In the case of politics, predicting outcomes of elections is called psephology – a mouthful in itself! And many ‘psephological’ predictions, made after much discussion and analysis by experts with apparently impeccable reputations either on their own or as part of entities specialized in poll surveys, have been subsequently overwhelmed by total surprise once the results were out. This happened in France and the US recently, with the elections of Francois Macron and Donald Trump respectively.

And of course in Mauritius too, when the Alliance Lepep swept through in December 2014. It was thought then that the MSM, which has always been considered to have only a small electoral weight on its own, could not add much more to that with its splinter allies. And thus would not be able to match the formidable combine of the two traditional, stronger parties, Labour and MMM. And yet the unpredictable happened.

As No. 18 goes to the polls on Sunday, the same uncertainties prevail. Of course, each party and candidate is expressing their confidence about winning: after all, they would not want to demoralize their supporters in advance! And must therefore give not only an air but an assurance of being able to come out with flying colours. With the incumbent ruling alliance having chosen not to field a candidate, the playground is occupied by opposition elements: traditional parties first – Labour Party (LP), MMM, PMSD, then the newer players like MP of Allan Ganoo with its candidate Tania Diolle and the Reform Party of Roshi Badhain, followed by independent candidates some of whom have quite credible profiles. For example Dr R. Mahadewoo who has single-handedly challenged the government on the issue of the biometric card at his own expense, Jack Bizlall of Mouvement Premier Mai, Kugan Parapen of Rezistans ek Alternativ…

However, on the part of the seasoned ones, there has been some caution expressed. Arvin Boolell of LP in his interview to this paper last week stressed the need for maximum voter participation, recognizing that abstention could be damaging. The same is true for the MMM, because both parties will depend on their core strength. It is the floating voters who may tilt the balance, and if the undercover support – as is averred – by the MSM to the MMM is effective, then the latter’s confidence may be justified, despite the youth and newness of its candidate Nita Juddoo. It must be said she and her peers of comparable age-group have made a good show during their interviews, with forward looking ideas and projects about their constituency and the country. Nevertheless, it is no surprise that Arvin Boolell seems to be the favourite not only because of the party weight behind him, but also because of his track record and his personal characteristics.

As was pointed out in last week’s editorial, this election will give the much-needed clarity about the respective weights of the contending major players, and this will matter crucially for their future. Given the history of smaller formations in the political landscape of our country, it does look as if LP and MMM are going to be the dominant players for a foreseeable future, maybe the next decade or two, and in the meantime an alternative may perhaps or hopefully surface through popular pressure and civil society activism on the part of the new generation who are currently dissatisfied with the traditional parties. As for the PMSD, the ML, the Reform Party or the MP and other such minuscule groupings, as usual they will have to piggy-back on the larger parties.

The MMM has already suffered from break-ups, hence MSM, MP and ML. If the stalwart Bérenger has not been able to prevent the split, this begs the question of whether in his absence – which will come sooner or later – the MMM can hold together? And yet this would be important as we are a democracy and we do need a strong opposition, which has been the forte of the MMM. It has only had a brief experience at the helm of government, 2003-2005, for two and a half years, but has otherwise been in opposition during most of its existence.

LP has been in the forefront of this country’s development, and has an undeniable record in this respect, based on the vision of its founding father Dr Maurice Cure with his socialist principles. They were carried forward and implemented by those who followed in the 1960s and for a while afterwards. Both LP and MMM had to adjust and accommodate with the wave of liberalism and capitalism that marked the Thatcher and Reagan years, but nevertheless had to accept that the market economy would not dismantle the foundations of the welfare state. To this day, all the political parties recognize that social protection is an absolute that cannot be taken lightly, for it has allowed us to develop in a humane way.

The Labour Party is one of those rare institutions that belong to the people, for having outgrown the ideals of its founding fathers and went on to leave an indelible imprint on the socio-economic development of Mauritius. To continue to maintain its driver role in the future of this country, LP must genuinely reinvent itself as Arvin Boolell has opined. It made the right electoral noises — democratization of the economy for example – but where was the follow-up? The same deficit was evident in a number of other sectors, education and medical/health among others. It seemed to have lost its way and  loosened the strong ideological underpinning that characterized its heyday with the stalwarts at its head. That is the reinvention that it requires. And also the establishment of a permanent think-tank as a national institution, a role that was fulfilled earlier by the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development. Its equivalent will have to be set up if the country is to be given the sense of direction that has become a matter of urgency for its future trajectory.

Let us hope and wait for that clarity after the 18th!


* Published in print edition on 15 December 2017

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