Early Elections


Politicians and political commentators have seen in the recent announcements made by the Prime Minister of what would otherwise be called ‘electoral freebies’, namely the decision to implement free pre-primary schooling as from Jan 2024, the distribution of permits to some 1000 fishermen, which would render them eligible to bad weather and other allowances, as the signs of early elections in the offing. They also point out to the earlier than normal pre-budget consultations that have started at the Ministry of Finance. Another reason that would militate in favour of that eventuality concerns the hearing of the Privy Council in the matter of the electoral petition of Labour Party unreturned candidate Suren Dayal challenging the election of Pravind Jugnauth, Leela Devi DookunLuchoomun and YogidaSawmynaden in Constituency No. 8, set for 10 July 2023, and the strong compulsion this case imposes on the Prime Minister to avoid any discomfiture should the Law Lords accede to Suren Dayal’s petition on one ground or another.

All this is still in the realm of speculation. 

Some observers have opined here and elsewhere that the PM and his party may plough on at the helm of the country, regardless of the outcome of the appeal lodged at the Privy Council by Suren Dayal. Opinions in the legal circles differ on this question. Milan Meetarbhan, who is well versed in constitutional matters, stated to this paper earlier this year: ‘I am not sure that this would be legally possible if the Privy Council were to decide that the election of the three candidates in Constituency No 8 was not valid. Even if the ultimate outcome does not lead to loss of membership, should the proceedings before the court or comments in the judgment show that there was serious irregularity there would be a moral responsibility for the ministers to step down. But not in this country!’

While the Minister of Finance has been careful to state that populist freebies can no longer be entertained, implying that what tenets and strategies pertained to the previous campaign, these could no longer form the basis for next election’s strategies, in view one assumes of the serious macro-economic predicament the country finds itself in. He would obviously know far better than anyone else the real state of public finances, public sector debts and whatever hidden liabilities any incoming government will have to face. However, the possibility that the Minister is engaging, as others before him, in some clever management of public opinion cannot be ruled out and real intentions will come clear in the budget. That the freebies alluded to above are being announced these days may also be a counter to possible accusations of electoral and populist shenanigans given the government’s ploy during the 2019 campaign and which are being tested at the Privy Council in July this year.

On the other hand, if Pravind Jugnauth were to win his case, it’s more than likely he’ll go upto the end of his mandate. But he may decide to go for early elections if only to take on an unprepared and vulnerable opposition which to date has not settled the terms and conditionalities of an alliance between the Labour Party, the MMM and the PMSD, beyond the fact re-affirmed yesterday that it would be led by the LP. The standing of Navin Ramgoolam is another issue for many Labourites themselves, who privately would be expressing the same sentiments of the Faugoos, Varmas, Ramnarains and Sayed-Hossens about the functioning of the Labour Party and its leadership. The outbursts of a few prominent and long-time LP members, three of whom have earlier held ministerial posts, do not help in building the image of a credible alternative to the Pravind Jugnauth’s MSM. Other Labourites are of the view that time is of the essence and the necessity to clean the Augean stables makes the leadership of Navin Ramgoolam at this juncture unavoidable, while the leadership issue, however important in its own right, has to play second fiddle to that electoral imperative.

Pravind Jugnauth’s government has adopted a business-as-usual attitude even in the face of the misgovernance issues which have hogged the headlines these last three years. One could expect that it will remain unperturbed no matter what critics, whether on the streets, on social media, in the Opposition or even rating agencies, say about its record on this count. Neither will the alleged mafia infiltration in our institutions nor the misfirings of the Special Striking Team and the revelations that have been coming out recently about the ramifications of drug trafficking in the west or around Grand Bassin, the intellectual debates about Constitutional reform, gender representation and like issues weigh heavily in the final choice of the electorate. What matters to the people are bread and butter issues.

On the other hand, the government will have access to the Special Funds to finance a number of freebies, irrespective of what the Finance minister may say publicly. The MSM leader has the means to fund his campaign and the MBC-TV – possibly the most effective propaganda tool in spite of private radios and social media – at its disposal for its election campaign. He will in all likelihood hold elections when he would deem the political conditions suitable for the re-election of the MSM-led alliance. It is therefore up to the opposition to create the political dynamics to overturn what in the present political circumstances seems a real option: a third stint in office for the MSM.

One should however note the fact that mafia infiltration has been uttered by none other than the PM himself, who is in charge of those same institutions who might have turned a complicit eye to the drug trade barons on the West Coast. The other unknowns are the sociological and ethnic dynamics inherent to every alliance seeking election or re-election and the influence of Bruneau Laurette on some sections of the Mauritian community will be closely watched. If the MSM’s 37% of the voters in 2019 has remained stable or even contracted somewhat through its long list of “affairs”, it cannot assume that it would win the next elections in what could become a two-cornered fight. This is a precarious place as the clock ticks on.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 17 March 2023

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