Matters of The Moment
It is more and more evident that owing principally to poor governance, policy failure and ineptitude to address and resolve the core problems of people and the country that there is a growing disconnect between the people and the political leadership
By Mrinal Roy
The shocking images of the wanton attack of a mob of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump on the Capitol, the seat of the United States Congress, on 6 January 2021 sent shock waves across the democratic world. The insurrection defiled the Capitol and caused five deaths. This assault on a key symbol of American democracy showed yet again that democracy is fragile and cannot be taken for granted. It has to be robustly defended by the people whenever it is under threat.
“The traditional political parties are simply out of their depths to tackle the daunting challenges faced by the country. Furthermore, far too many things are amiss in the country. Governance is plummeting. There is a growing array of scandals and allegations of corruption and other wrongdoings involving Ministers. Nepotism, cronyism and the appointment of the coterie at the head of key state institutions, state companies or as ambassadors by government has spawned incompetence and costly blunders…”
Too often, politicians are ready to bend democratic rules to promote their own interests. In a surrealistic scenario, the crowd of Trump supporters massed in Washington were, according to videos shown on TV channels, incited to storm the Capitol to disrupt the sitting of Congress tasked to formally certify the electoral votes obtained by each candidate at the US presidential elections and officially confirm the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice-President elect.
These desperate shenanigans to overturn the outcome of the presidential elections backfired. For the second time, President Trump was impeached by the US Senate and the House of Representatives for inciting the Capitol riots on 6 January. Donald Trump whose mandate has ended now awaits trial. Despite attempts by pro-Trump rioters to negate the poll verdict of the people, American democracy and the sovereign will of the people have prevailed. The caucus of US democrats across the political divide weaned on the ethos, principles and values of the US Constitution and American democracy stood together as one to scuttle such decried gambits.
In vibrant democracies, politicians are prepared to put themselves on the line to save or uphold democracy.
On 20 January Joe Biden was therefore sworn in as the 46th President of the United States and Kamala Harris has become the first woman to take the vice presidential oath of office. Her African American and Asian American roots are also a strong signal of unity and inclusiveness in a country which remains deeply divided.
For the first time since 1869, Donald Trump the outgoing President chose not to attend President Biden’s swearing in ceremony in the teeth of long established bipartisan traditions for winners and losers to be present at this key event of American democracy. Those who lose democratically accept the polls verdict. In contrast, three past presidents and outgoing vice-president Mike Pence were present for the presidential inauguration.
Democracy is also the right to express one’s opinion. It does not mean that we should be enemies with those that have a different view. We should respect each other’s opinion.
Security alerts had forced the authorities to convert the area around the Capitol where the presidential inauguration took place into a high security fortress protected by more than 25,000 uniformed National Guards, law enforcement, military and intelligence personnel. The capitals of the various states in the US were also on high alert. This is an unacceptable situation in a democracy.
Presidential inaugurations are joyful and popular events which celebrate US democracy. Thousands of people gather around the Capitol to jubilantly participate in this high moment in US democracy where politicians and the people reboot with and reiterate their commitment to the founding principles and ethos of American democracy to ensure that it remains a model to the world. The swearing in ceremony is watched by millions of Americans across the political spectrum and people all over the world. However, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and security concerns, the inaugural ceremony this year had to do away with the presence of cheering crowds and the fanfare of past US presidential inaugurations.
The attack on the Capitol was the culmination of persistent allegations by Donald Trump and some Republicans that the outcome of the presidential elections was marred by widespread voter fraud despite the fact that the US Attorney General William Barr and officials in each of the 50 states found no evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities in the election. On the contrary, Federal agencies overseeing election security said it was the most secure in American history.
Donald Trump and his allies however continued to spin conspiracy theories and unproven claims of electoral fraud by filing dozens of legal challenges in several states which were all subsequently withdrawn or dismissed by various courts. Despite the patent evidence that the US presidential elections were secure and fair, Trump supporters mobilized in Washington and the capitals of various states in the US continued to be harangued to believe that Donald Trump’s reelection had been thwarted by electoral fraud.
Donald Trump’s populist policies and slogans of ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘America First’ appeal to a large proportion of Americans. Despite his defeat, he obtained 74. 2 million against 62.9 million votes obtained when he was elected President in 2016. However, at the November 2020 presidential elections, the voters chose to elect Joe Biden as President. Owing to a much higher voter turnout, Joe Biden obtained 81.2 million votes as well as a large majority of the electoral votes.
During Donald Trump’s post election rallies, the tally of 74.2 million votes obtained by him was brandished to showcase the extent and might of his electoral support. The loyal support of diehard supporters cannot be leveraged and misused to rock the foundations of democracy to settle trumped up political grievances. The damage has unfortunately been done. There are as a result of the Trump rhetoric of electoral fraud a large number of Americans who still believe in the myth of stolen elections. This will take time to die.
Unifying the nation
This is an explosive situation which if not quickly doused could ignite into open conflict. If not defused through policies of reconciliation and unity, President Donald Trump’s influence could continue to shadow Washington.
President Joe Biden now has the challenging task of unifying a deeply divided nation and initiating policies in a Covid-19 pandemic afflicted country which above all resolve the basic concerns of people, namely Covid-19 and the vaccination of the population, employment, healthcare, education, equal opportunities and inequality, etc. His priorities include post pandemic economic recovery, climate change, unity of the nation, social justice and equity as well as restoring America’s leadership in the world and mending Washington’s ties with its allies, etc.
The disquieting events in the United States, a bastion of democracy in the world, the “Gilets Jaunes” movement in France still fighting for social and ecological justice and the growing popularity of various anti-establishment parties and movements in many countries in Europe as they challenge or wrest power from traditional parties reflect the ire and exasperation of the people at the incapacity of the traditional ruling parties to satisfactorily respond to their social, economic, ecological and existential needs.
It is more and more evident that owing principally to poor governance, policy failure and ineptitude to address and resolve the core problems of people and the country that there is a growing disconnect between the people and the political leadership of traditional parties and the political class.
The current situation in Mauritius is a case in point. The traditional political parties are simply out of their depths to tackle the daunting challenges faced by the country. Furthermore, far too many things are amiss in the country. Governance is plummeting. There is a growing array of scandals and allegations of corruption and other wrongdoings involving Ministers. Nepotism, cronyism and the appointment of the coterie at the head of key state institutions, state companies or as ambassadors by government has spawned incompetence and costly blunders such as the billions of Rupees of losses incurred on risky and unsecured loans advanced by the State Bank to foreign companies which necessitated substantial impairment provisions.
People are also up in arms at the lack of transparency and accountability of government spending, government procurement tenders and costly projects such as Safe City whose cameras are unable to provide such key deliverables as vital visual evidence to elucidate current criminal cases in a context of rising criminality and unabated drug trafficking in the country. They also question the opacity surrounding the conditions public funds amounting to billions of Rupees are, for example, advanced by the Mauritius Investment Corporation Ltd (MIC) to distressed companies to bail them out. Although supermarkets are perpetually having sales promotion, prices continue to escalate under the nose of consumer protection authorities. The list is damning and long
Against such a backdrop of ineptitude and opacity, how can government and its institutions competently manage the daunting challenges faced by the country resulting from the dire health and socio-economic fallouts of the Covid-19 pandemic in a context of growing indebtedness, stressed public finances and worsening economic fundamentals? This is an untenable situation.
In the midst of all this mess, desperate shenanigans were also shamefully used recently in a clumsily choreographed spin doctoring exercise aired on national TV to basically extol the performance of government and prop up its image in the midst of the current turmoil and rising clamour against its governance. Is government feeling the heat? It was flabbergasting to witness to what lengths government is prepared to go to save the day against rising odds.
* Published in print edition on 22 January 2021