Checkmate: Will the “historic” leader again fall on his feet?

The MMM & Paul Berenger

To say that the MMM has been going through a bad patch ever since its fateful defeat at the last general elections of 2014 would certainly be a huge understatement. After having been reduced to its smallest number of Members in Parliament it has gone through several “crises” including the split by the Alan Ganoo faction followed by the brewing menace from the Steven Obeegadoo/Pradeep Jeeha tandem. Inside Parliament the fact that Paul Berenger is no longer the official Leader of the Opposition has also been a source of “malaise” which the party seems to have painstakingly adapted to.

Now the latest has been the elections of the Politburo members which to say the least has not been to the taste of its historic leader Paul Berenger. The whole history of the MMM seems to have been characterized by a form of permanent contest – if not of the leadership of Paul Berenger – at least of his style of leadership. This may in fact be the result of two sets of conditions. The first concerns a mix of factors relating to the personality traits of the leader and his historical role as a trade-unionist and militant who was on the front line of many a battle for long years during which he was often arrested and even imprisoned.

Paradoxically enough the second set of factors which contributes to this form of permanent contest within the MMM is this rather muddled ideology of a “libertarian left” which has always been the leitmotiv of Berenger. In the days when leftist parties around the world were subjected to the harsh discipline of democratic centralism so dear to Communist parties, Paul Berenger was more inclined to favour the existence of different “courants” within the ranks of the party. Ironically this is precisely the point that is being raised by the likes of Steven Obeegadoo who argue that challenging the official party line on several fundamental issues and decisions is a perfectly legitimate exercise within the political culture of the party.


The whole history of the MMM seems to have been characterized by a form of permanent contest – if not of the leadership of Paul Berenger – at least of his style of leadership. This may in fact be the result of two sets of conditions. The first concerns a mix of factors relating to the personality traits of the leader and his historical role as a trade-unionist and militant. The second set of factors which contributes to this form of permanent contest within the MMM is this rather muddled ideology of a “libertarian left” which has always been the leitmotiv of Berenger…”


It is arguable that while Berenger is perfectly attuned to deal with the kind of challenge to his authority that we have described above, the latest revolt which manifested itself on the occasion of the recent Politburo elections is somewhat different in nature. Probably for the first time in the history of the MMM some of the party apparatchiks closest to its historic leader have beaten him at his own game. Elected members of the Central Committee have been canvassed to vote against those whom the leader had designated as his preferred choices to occupy official positions in the party hierarchy. The undisguised shock publicly displayed by Paul Berenger when learning about the results of the elections was totally uncharacteristic of his usual behaviour.

Political pundits have been quick to speculate that Berenger has been betrayed by some of his erstwhile “protégés” with the dramatic result that, for the first time in his political career, he is not sure that he can rely on an obedient majority in the Politburo. While this does seem to be the case, experience dictates that one should be more cautious in drawing definitive conclusions.

While there is no doubt that this is a huge setback for the close-knit ensemble of Berenger faithfuls within the party and in the official structures, they must take comfort from the fact that, like the proverbial cat, their leader always seems to fall on his feet.

According to press reports, it is Ajay Guness, the incumbent Secretary General of the party, who seems to have been the designated victim-turned-victor as a result of these recent developments. Going by past experience again, one can only conclude that this is very likely to be a “pyrrhic” victory. It would be naïve to believe that Paul Berenger’s wishes regarding the outcome of these party elections were not strongly driven by his inclinations regarding what he figures will be the configuration of alliances for the next general elections. It would be foolish to believe that the present setback would change his plans.


Berenger has demonstrated in the past that he is a good judge of the “rapport de forces” at any point in time in a difficult situation. One should expect him to find some form of, to use a phrase dear to him, working arrangement, with the newly elected members but only waiting to checkmate them at the next opportunity. Without trying to be fastidious, one is hard pressed to find a worthy adversary for the old hand that Berenger has become at playing this game of political chess…”


Berenger has demonstrated in the past that he is a good judge of the “rapport de forces” at any point in time in a difficult situation. One should expect him to find some form of, to use a phrase dear to him, working arrangement, with the newly elected members but only waiting to checkmate them at the next opportunity. Without trying to be fastidious, one is hard pressed to find a worthy adversary for the old hand that Berenger has become at playing this game of political chess.

One would think, for example, that any announcement in the near future of a change in the erstwhile posturing of the MMM regarding its decision to go it alone for the next general elections and instead opt for an “alliance” would probably constitute the first test for the protagonists. It would immediately change the balance of power between the Leader and the newly elected politburo members whose political future would suddenly be dependent on the will of the Leader…

 


* Published in print edition on 6 July 2018

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