What started off as a Paul Bérenger-inspired initiative in favour of setting the stage for a “gouvernement d’alternance” seems to be gathering speed if we go by the latest joint press conference of the leaders of the Labour Party (LP), MMM, PMSD and with the Leader of the Opposition in attendance. The next step agreed and announced, last Saturday, will take place on October 12 with a meeting of the same leaders for discussions on the modalities of a LP-MMM-PMSD alliance, the distribution of electoral tickets amongst the three parties and of constitutional posts in an eventual government, as well as an electoral programme to be agreed upon – the latter being the least determining factor for winning elections in Mauritius.
Unless the political circumstances were to change following a Supreme Court judgement in favour of opposition parties’ challenge of the results of the 2019 elections or in specific constituencies, that would trigger a different political dynamic in the country, the haste to go towards putting in place an electoral alliance four years ahead of the next elections may come as a surprise to most political observers and the people generally. It could however be surmised that that initiative is being in the main driven by the leaders of the LP and MMM with a view to pre-empt any eventual challenge to their leadership at the head of their respective parties – yet another of the leaders’ political ambitions trumping over their parties’ interests as happened at the fateful 2014 general elections with their controversial Second Republic agenda.
Political expediency will in the circumstances surely have the better of the hitches that could come in the way of an electoral alliance between the three parties, essentially a) the Ramgoolam factor, which will consist in assuaging the reluctance of the MMM electorate to go for yet another alliance with a Ramgoolam-led Labour Party after the bitter experience of 2014; b) the composition of the front bench of an eventual LP-MMM-PMSD government and the candidates to constitutional posts what with the demands of our multi-ethnic society and of the electoral reservoir of both the three parties; and c) even if the electoral programme does not weigh heavily in electoral outcomes, agreement on major public policy issues, besides personality clashes, are what undo government alliances. Thus, we have yet to know whether the LP and the MMM are on the same wavelength about the energy issue, the conditionalities to be attached to the disbursement of the billions of public funds by the Mauritius Investment Corporation Ltd to distressed large companies in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, or whether they will elect to water down their ideological stance as regards these issues – both of which have received no mention during the joint press conference of the leaders of the LP, MMM and PMSD, who have instead chosen to voice their disagreement on issues of lesser importance.
But there is more. As mentioned by Lindsay Rivière in a recent interview to this paper, Navin Ramgoolam needs time to constitute a ‘Hindu alternative’ to Pravind Jugnauth, and in this regard he would not want to be seen stuck in an alliance with two parties which draw their support from mostly the minorities. All the noises from the street protests held in the wake of the Wakashio shipwreck, the vociferations on social media or published by a section of the press do not seem to be making a dent in the power base of the MSM – from Constituency No. 4 to 14 and that elects parties/alliances to power. It would require much more to overwhelm the present dispensation, and if anything they might prove to be the best agents of an MSM-led alliance next time round.
A lot of water will surely flow under the bridge from now on to 2024, but the way things are going, it is to be hoped that the proposed alliance will make fruitful use of the time — four years – to come up with a concrete vision of the future of the country with agreement on core issues as mentioned above, which must then be articulated clearly and in one voice to the people. When that day dawns and the latter can look forward to a real transformation of the country’s governance and an assurance about the autonomy of its institutions, the people may then be prepared for the change. But this remains to be seen.
* Published in print edition on 9 October 2020