Coalition Politics


Mauritius’ success in overcoming the local constraints present at the time of Independence, and its gradual rise to the status of a “development superstar” when benchmarked against such indicators as stable democracy, social welfare and equity amongst others, have been the subject of numerous academic studies by independent research scholars as well as by the World Bank. In one such independent study – ‘Coalition, Capitalists, and Credibility’ – Deborah Brautigam of the School of International Service, American University, provided valuable insights into how Mauritius had proved to be the exception in most of the developing world by being able to solve the “puzzle of governing for broad-based prosperity”.

Four factors, according to Brautigam, explain the “exceptionalism” of Mauritius and upon which the “coalition for development” that was painstakingly negotiated after the divisive elections of 1967 rested, because they fostered a sober realisation that the country needed to either unify, or sink. Those factors were: exceptionally well-educated leaders; societal support from a free media, new civic associations and the Catholic Church; transnational networks which provided the ideas (Fabianism socialism, export processing zones and resources) that created concrete hope for the future; systemic vulnerability or the absence of resources or geopolitical patrons, a price-volatile monocrop, and climatic conditions.

Other enabling factors have no doubt allowed the successive, mostly cross-societal, coalition governments to successfully overcome both local and external constraints and achieve broad-based prosperity. Brautigam points out in her study that there was also the willingness of the then political elites to be bound by the rules and not being inclined to tamper with the institutional or constitutional frameworks.

That coalition politics and power-sharing political dispensations (driven by a senior partner with a controlling majority to ensure stability and predictability) have worked relatively well for Mauritius down the years – mostly by easing potentially ethnic polarisation – and will likely remain a sine qua non for future political stability for many more years is undeniable, the ethnic divide is very much present in our political environment as electoral behaviour at the polls since 1967 has demonstrated. The communal – or ‘communautariste’ – undercurrent running through our politics has expressed itself more or less benignly through the ballot in past general elections, except for 1982.

Besides the extensive recourse to freebies and political outbidding that have followed consequently, it is the urban-rural divide in the electoral landscape that has been leveraged by political parties/alliances to swing the game in their favour in successive elections – more so in recent years – with Constituencies 4-14, on the one hand, and the others mostly urban constituencies, on the other, used as the trump cards. Whether superior electoral arithmetic produced by an assemblage of parties, mostly mainstream, in the Opposition (LP-MMM-PMSD) can alter or exploit that equation remains to be seen. On the other hand, what disruption will be wrought by the lesser parties that are coming together, the latest being Linion Moris with its “équipe nationale” constituted on the basis of an “accord à l’israélienne”, and possibly other such alliances in the electoral battle ahead, especially in the swing constituencies in a First-Past-The-Post context cannot be gauged at this stage.

It may also be argued that beyond the durability of Resistans ek Alternativ (REA) or the penetration of the singular Bruneau Laurette in townships and coastal outposts, the other personalities vying for public attention (Sherry Singh, Patrick Belcourt, Dev Sunnasy and others) run on themes that may have appeal mostly in the urban electorate, while the resurgence of questions related to the unilateral and massively costly commercial contract termination of Betamax may weaken the Reform party and its leader Roshi Bhadain. It is worth noting that both Bruneau Laurette and REA have not excluded the possibility of some cooperation with the tri-party alliance of Opposition to bring about what they see as an imperative: the end of the MSM regime in office.

Much remains to play for in the lead-up to the general elections scheduled for end 2024 and the governing dispensation may legitimately feel that it has still a couple of trump cards up its sleeves. One could well be related to the satisfactory conclusion of the ongoing discrete negotiations with the UK towards the return of Mauritius sovereignty over the Chagos and the simultaneous conclusion of a long-term lease agreement with the US/UK for the aero-naval base at Diego Garcia. The second, salary compensation and upcoming budget goodies, might be of more immediate interest for ordinary Mauritians, employees, and pensioners alike, who have felt the pinch with currency depreciation and as government continues to levy heavy taxes and VAT on fuel and economic activities.

Will these factors be sufficient to outweigh the long list of affairs and other scandals that, say the Opposition, have dogged the regime since its coming to office? And how the electorate will react to immediate monetary benefits as opposed to the larger interests of the country has yet to be tested as municipal elections, due this year, were further kicked down the road.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 24 November 2023

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