Checks and Balances
Several major significant events have taken place this year, namely Pravind Jugnauth’s win at the Privy Council in the eight-year long MedPoint case, the condemnation by the International Court of Justice of the UK’s illegal dismemberment of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius’ territory, the successful organisation of the Jeux des Iles de l’Ocean Indien, and the launch of the Metro Express. But the one event that will continue to dominate the conversation in the country for quite some time is the unexpected re-election of the MSM-ML alliance in a three-cornered battle against the two parties that have dominated Mauritian politics for many decades: the Labour Party and the MMM. However, the MSM-ML’s victory has been tainted by allegations of electoral irregularities on an unprecedented scale with inputs from allegedly foreign operatives; and it will be for the Supreme Court to dispel all the doubts that a large section of the population entertains with regard to the conduct of these elections. This will hopefully be done at the earliest – both for the good of the governing alliance itself and for the serenity that this country requires for its continuing development and progress.
Unsurprisingly, we have not heard much from the Labour Party and the MMM in terms of a post-mortem into their second electoral defeat. In the UK, the immediate response by the Labour Party leadership, once the scale of its defeat at the recent elections was known, was to attribute the result to Brexit. It thereafter accepted that it bears responsibility for its historic defeat. Both its leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell have announced that they will be stepping down from their respective positions. As could be expected, nothing similar has taken place here nor any announcement made about the restructuring of the respective parties and leadership. Nothing either about any investigation to be conducted into what appears to be changes that could be operating at the level of the electorate itself as regards its aspirations and expectations, its ideological underpinnings and loyalties.
There could be more to the MSM’s victory at the recent polls – and the Labour Party and MMM’s rout – than electoral mischief or tampering. Charisma and history might not be sufficient to win elections anymore. What about trust? Barry Richards, Professor of Political Psychology at Bournemouth University, in an analysis of Boris Johnson’s recent victory, argues that in previous British elections, to say that ‘trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore’. Such is the magnitude of changes operating in the complex electoral environment in different countries. Besides the influence of money, it is the inputs of new technological tools and big data analysis for the micro-targeting of different sections of the electorate that are tilting the balance of votes in favour of X, Y or Z political party and win the elections. Other than the imperative of a honourable ‘bilan’, the MSM seems to be alive to the changes taking place at the level of our electorate and the need to press into service those tools that are required to ensure electoral victory.
However, the need for an effective opposition in our democratic set-up cannot be stressed enough as a major tool for the checks and balances required in governance. Fundamentally, it is parliamentary democracy that has been the key instrument that has led the country to its current state. It is the main political configuration that we have to give overall orientation to the polity and to the affairs of the country, and to help us reach the goals that have been fixed. The country’s priorities need to be redefined from time to time in the fundamental transformative objectives we set for ourselves. Political parties – on both sides of the House – are responsible for overseeing the implementation of the agenda for such transformation.
One no longer has the impression of politics being practised in Mauritius in the manner it was done by the pre- and immediate post-independence generation. There is a general perception of successive batches of politicians having let down the population while delivering on their own personal agenda. This bias has lately been highly detrimental to the long-term national interest. In democracies like the United States and the UK, political parties discuss hotly and openly the line of action that will be followed by the respective parties concerning major policies. The leadership is thereby kept on its toes to come out with serious proposals for appropriate policy orientation; one example is the debate engaged in the UK within the ranks of the Conservative Party about Brexit.
This kind of democratic play within parties happens when men and women of diverse convictions are present within the party. This results in the best ideas about how to run the party and, for that matter, the affairs of the country, coming up at the top. We wish we could say as much of our political parties. There is no pointer to how ideas are formed and how they are finally hammered into shape. It looks like the membership of existing individual political parties leaves it to the leader to come up with proposals on what to do. The times demand that parties which want to survive should abide by a higher internal democratisation process. Fostering internal debate, adopting clear rules of governance and operating as transparently as possible – that is the level of internal reordering which is absolutely necessary to cope with an external environment which is becoming increasingly complex by the day. We hope that such a process will get under way sooner rather than later in the parties which may still be concerned with the state of affairs in the country and are genuinely committed to furthering the overall national interest.
* Published in print edition on 20 December 2019
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