By-election in Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes: A Clinical Post Scriptum

The definitive victory of the Labour Party’s candidate has been generally welcomed as a sign of “revival”. This victory, however, does not come without some tough questions — Rajiv Servansingh

“When it happened, it happened at lightning speed. One minute Robert Mugabe was trying to consolidate a dynastic succession by stabbing his old-time ally Emmerson Mnangagwa in the back, by firing him from his post as Vice President, the next, his whole world had turned against him.”
— Anver Versi – Editor of New African

The whole world has recently witnessed the rapid destitution of Mugabe as yet another confirmation of the popular adage that politics remains the “art of the possible” and that “one week can be a long time in politics.” This post-scriptum of the by-election in the constituency of Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes is an attempt to clinically examine the immediate effects which this democratic exercise will have on the major political players in the country.

This is the time when inevitably there is an urge to sum up the past year and try and draw some lessons and conclusions from the significant events which have marked it. The one which is still fresh in mind is, of course, the latest in chronological order- the by-election in Constituency 18 which has seen the victory of Labour Party candidate Arvin Boolell. The results have already been widely commented by political analysts including in this newspaper.

It is nevertheless remarkable that, as one goes through these, there seems to be a consensus among them that in the end one of the principal beneficiaries of this electoral contest could have been the absentee participant – the MSM. Indeed the post electoral landscape is now characterized by the heavy casualties among the opposition parties such as the MMM and the PMSD. As for the party of Roshi Bhadain, it has suffered a bodily blow which could have put paid to all the lofty ambitions of the self-appointed reformer.

As these eventual challengers of the MSM at the next elections lick their wounds during the coming months, the temptation, as indeed has been publicly admitted by the leader of the PMSD would be for them to lower their ambitions and seek “minority partnerships” with the two “survivors” who have emerged from the by-election – the MSM as the unwitting “beneficiary” of a furious no holds barred battle among its most serious political opponents, and the “victorious” Labour Party.

Whether the decision of the MSM leadership not to participate in the by-election was a deliberate and well thought out “strategic” manoeuvre or the result of “fear of a predictable defeat” is actually immaterial. Having all along claimed that this electoral contest was bound to be a non-event without any material impact on the government’s majority in Parliament, they have had the decency to react to the results with the composure which reflects their pre-election posture. For the MSM, the post electoral picture of a battlefield strewn with political casualties among its adversaries is an outcome which they may have dreamed for but hardly expected.

Finally there is one significant consideration which seems to have been missed by most observers with regard to the recent by-election in Constituency 18. By abstaining from participating in the election, Pravind Jugnauth has subtly avoided a situation where the legitimacy of his prime ministership could have been put to the test of a popular approval. It is rather strange that none of the opposition parties dared the MSM to take this opportunity to give some form of electoral legitimacy to his appointment.

The definitive victory of the Labour Party’s candidate has been generally welcomed by the party’s supporters and rightly so as a sign of “revival” following the severe defeat of the party at the last general elections of December 2014. This victory, however, does not come without some tough questions which will inevitably come to haunt the party once the celebratory mood is over.

One can expect two main issues to arise as the New Year begins. First, the plebiscite in favour of Arvin Boolell, who is a declared contestant for the leadership of the party, will inevitably cause increasing tension as the party congress comes nearer. If additionally the contest between the Boolell and the Ramgoolam factions (assuming that these will be the only two contestants) takes an ideological turn – as has been recently hinted by one insider who is in the know -, then we are in for some interesting times in politics in Mauritius during 2018.

It remains to be seen, however whether there will actually be a fair and democratic process for the election of the next leader of the Labour Party. And here is the second issue. What would be Arvin Boolell’s reaction if he is denied such an opportunity to exercise what he clearly considers is a legitimate quest for leadership of the Labour Party?

Politics is the art of the possible. The stakes are very high for the Labour Party and arguably for the country. The eventual resolution of this latent conflict can take many forms including compromise or confrontation. Whichever way it goes, it will have serious implications for the future configuration of political developments in the country and prove to be a serious test of the maturity of some of our political leadership.


*  Published in print edition on 29 December 2017

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