We Mauritians, like all people, do not like wars or natural cataclysms; somehow or other they sap our morale and our faith in God. But an imminent general election is another kettle of fish. The Japanese, we are told, might think differently: it is much ado about nothing. After all, they are never worried about the outcome of a Mauritian election – whoever wins, the broad governmental capitalistic policy remains almost the same.
General Elections in the olden days
In the 1960s which child would not have been excited at the coming of some electoral bouts, where he would have extreme fun in seeing cars (or rather ‘Katiak Charlies’) with loudspeaker mounted inviting the voters to a political tryst. At that time he knew that there would be all sorts of colourful flags and emblems to greet him in many a road or on electric poles. He would become aware of groups of people gathering at crossroads, under the veranda of the Chinese shops or at the barbers’ or tailors’ cabinets, discussing the coming great happening. Barbers and tailors, benefiting from all the knowledge and wisdom of their passing clients, were troves of treasure as far as politics went.
It was an event for the child, something to punctuate his monotonous school-going routine of everyday life. Maybe that’s how he grew up with the mindset that election time means fun. Later in the 70s he would expect every year to bring its share of English football league matches on TV; even the final of the FA cup would be a much-expected event. Gradually as he grew up he fashioned his mind to expect world events such as the Olympics and World cup. Any happening that would be out of the ordinary, and absorb the interest of maximum numbers of people would be welcome. Most probably they served as psychological, soothing remedies for his stressful and routine life.
Now, come September will it be another Roman vacation for many of us? We wonder, but the probable event of 2014 may well be looked upon by most of us of that ageing generation as the thrill-loaded one of yore. We have been following the ups and downs of the local political landscape with a lot of wonder – whether we are being led down the garden path, what was the real aim of so much manoeuvring?
General elections in 2014?
Whatever it is, we are again at the doorstep of another electoral contest. There will be many politicians of all colours giving their views on the coming alliance of two major parties. There will be union leaders, intellectuals turned politicians, university people, frustrated near-losers and idealists who cannot understand the why of such political alliances and the cynicism and backbiting on the part of some. There would be other politicians who had had greater hope of forming part in the coming government, but suddenly it seems that the gate has become closed to them.
Very soon most Mauritians will turn out to be experts in politics, giving their views, criticizing various proponents of the coming bout, suggesting what they would have done in a similar situation — reminding us of the local football expertise that Mauritians claim to have.
We may feel that the reason why we are so involved in any event in our country is that we are a small island, with only about 1.2 million people. Fortunately we do not have an external enemy, to engage our survival instinct or draw our attention outwards and make us more extroverts; or maybe we are in want of other personal interesting activities to distract us.
In big, advanced countries people like scientists, teachers, financial barons, art experts and journalists, and many others are so intensely immersed in their own fields and way of life that they would give an election just about the attention it deserves. For them doing politics is a job like any other, though well-paid. They consider themselves as actors in society as important as the politicians in forming a nation; they know that without them there would be no state or nation. But we in little Mauritius finally find the political thing and the politicians as the hub of attraction and interest every 4 to 5 years. So, should we be surprised that ultimately, in our beloved country, statues are erected to politicians only?
Attitude of the new generation
Of course, nowadays our teenage generation has more to do with their play station and other electronic gadgets; they may be less attracted to the activities to come as polling day approaches. Their fun will communication though the social media, rather than go out in public to display their concern. Young adults will no longer find the same fun that we did some four decades ago, perhaps because they have more of a rational than an emotional attitude towards the event. They are less inclined to attend political meetings as they are more educated, focusing on their work and personal ambitions. There is no longer blind faith in political parties and politicians. Long ago it was more the poor versus the sugar barons and their cronies; nowadays there are many other important issues we want our politicians to ponder upon. And the new generation may already be envying one of the Scandinavian nations where people sit at home and vote through their electronic device.
However, there may be some disillusion of the present young generation, as nowadays the media revolution allows one to follow, through various media, how in foreign democracies political opinions are expressed differently, with face-to-face debates between political opponents aspiring to the highest office of the land and parties respecting some form of ethics. As many of us want to believe that we are an advanced country, and as we like to imitate the great democracies of the world in whatever they do, there will be disappointment and frustration at our own political backwardness and naiveté.
On the other hand, however much the media would like us to believe that they are independent, we know that there is always a hidden agenda. After all, all of us human beings must make some cash to run the kitchen, let alone fatten the bank account! When all is said and done, we must form our own opinion about the current political situation, inevitably coloured by some prejudices inherited from the past. Alas, we are yet to lose our tribal, clannish agenda let alone being high intellectuals or educated philosophers.
We are proud of our country with its healthy democratic Constitution. Long before the minority Obama was voted to power we already had someone from the minority community serving as Prime Minister for some two years. Those foreign parliamentarians who convert their assembly into a boxing circus now and then would be amazed that in the Indian Ocean there is an island state where the political opponents “respect” their colleagues, shake hands and even join together in a major alliance. Yet we must recognize that if we want that same democracy to flourish, we must uphold healthy activities in our schools and give proper education to the maximum number of our people. They only can contribute to sustain development in all fields of life, including politics, and this will depend on their educated choice if they wish for a long-term effect.
Will we make the correct choice?
Years ago when the Israelite Labour Party and the conservatives decided to share power, some of us in the doctors’ mess, in a fit of idealism, came up with the view that we, in Mauritius, could emulate them. Specially the LP and the MMM, which have about 35 % electorate each should work together for the common good. After all it would mean that about 70% of the population would be happy to see “themselves” or their representatives in power. That should contribute to stability and social progress. The experiment was tried, but we failed to reckon with the overambitious politicians of that time.
Now years later the experiment is on again, and some are already excusing themselves for their previous immaturity; they claim that they have become wiser. But we suspect that as those leaders are more than 65 now, mellowed by experience and disappointments – and as the Great Leveller is already knocking at the gate — they want to try that Israeli experiment once again, for the good of the country — so they say. It may not be the same original formula, but the French would be glad that this ex-English colony has never finished amazing them by being their most faithful follower. We can just wish that the Mauritian people would come out of it richer and happier, though all of us are convinced that a democracy needs a very dynamic opposition as a sine qua non, for effective control and progress to be achieved.
For those of us who believe in biological evolution, we will surely not miss this opportunity to vote; we will smile, sit back and watch the show. Our human ancestors had come out of the jungle and caves to produce the political animal. There has definitely been progress. We literally no longer cut the throat of our opponents, but figuratively speaking we would love to do it. However, we must admit that nowadays the opponents sit opposite each other at the same table and plot out their future course of action, cooperation or disagreement, trying to downplay our policy of survival of the fittest, suppressing our envies, our dislikes or hates; we no longer look upon our rivals as manna from heaven whose carcass would be fit for the cauldron. We are now supposedly more civilized and cultured.
Surely after thousands of years of apprenticeship at trying to become the big Chief, we have now realized that ultimately we have to elect someone, to join hands and hearts to pull down the huge prey that corruption, unhappiness, hunger and insecurity are. Our brain has surely grown mature enough to make the correct choice come the great day – some time this year? At least we have the possibility of choice as to the one who will to run the public affairs of the tribe…
* Published in print edition on 12 September 2014