Elections are good for democracy – for they are the means by which the people hold politicians accountable, even if unfortunately this happens only once every five years. It would have been so much better for the country if the people were able to censure governments in a shorter time period if they are deemed to be underperforming or to have lost their way or their sight of the national interest. But the system does not allow for such a contingency. It is dissatisfaction with this kind of rigidity in the system – which many governments are not willing to change – that have often led voters at the end of a government’s mandate to confer power to an alternate “anybody but” the incumbents who, besides, are sanctioned as well for overtly indulging in gross self-gratification.
The trajectory of the current government serves to illustrate the point. When it came to power in December 2014 with a strong numerical majority, and initially led by a strong Prime Minister, it gave the people the hope that matters which ought to have been dealt with would be promptly acted upon in the country’s best interests. Hopes were high that there would be a new departure in the governance of public affairs and that the country’s priorities would take front stage. That, anyway, was what the government leadership had promised the electorate it would do. But it wasn’t long before disappointment set in.
The new government immediately prioritized politics. It started spending much time hitting its direct political adversaries, whom the electorate had floored already in the elections. Instead of attending to the tasks expected of it and for which it was voted for, it dramatized situations to score political points. Instead of following established lines of proceeding with matters of State, it appeared ready to upset the very basic tenet of our system: “innocent before being proved guilty” beyond reasonable doubt. Like a bull in a china shop, some of its members went about taking the law in their own hands. Similarly, some of the investigative bodies were “instrumentalized” to hunt down those who were not in the good books of the government’s potentates.
As a result, business confidence was soon destroyed. Contracts were unilaterally repudiated; questionable political appointments of persons close to the politicians in power were made, and have continued to be made in public institutions, not necessarily relevantly or based on pure merit. The government’s manner of dealing showed that it had scant regard for due process in a rule-of-law context. Soon the element of trust which binds voters to elected members was eroded due to the exaggerated attitude adopted by certain members of government.
This went so far as to gnaw into the strong majority with which the alliance was elected. This when, in December 2016, the PMSD decided that it would be better off breaking away from the government it had helped bring to power. That led the government to fish for defectors so as to comfort its numbers in the Assembly, something it had been denouncing during the electoral campaign. It is therefore not surprising that the people got disillusioned with the government for having wrought so much havoc over a good part of its mandate.
Despite a number of accomplishments such as, for example, setting right the havoc that had persisted for long on our roads wrought by the presence of hawkers, the introduction of the Negative Income Tax, the Minimum Wage, the relatively timely operationalisation of the Metro Express despite the inconveniences to the public, etc., the government’s track record in terms of gaffes is so much that its concrete realizations risk being drowned by its earlier approach to dealing with issues of national importance.
The country has had enough of governments that have lost their way or done much harm to the national interest. Since its 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 next 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, the following essential elements: 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, education needs of the future generations through consolidation of the Welfare State. What is at stake is therefore the very future of the young generation.
* Published in print edition on 11 October 2019