A first shift in the electorate’s mood during the past week augurs well for the future provided that it is sustained right up to Election Day
By Sada Reddi
After every election, here and elsewhere, with hindsight social scientists try to identify several factors that may help to explain and understand election outcomes. They seek to determine the factors – events, happenings, political, economic or social issues – which have gone in to shape the decisions of the electors in the voting booths. It is a difficult exercise, and even when there are regular polls to monitor public opinion, no one can say for certain which factor has proved decisive.
However, one factor that is very often given importance to explain the electorate’s behaviour is the mood of the electors during an electoral campaign. It can shape attitudes, veer on one side or another, keep on changing, and may appear rational or even irrational and emotional, but in the end it decides the election results. Last week, many observers have seen a change of mood of the electorate during the election campaign. How it is going to evolve in the coming weeks still remains uncertain, but it will surely occupy the minds of the various parties.
Though it is difficult to predict how the situation will evolve, one can at least try to figure out some tentative explanations. There are a few things which occurred during the past week. First, the electorate has suddenly become more assertive within and outside the party establishments. All parties have had to take into consideration popular feelings in the different constituencies and make necessary adjustments. Failure to do so could have proved very costly. Second, contrary to the recalibration by parties which happened in the context of the 2014 elections, the decision to have a three-cornered electoral contest has resulted in a realignment of the electorate towards different parties, which many celebrate as home-coming.
A third factor has been the screening of the video, dubbed ‘SerenityGate’, which has shocked thousands of Mauritians. It’s not because corruption was unheard of among politicians, rather it is the perception of an absolute lack of scruples to enrich one’s family with millions of rupees of public money and to plunder the nation’s resources – all of which is unprecedented.
For the public, the mask has fallen. All the rhetoric about ‘zero tolerance’ to corruption and drugs rings hollow. It is no longer possible to only blame the cooks, bakers, servers and waiters in the kitchen when the chefs and sous-chefs form the very core of a well-established and well-oiled system that has extended its tentacles all over the place.
If these three factors may help to understand why an anti-incumbency feeling has developed up in the electorate, it is not known yet how these attitudes will evolve over the next weeks. Since the mood of the electorate can easily change, one can expect different parties will do their best to leverage a positive mood in their favour or turn it round as best as they can. It is clear to many that that material benefits extended to age-old pensioners have been superseded by other issues such as corruption and censorship of the freedom of expression.
A pavlovian approach towards the electorate by dishing certain bribes will certainly have an impact on a segment of the electorate for a number of reasons. But, at the same time, it also provokes a moral outrage and a backlash as it violates the morality of our citizens. When corruption breaks the democratic trust between government and the people and distorts our democracy, the casualties are many – political responsibility, erosion of our institutions and citizens’ rights.
As we approach elections, corrupt practices will proliferate. The impact of these practices is uncertain. Many will certainly take the money or any other gift and stick to their own preferences. Others will have a big laugh at these gifts, happy that they have been able to fool some politicians without giving anything in return. The slogan ‘Take Their Money and Vote Them Out’ is well known. For a great majority of Mauritians, the elections will not be a bread and butter issue. It will be an opportunity to restore some sanity to our democracy. The Mauritian cherishes a number of values and has a strong tradition of fighting for the ideals of liberty and justice. An attack on his freedom of speech and other liberties usually results in severe retribution.
In the three weeks leading to the general elections, a lot will be taking place to influence the election outcome. Foul means can be expected on the part of political parties and their acolytes. The public should make sure that it punishes those who will have no compulsion to abuse their power or employ any means to corrupt our institutions. They should pay greater attention to party programmes. Although it is often said that party programmes have played an insignificant role in previous elections as they hardly differ from each other, the different parties’ programmes this time round should come under close scrutiny.
We expect our citizens to discuss and debate the party programmes to identify any discrepancy, loophole or mistake. At this particular juncture, with the decline of the economy and the stagnation of several sectors, an economic recovery programme should be at the centre of all debates. Wealth creation and the provision of worthwhile jobs for our youths must be the priority of a future government. During the last five years, young men and women have lost hope and many have left the country in despair. This cannot be allowed to continue, and we must restore hope in our young people and their families.
In all sectors of the economy and society, the people have suffered in relative silence the unprecedented proliferation of drugs, corruption, nepotism, increasing violence and insecurity, and breakdown of law and order. A first shift in the electorate’s mood during the past week augurs well for the future provided that it is sustained right up to Election Day for it should also usher a new era for our democracy.
* Published in print edition on 18 October 2019