What comes next?
The Pope’s short and packed visit last Monday was perhaps the last big-ticket event – barring that of PM Modi, if he comes? – that has been planned by the incumbent government to boost its chances in the forthcoming general elections, the date of which is yet to be announced.
In the meantime, all indications point towards pre-electoral alliances that are to be expected on either side of the political fence. For one, it remains to be seen whether the MMM, which has for long remained a major party on the stage until it started its free fall to its worst performance to date in the 2017 by-election, will walk its talk of going it alone next time round – in the hope that it will play the kingmaker in the close fight that will oppose the Labour Party to the MSM-ML combine. A high-risk decision, given that, as Dharam Gokhool puts it in this week’s interview, ‘2019 is not 1976 when the MMM was a formidable political machinery, reaching out to nearly 50% of the voters – of all age groups, all backgrounds’. For its part, the Labour Party is surely still pondering the merit of a no-risk strategy by taking the PMSD along in the forthcoming electoral battle not so much for its electoral weight but for the symbol that the erstwhile party of Gaetan Duval represents.
The electorate will get to see more clearly into how things shape up in the days to come, but the trends appear to be much the same as in the recent past. In fact the electoral system in Mauritius and its particular ethnic-social permutations and combinations will continue to throw up the kind of political alliances that we have seen so far and that we are likely to have to live with for many more years to come. It may be argued that it’s too bad for Mauritius that neither of the major parties can capture on their own strength the votes of a majority large enough to be able to form a stable, homogeneous government. Thus the need for them to fall back on the support of minor parties which often come with a political culture more interested in perks, privileges and postings than in contributing to work in the national interest. In other words, the winner in our First Past The Post system no longer takes all; it has to share it with and accommodate a “junior” partner to be able to accede to power and ensure the completion of its political mandate – at times at the expense of the country’s larger interest.
What do Mauritius and its people gain from the match-making that has taken place down the years? – in terms of the alliances that have been concocted by the different political establishments for the sake of retaining power in some instances or throwing out the incumbents in others. It is one thing to ensure victory at the polls, another to thereafter hold the reins of power. The contingencies intrinsic to coalition politics in a country like Mauritius with its diverse sectional interests will increasingly make governance in the public interest a difficult proposition, especially when politicians refuse, as they do sometimes, to rise above party affiliations and look at the bigger picture as being larger than the sum of their personal egos. Not surprisingly, many seek to ingratiate sectional and private interests counter to national concerns which need to be prioritized and addressed.
Will the next government rise to fulfil the expectations of the people, concentrating on giving a new sense of direction dictated by a persistent troublesome state of affairs both at the local and international levels? Insiders within Government Houses have it that the finances of the country are in a terrible mess, what with the populist measures adopted so far and prestige projects whose future utility and maintenance remain questionable, and it’s going to become worse in the months ahead. The true picture will only become available when a new government steps in and examines in detail the state of the economy.
Much work awaits the next government in various segments of national life. Growing our economic space despite prevailing international constraints is in itself a big challenge. There is huge and challenging task ahead to mark our presence on international markets and to face up to the uncertainties posed by Brexit, etc. We will also have to work harder to put ourselves above unfounded suspicions as a financial centre and give ourselves international credentials to foster the unimpeded international delivery of our goods and services. There is also work to be done, such as focusing on removing the material impoverishment of part of our population, dealing effectively against a trend towards violence, theft and lawlessness and the multitude of social ills that are accumulating, despite all the seeming technological advancements that are happening, as they may also turn out to be more part of the problem that the solution.
We have to face the reality that numerous challenges await the next government. Statesmen give to their countries direction and strong values that outlast them. At the threshold of the next decade, that is what we are very much in need of. Just one right signal – such as putting the right people the right place instead of thrusting up pals and potentates – can be the game-changing trigger to launch the country on a fresh, winning path. Will we, won’t we?
* Published in print edition on 13 September 2019