2020 will mark the beginning of a new decade. It could become the start of a novel experience for our society if we are prepared to reconsider the model by which we have lived in the past so many decades. The alternative is to plod on along the beaten track.
Attention is currently focussed on the general elections due to take place sometime this year or early next year. In this context, diverse views have been expressed about which potential alliances may or may not materialise among the political parties, given that, in Mauritius, “tout est possible”. At the heart of all this discussion is the issue of the various arrangements for sharing political power. One might have stopped at that if elections were merely a matter of sharing power. This is how it has been during the preceding decades. But politics is also and principally about forging the destiny of a nation and inculcating a sound sense of values that will make living in our society an enduring and worthwhile experience. It is not about trade-offs for the sake of retaining power or gratifying opportunists who can hold politicians at the helm of power in hostage.
A decision has to be taken whether we want to continue with the classical “jeux d’alliances” among the political parties or lay down the foundation for what we may call a new political experience. Weak political parties will keep looking for such alliances or poach candidates from rival parties. This will not be the case for parties which are confident about themselves. Much of these ‘alliances’ have been nothing better than inter-communal or marriages of convenience and interest, whereby the partners agree to stay together during the time of a coalition government. Once the alliance is blown up, as it inevitably happens most of the time, the former bedfellows resume hurling insults against each other. Everything is then back to square one.
Past election results have proved that there are important distinct core communal groups which still back up the major political parties. If decisive marginal voters who are communally neutral but are committed to cleaning up the accumulated communal mess, comprised a big enough constituency to influence voter decision and bring to power political parties that want to put behind the determining communal factor in elections that has prevailed so far, then these core communal groups are likely to melt into a cleaner non-communal mainstream.
What can we expect in the absence of this sort of political shift? The communal/interest groups tug-of-war will continue in the hope that one group or the other will one day be able to floor down its rival, making it unnecessary thenceforward to abide by the customary musical chair of political alliances. Attention will keep being focused on the one who will walk away with the spoils of political victory. Parties will keep paying homage to local political chieftains who base their power on tribal considerations. Rules and regulations made for civil society will continue to be flouted to please clientelist objectives.
In other words, the rule of law will be diluted to please partisans. Institutions will continue being undermined either by technically below par appointees or by otherwise competent ones who choose instead to play the game of political correctness. In these circumstances the economy will find itself increasingly ill-adapted to face a highly competitive and ruthless external world. Incompetence and corruption arising from ever-enlarging concessions made in view of electoral alliances, will continue to hurt the increasingly untenable structure which it has taken years of patient work to construct.
Political parties have the option to continue playing the old game of last-minute political alliances merely to secure power. But they also have the other option to bring together the different currents into a neutral mainstream and challenge each other on the plane of coherent alternative visions regarding the future of the country instead of concentrating on sectional interests. For this process to start crystallising, political parties will need to be governed differently from what has been the case to date.
The internal democratisation process should go far enough within each party for it to be able to throw up several potential leaders and true deputy leaders in each major political party. The latter should be recognisable by their wide grasp of truly national and international issues affecting the country. They should be able to state clearly what exactly differentiates their party from the others. They should deserve their place in the party according to universal merit rather than by reference to their clannish belongings. They should be capable of holding the party together and identifying a clear course for its future by themselves. The party should seek the adherence of its followers from across the board in the nation for the values it stands for, instead of getting support in the current set-up comprised of communal and power-seeking voters/interest groups.
The current emerging perception is that Labour Party is seen as being heads and shoulders above the opposition parties presently, with a chance to assert itself into the new but challenging mould. 2020 could accordingly become the pace-setter for doing politics differently, not by forming alliances which prolong communalism but by embracing all into one common fold out of commitment to a common belonging.
* Published in print edition on 30 August 2019