Cutting Loose. Mauritius cannot afford to waste another five years

Perpetuating a political system that has failed the country for so long is anathema to the multitude

By Mrinal Roy

The signs are not good. At a juncture when the country and the people are desperately yearning for a credible alternative team of well-qualified and competent Mauritians having the credentials, experience and track record of achievements in their respective field of activity as well as the ethics and commitment of service to the people to usher a new dawn in the country, the leaders of the main political parties seem hell-bent on maintaining the political status quo which has been so detrimental to the country.  The rest seem to matter little. Perpetuating a political system that has failed the country for so long is anathema to the multitude.

As the lists of candidates of the MMM, L’Alliance Morisien and L’Alliance Nationale slowly become public, it is more and more evident that very little will change in terms of the leadership or the front bench members of the main political parties or their modus operandi. The party leaders and their coterie  continue to call the shots and in case of victory will take charge of the key government ministries despite scathing criticisms and poll defeats owing to their decried past policies and actions.

In so many cases the ministers who had been severely criticized for their contested policies in, for example, the sugar cane sector or taxes imposed on interest income from savings or primary residences over and above municipal taxes paid by owners are once again fielded as candidates. The parties have not learnt from past blunders and defeats. The people do not have short memories.

The candidates fielded by the political alliances cobbled at the last minute for reasons of political expediency will basically be a motley cohort from diverse parties having fundamental differences on core policy issues and ideology. Coherence has been sacrificed in the pursuit of power by all means.

Desperate gambits

At a time when the main political parties should be exposing their proposals to recast and reboot the economy on a pathway of robust and inclusive growth as well as their policies and programmes going forward, the country is witnessing an exchange of cheap digs and a sordid no-holds-barred brawl between the main protagonists.

The pension paid to senior citizens has become a fiercely disputed bone of contention as the leaders of the MSM and the Labour Party outbid each other in their mano a mano at a time when the public debt has peaked to 67.5% of GDP in 2019. These are desperate and irresponsible gambits to wean the 224,000 senior citizens of the country to their cause when the focus should in particular be on cogent policies to address their health and other existential problems in a holistic manner so that they can live their old age with dignity and happily enjoy their retirement after a lifetime of dedicated work and contribution to the country.

Isn’t it also time to review the operative framework of public and private sector pension funds to ensure that they are transparently managed and valued and fully safeguard the pensions of their retired members?

 At a time when we need to urgently shake up and professionalize the police force against the backdrop of diverse cases of criminal wrongdoings by policemen such as drug trafficking or unprofessional conduct for not assisting a woman in danger, the leaders of the MSM and the Labour Party are again outbidding each other on disconcerting proposals of automatic promotion for police sergeants to the grade of inspector and others in the police force. Diverse electoral carrots are being promised to all and sundry which will certainly trigger similar claims from others. Many similar proposals are being thoughtlessly aired. All this is unprecedented and questionable in this highly charged run up to general elections.

One would have expected opposition alliances and parties aspiring to win the elections to say that they logically need to first establish the state of public finances and the economy in the wake of costly projects very often financed through loans outside the budget before making costly promises at the expense of the Public Exchequer. This is far from being the case. This has been the galling story of Mauritius for decades now. For too long, bad governments have been replaced by worse ones. The fierce battle between the two main protagonists is anything but rational.

Trap of underperformance

The upshot of this deplorable situation is that the people will yet again have to choose from largely the same leaders and politicians who have failed them and whom they have sanctioned and rejected at the polls in the past.  It is therefore obvious that the game changing decisions required to free the country from the crippling trap of poor governance and underperformance will not be initiated by the political leaders and parties that have monopolized the political scene for decades.

These can only be triggered by a new breed of politicians having the qualifications, intellect and ethos to cut free from the shackles of a political system which has hobbled the prospects of the country and chart an innovative pathway towards robust growth, shared prosperity and a substantial improvement in the standard of living and quality of life of people.  Mauritius cannot afford to waste another five years.

It must also be highlighted that the current hegemony of the main political parties over the political scene is fraught with serious risks. In the absence of credible alternative choices, the country could land itself in the hung situation prevailing in the wake of the 1976 general elections. In a three-cornered fight, the Independence Party and the PMSD that had lost the elections desperately cobbled, despite being fierce opponents, under instructions from the powers that be, an alliance with a narrow majority to form the government.

Plan B

It is evident, in the light of its repeated defeats at the polls, that no political party was really keen to contract an alliance with the MMM, for fear of losing the elections. Despite hopes of taking advantage of the purported division of votes between L’Alliance Morisien and L’Alliance Nationale, the MMM is probably hedging its bets on a Plan B. 

In the absence of a credible alternative voting choice, there is a risk of apathy among the electorate. The outcome of the forthcoming general elections could be a hung parliament with no party or alliance obtaining an absolute majority. Depending on the number of elected MPs by each party and alliance, this could lead, as in 1976, to the implementation of a Plan B, namely a post-electoral coalition between L’Alliance Morisien and the MMM behind the back of the electorate, leaving the Labour Party-PMSD L’Alliance Nationale in limbo.

The terms of such a post-electoral coalition could seriously undermine some of the founding principles which constitute the bedrock of independent Mauritius and the anchors of our democracy. In their voting decision, the electorate must be alive to the intrinsic dangers of such an eventuality to the idea and ethos of Mauritius.

There is therefore a real danger that in the blind pursuit of power, political parties and their leaders seriously compromise the foundations on which independent Mauritius was built on. Post-electoral coalitions undermine democracy as they are based on compromise to secure power at all costs instead of safeguarding its core values and founding principles. 

New dawn

Unless there is a radical change of tack in the light of the pitfalls of the current political straitjacket, it is more and more obvious that game changing initiatives and solutions to usher a brighter future for the people and the country cannot come from the leaders and the old political guard of the main political parties trapped in their fixation with and pursuit of power by all means. It has to be initiated by new parties led by talented new teams of well-qualified Mauritians capable of significantly changing the prospects of the country through their innovative strategies and cogent proposals for the benefit of all.

The political status quo is not a tenable way forward. There is therefore a huge window of opportunity to cut loose from a decried political system which has crippled the prospects of the country for decades and trigger a new beginning in the country. The onus is therefore on all of us who clamour for a better socio economic order to encourage and support a credible alternative team of talented and well-qualified Mauritians driven by a commitment of service to the people and who present well-honed proposals which rallies the multitude to usher a new dawn in the country.

* Published in print edition on 28 October 2019

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