Democracy Needs Strong Political Parties
By TP Saran
On February 19, 2016, that is, just over a year after the December 2014 elections which brought the Alliance Lepep to power by winning an unexpected, massive victory, this column was headlined ‘Labour Party: Glorious Past and an Uncertain Future’. It contained some observations which, in retrospect, seem prescient.
In fact, this is what was written: ‘The irony of a party like Labour, which has given the country its Constitution with separation of powers and the necessary checks and balances among the different arms of the state, to enable the taking of non-conflicting decisions by them, has not made a similar check-and-balances Constitution for itself. With time, it was becoming increasingly clear that Labour’s leadership was too authoritarian and centred on a single individual. Voices of sanity which used to dominate the earlier Labour’s debates to help the party make the right collective decisions, were not heard anymore. They were gradually silenced by the leadership. Dissent was not allowed. Party members now had to keep praising the leader if they wanted to conserve the chance of securing a ticket for elections. It is the reason the party sank so low in the 2014 polls.
‘Surely, this monopolising trend cannot continue if the party doesn’t want to make the same kind of blunders and meet again another 2014-type disaster.’
For having failed to stop this monopolising trend, LP confirmed the truism of those observations and suffered another 2014-type disaster in 2019. The question is: is LP heading for another disaster in 2024? The expulsions that have taken place this week point in that direction, more so as one of the persons expelled, Raj Pentiah, has declared (as reported in the press) that he does not consider himself expelled because he had already resigned from the LP to stand as an independent candidate. If this was not known or taken note of during the ‘expulsion’, it would seem that there is a serious disconnect within LP at communication level.
So it’s back to square one for LP, with two resounding defeats and a trend that does not augur well for its future. With the other major party, MMM, having suffered an equally humiliating defeat, the field is open for the leading party, MSM, to exert dominance in all spheres, as it has indeed been doing by asserting itself even more strongly through the various nominations and so on to date.
The issue of critical importance for the country is the need for institutional checks and balances that are the defining characteristic of a strong democracy, a point that this column has canvassed repeatedly in recent times. And for this, that is for strengthening our democratic set-up, we need both a strong party at the helm – which is presently the case – and a strong opposition. This therefore implies the need for equally strong opposition parties. Currently they don’t exist, and the events in LP are germane to our plea only in so far as they are weakening the party and therefore not serving the interest of the polity.
It would therefore be in the larger interest of the country for the two major parties, LP and MMM, to do their post-mortems post the general election and enlarge their internal democratic space so that they reinvent themselves as credible alternatives in preparation for the next electoral bout. Otherwise, especially if they stick on to their monopolising leadership model, they run the real risk of fading into irrelevance on the political landscape in course of time. With no other emerging party that is foreseen, it is the country that stands to lose.
It is a fact that the persistence of conservative, ultra-liberal politics across diverse societies of the world today is resulting in the most unequal distribution of the wherewithals of life for the planet’s largest swathes of population. This pleads in favour of the type of socialist ideology Labour stood for at its origins – that was the lofty idea and ideal. Had it not been for parties like Labour in different countries of the world, the uplifting of societies that followed in their wake in the past three-quarter century would not have happened.
The driving force behind this upliftment was the dedication with which the political leaders of those times fought to regain every inch of territory from indomitable adversaries of social emancipation. They were leaders who belonged to a different category, as we had underlined in February 2016 – ‘They did not come to politics to forge a career for themselves. So, it was easier for them to give up their personal pursuits when in the presence of a higher call to sacrifice for the general good. This sterling quality was the hallmark of the first generation of Labour’s leaders. This is why there was vision and realisations right from the start.’
No one can gainsay that the elections of December 2014 and November 2019 have cast Labour in its worst ever plight. It didn’t carry conviction with its own traditional base which, short of a better alternative in 2014, voted a hastily concocted alternative alliance of parties to power. In November 2019, there was a reversal of this scenario: It was the MSM which had reorganised itself into a robust force, the LP belatedly and hastily put up a medley of candidates which it was ill advised to do – with disaster foreseen.
The fallout of this debacle is that those who still believe in the fundamental values for which Labour stood are frustrated at the incapacity of the party, post its electoral rout, to assert itself credibly on the political stage. Enormous damage has been done to Labour’s national standing, despite its proven track record of glorious past achievements and as the architect of the transformation of Mauritian society for the better.
The leadership which was once respected for sticking to the highest principles, including vigorous debates within the party, is totally unrecognizable by those standards today. As Labour stands today, it suffers from a serious void of a credible leadership.
The future of the party will forcibly depend on whether it can democratize itself and live up to the collective responsibility for which its original leaders set up the party. It requires courage to prevent the abusive destruction the party has brought upon itself in past years. If this turnaround towards a greater democratisation of the party is convincingly achieved, Labour will then deserve to be given an honest chance to inspire the people to come together behind it, not for giving abusive power to the party’s leadership but for rekindling hope in them of better days to come – and of a stronger democracy.
* Published in print edition on 31 January 2020
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