Alliances and the Public Interest

It is in the public knowledge that talks are afoot between the different opposition parties for the setting up of an enlarged alliance that will in the main bring together the Labour Party, the MMM and the PMSD. That negotiations moved up from the preliminary stage involving the go-betweens of the LP and MMM and have now reached the leaders of these two parties, as reported by the press, is an indication that most of the major differences over the modalities of an alliance would have been ironed out. What is known so far is that both the MMM and the PMSD have finally come round to conceding the leadership of any future alliance to the LP, with its leader to contest the next elections as its prime ministerial candidate. What remains unknown to date relates to ticket allocation constituency-wise, within the overall community/caste/gender equilibrium, as well as the number of tickets that will go to each party – usually major stumbling blocks in alliance negotiations – the presidency, the ministerial posts, ambassadorships and other key posts in the Executive – and lastly, the electoral programme that will be sold to but does not interest nor impress the electorate anymore.

Alliances are usually negotiated and concluded in the election year itself, rarely when elections are nearly three years away given the risks posed by unforeseeable circumstances down the road; in this particular case there are also the risks posed by the loose cannons that may be taken onboard eventually. One could presume that the willingness of the leaders of the two major opposition parties in l’Espoir to go for an alliance is also a tacit recognition of their respective parties’ diminished clout on the political spectrum. The MMM, which has for long remained a major party on the stage until it started its free fall, is no more the formidable political machinery that it was in yesteryears when it could reach out to nearly 40-45% of voters. The PMSD is taken along not so much for its electoral weight but for the symbol that the erstwhile party of Gaëtan Duval represents. Both parties cannot on their own contest successfully an election in many of our urban constituencies, and their performance in the rural constituencies is even worse.

The Labour Party, though itself diminished but with a strong core base, remains the best and only option of an alliance that could challenge the MSM in the rural constituencies – No 5 to 14 – which elect parties to power. But whether a Labour Party-MMM-PMSD combine will prove to be a winnable proposition in the face of a resilient adversary, a past master in ethno-caste politics, and with allegedly a formidable war chest and that is not averse to making an abusive use of the tool that the MBC-TV constitutes for propaganda purposes or to sully the image of its adversaries, nor to distributing pre-election freebies to the electorate at taxpayers’ cost, is for their leaders to ponder. They will hopefully also ensure that their respective parties’ interest shall prevail over their own. On the other hand, even if alliances create their own political dynamics, the party leaders will moreover have to convince the electorate, more concerned about their purse than governance issues, that their alliance once voted to power will prove to be a workable one and will deliver on its mandate contrary to earlier stints in office.

We will get to see more clearly into how things shape up in the months ahead, but in light of the electoral system in place in Mauritius and the particular ethnic-social permutations and combinations in electoral battles, the trends appear to be much the same as in the recent past. What did 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 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 House have it that the finances of the country are in a terrible mess: the balance of trade has sunk to unprecedented lows, public sector borrowing and debts, particularly in forex have skyrocketed, Central Bank reserves and the currency have taken a steep dive with the populist measures adopted so far while neither the handling of the pandemic expenditures nor the prestige projects whose future utility and maintenance remain questionable, have encouraged trust in Government’s handling of the national economy. Transparency having become a rare commodity, to wit the Central Bank/MIC dealings, the true picture will only become available when a new government steps in and examines in detail the state of the economy. Hopefully it will have the guts and means to steer the country away from a major collapse.

* Published in print edition on 21 January 2022

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