The political chessboard may become clearer this week as Pravind Jugnauth goes on a rally tour of rural constituencies starting this Friday in the northern segment. It may be revealing of the fortunes of the ruling regime that when long overdue municipal elections are expected this year, the MSM should be seen as shoring up its standing in the rural half of Mauritius.
Attendees will likely be bussed and treated with good fare and neither the crowd-pull nor their rumbustious cheers would be any gauge of popularity. What could be of potential interest is the PM’s ability to get carried away and go off-script either veering into attacks of the Opposition and the media or step into more controversy with the national security issue of SAFE cable survey/sniffing allegations following the defection and allegations of his erstwhile confidante, Sherry Singh. Unwise commentary by the PM after some functions and some untutored ministerial live radio-web-TV commentaries have already fuelled the beginnings of a diplomatic and geopolitical row with India and China-Huawei, both understandably annoyed at being thrust into the limelight over the local snafus.
Much of the attendance may not be worried by their leader’s wrangling on the diplomatic front or by last year’s White Paper proposal to control internet and social media traffic, perhaps not even miffed by the various PM versions of the SAFE cable network survey. We suspect that their essential worries are about unchecked supermarket prices, the continued devaluation of the rupee, the high taxes on fuel at gas station prices, the limited availability of foreign exchange or the worrying impact of drug abuse and violence even in village life and the absence of some pharmaceuticals from outlets.
While the authorities seem bent on their borrow, tax, and spend policies, relying on one-off fire-sales of public assets and the opening of the country to foreign property purchases may provide some artificial comfort to Minister Padayachy, but the international watchers (IMF, World Bank, Moody’s) are not buying the Ministry of Finance’s fuzzy public debt data, nor the pitch that all is well. Even if there is some logic to steer the buzz away from the accumulating bad news, the PM’s advisors would be well-advised to keep the PM on a more sober track, rather than opting for bush warfare and theatrics.
Traditional tripartite entente
Clarity also seems in the air regarding the Opposition forces and, as some might have expected and in response to demand from a wide section of the population, there is a pressure felt by the “traditional” political parties to unite their forces at least for the upcoming municipals against a ruling regime that has a reported massive war chest and considerable levers of office at its disposal. The LP, PMSD and MMM, after the Entente de l’Espoir’s manifest inability to establish itself as a workable political formula, have decided to set aside their differences, egos, and ambitions for a return to a more feasible traditional tripartite entente between Opposition parties. This leaves Roshi Bhadain to follow the mandate of its recent Reform party assembly and Nando Bodha to chalk out his role after talks with the PMSD and MMM.
The impression that there were too many aspiring PMs in the Opposition’s bandwagon will also have been dispelled this week. The agreement confirms a tripartite consensus that former PM Navin Ramgoolam would lead that electoral pact to the Municipals and as a full-term PM candidate should the pact be extended to the general elections. There is no substitute for experienced hands at the helm particularly when the country faces flak on the international front, but more so when ably supported by a cohort of talented and competent fresh faces who we trust will not see their role as primarily that of table thumpers or as an uninformed shouting brigade.
The LP is reckoned to have the loyalty of a significant proportion of both the urban or rural population, many of whom have been deeply aggrieved by the vendetta politics practised since 2015. They are enough to constitute the driving force of any Opposition alliance as most observers have acknowledged, but whether such an electoral pact passes muster and gets traction in the electorate will depend on several factors. The first concerns probably the reaction and stance of non-parliamentary Opposition voices and parties, as they figure out whether their primary objective is to rid the country of the current ruling dispensation or take the risk of furthering a divisive confetti that can only suit the MSM hopes. Some, like Resistans ek Alternativ, have more of a specific agenda of electoral reform and might seek answers that have been largely ignored since 2015. The Reform party, the sputtering Linion Pep Mauricien or Bruno Laurette, as other NGOs and erstwhile newby forces, will have to sort out their political priorities over the coming weeks and months.
But if the more traditional LP-PMSD-MMM pact has thrashed and sorted out the more thorny leadership, personnel and party roles that hover above alliances, all is not cut and dry. There is such disenchantment among the majority of the population that the combined Opposition leaders’ energies, beyond each party’s announced agenda, should turn to the formulation of a credible framework of economic, social, development policies and the sterling management principles covering the immediate, short-term future as much as the longer-term.
In the difficult straits facing the country and its population, nobody perhaps expects a program to “make us dream”. However, the status quo, the gallivanting wastes, the structural independence and credibility of key institutions, the curbing of lavish lifestyles, the impunity of corruption, the unalloyed nepotism of appointees, courtiers and intrigants, the sale of the countryside to foreigners, the borrow and spend policies that will be paid for by our children and grandchildren, simply cannot go on.
Many therefore are the institutional reforms needed to buck the trends and restore the sense of belonging and pride in our flag and confidence of our youth in a future that embraces rather than divides recklessly. That backbone program needs not be a daunting task and can be completed even before the announced LP Congress of this month end.
How the electoral pact rolls out and projects itself from there on to the necessary grassroots mobilisation will provide indication if the Opposition has a concrete alternative and hope to offer the population and the country.
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