Decoding the Labour Day meetings

The likelihood of a by-election in No. 7 constituency appears to be receding. To begin with, it would be an anticlimax to hold a mini-election

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

The general feeling that seems to have emerged and is prevailing following the ‘traditional’ political meetings on May 1st, Labour Day, relates to a few points. They are the forthcoming elections, the nature of the electoral campaign, and the always disputed sizes of crowds at the various meetings.

The likelihood of a by-election in No. 7 constituency appears to be receding. To begin with, it would be an anticlimax to hold a mini-election after having put so much of effort to organize the Labour Day meetings and ferry the crowds thereto. On the other hand, since the leaders are convinced that they rallied the largest crowds, they surely would want to ride on the crest of that wave and build it even higher right up to a climax, that is, a general election. The only remaining issue on this count is the timing – which is likely to be December since there will be no by-election and, further, the succession of events at national level starting from January onwards will not favour the holding of such a mega-event as a general election during that first quarter of the year.

As regards the nature of the electoral campaign, all the indications from the platforms have been that it will be a no-holds-barred slugfest, with exchanges of both heavy and below the belt blows by the contending parties. No one can predict what metaphors or analogies will be evoked, but what is certain is that they will come from the darkest depths of the imagination. This is not the best place to quote from Einstein and apologies to his memory in advance – but to paraphrase from what he said: ‘the universe is not only strange, it is stranger than we imagine’, this campaign will be marked by oral outpourings beyond any wickedness or weirdness that we common mortals can ever imagine.

I do not know whether our Electoral Commission has a Model Code of Conduct – like India’s one – but if it doesn’t, it might be a good idea to get going right away with preparing one, and to the ‘Model’ add a ‘Moral’ dimension.

This is especially important in our era of accelerated fake news and the instantaneous spread of content on social media. The EC and ICTA will definitely have to work in tandem so as to prevent dérapages and a descent into salaciousness which will distract from a consideration of the real issues at stake for the electorate. There is a real possibility that irony and sarcasm and other content will cross the limit of decency. It is therefore better to be prepared in advance – prevention is better than damage control because the harm would have already been done and impacted electoral outcome.

And finally: the utter irrelevance of the official estimates of crowd size on Labour Day, which somehow is given much importance by the contending protagonists. There are so many subjective factors that influence voter behaviour that it is well-nigh impossible to establish a cause to effect relationship between May 1st crowd size and the victory or defeat of the main parties in the contest. Besides, social media has completely taken over the spread of news and graphics in real time, with the result that the users – who are the people after all – rely more on this input than they give credence to figures emanating from the actors themselves.

Given, therefore, that we are practically in campaign mode, I can see some priorities that will weigh critically in the balance when it comes to electoral outcome. These issues have been constantly in the public domain and they have occasioned a rise of tempers more often than ought to have been the case.

Number one is the daily hell that commuters face on the roads – what in an earlier article (21 December 2018) I had called ‘L’Enfer routier’. Much hope is pinned on the so-called Metro Express to relieve traffic congestion, perhaps too much, so much that all other complementary options are not even talked about or even considered seriously, as Singapore has done. It is an ambitious objective to eventually extend the Metro line in all four directions of the island, but besides the fact that this is a long shot into the future, such a project will clearly depend on how successful is the first leg Quatre-Bornes to Port Louis currently under construction and expected to be operational in September – so we have repeatedly been told.

Assuming that this target is reached as announced, there still remain a number of queries for which no definitive answer with concrete facts and figures have ever been made available to the public. What will be the cost of tickets? How many commuters will be travelling? After peak hours, where will the commuters come from? Will people really leave the comfort of their cars to take the Metro? All these unanswered questions lead to the crucial next one: will the Metro Express be viable financially, or become a noose round the neck of our future generations of Mauritians?

We are already having problems with ensuring power supply, and the country is stalling about deciding the best mode of electricity production, with shortfalls expected during peak hours. The Metro line will be dependent on supply of electricity from the CEB which is already under strain. In India’s cities where there is the Metro, it has its own independent power supplier, and is not tied to the national grid – as I learnt during a sponsored media visit there two years ago. This is to ensure a smooth running all the time should there be a problem with the national grid. The local Metro will therefore be under a major risk if there is no absolute guarantee of 24/7 power supply.

Similarly, the promise of 24/7 water supply is unmet as yet. If it could not be done in four years, how will it be possible to do so before the term is up? We have seen how angry and disparaging our citizens across the country affected by a lack of timely water supply become, and there will be lots of explanation to do come the time for decision.

And then there’s the as yet unresolved problem of recurrent flooding in specific areas, in one of which the minister who came to calm spirits was severely taken to task by the frustrated and angry residents of the locality.

There are other issues of course but the ones I have indicated are to my mind the most deserving of rapid answers and solutions.

Over and above all the above, the major challenge that any incoming government will have to deal with is how to prevent the rapid frittering away of the goodwill that they garner as they begin their mandates. They only can be the best judges of their own subsequent decline, which can only be tackled by firmly reining in the corrosive and corruptive rot that begins to infiltrate the governance structure so early in the mandate.

Let’s face it: our current lot of politicians are all well-endowed and well-to-do, a majority qualified and established professionals in their own right, and well-connected too. This applies to the new aspirants as well. Why then, in a true national spirit, don’t they come together to genuinely fulfill all these pledges that have been made down the years and usher in the new Mauritius they have all promised at various times? – by lifting both the tide (expanding the national cake) and all the boats (the citizens, with a special regard for the downtrodden) so that everybody’s life improves and inequalities are reduced, a sort of ‘capitalism with a human face’ instead of the obsolete ‘socialism with a human face’. After all, isn’t the country awash with billions?

By sincerely working for and uplifting others – their countrymen – they will make the country rise too, and this will be their redemption. This should be their national project – and ours also, contributing to the common weal each according to our individual capacity.

We rise by lifting others.


* Published in print edition on 10 May 2019

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