Towards the end of last year, the PMSD’s leader stated that the party would set the records straight in early 2014.
This statement was made in the context of serious differences which had cropped up between the leadership of the party and one of its Ministers, notably Michael Sik Yuen. The latter had incurred the displeasure of the leadership of his party on removing Robert Desvaux, Chairman of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA), a nominee of the party, from this position.
The Minister’s decision was prompted, it appears, by a reportedly conflictual relationship between himself as Minister of Tourism and the Chairman of the MTPA. In view of the close proximity between Robert Desvaux and the PMSD leader, Xavier-Luc Duval, the Minister’s decision to sack Desvaux was seen as nothing less than a direct affront to the party leadership, the more so as the Prime Minister had openly expressed his support for the Minister of Tourism in the circumstances. This was interpreted as aiding and abetting dissent within the PMSD by not giving in to the PMSD’s wish to sack the Minister instead and to appoint someone else from the party in replacement.
We have no idea whether an alternative posting of Mr Desvaux acceptable to the PMSD was considered as an attenuating factor. The fact remains that treatment meted out to a specific political nominee heading a parastatal body in the present case was enough to jolt – even if temporarily — the existing governmental alliance between Labour and the PMSD. The point is that differences between the PMSD leadership and one of its ministers travelled as far as to unsteady a government alliance running the affairs of the country with a fairly slim majority.
The PMSD has decided not to quit the governmental alliance after all, despite Michael Sik Yuen being maintained as Minister of Tourism in the Cabinet. No matter what amount of camouflage and face-saving is adopted to put behind this clash between the two partners in government, feathers have clearly been ruffled up.
On the other hand, following the Michael Sik Yuen confrontation, the MMM opposition sensed that the governmental alliance was in for a rough ride, which might go as far as its splintering. So, even as the debates on the budget presented by the Minister of Finance, Xavier-Luc Duval, were continuing, the opposition decided to play it soft, absenting itself on occasion from the sessions. The ground was being prepared to welcome the PMSD into the ranks of the opposition coalition, notably the MMM-MSM’s ‘Remake 2000. This looked like sheer opportunism, in a bid to put the government in minority and provoke fresh anticipated elections.
Had the opposition’s bet succeeded, this would have shown that shifts of political allegiance could occur merely on the grounds that a political nominee in a parastatal body would not have been treated according to the manner in which the Minister of Tourism was expected to toe the party line. This, notwithstanding the impediments Michael Sik Yuen might have been facing in the proper conduct of his ministry’s affairs. It would also have shown that the MMM and the PMSD which have usually seen themselves as poles apart in matters political, were prepared to set aside their differences to impose the party line in matters of personal appointment and public policy-making.
The political fracture threatened not solely the government side during this episode. It is reported that, in order to entice Xavier-Luc Duval by giving him a no-worse-off position on the other side of the political spectrum, the MMM began shuffling chairs on the deck of the ‘Remake’, whereby the leader of the MSM was being relegated to a lower position in the name of political accommodation. Admittedly, the potential breakup of the ‘Remake’ was deftly averted.
But the malady which originated on the governmental side with the removal of a PMSD political appointee by Michael Sik Yuen ended up almost wreaking havoc in the ranks of the opposition ‘Remake’. It is a malady which is pervasive across the entire political spectrum since conviction and commitment to a bold vision of the future does not appear to inspire political action any more. It remains to be seen whether this episode might have left behind a permanent scar on future cohabitation of political “partners”.
It may be noted that in the wake of the instability which shook political leadership of the country across the board, there was persistent talk of one member or other of the PMSD defecting to the government side rewarded by a ministerial portfolio. Even the leader of the FSM, a party which has a single representative in the Assembly, expressed his willingness to provide support to the country’s development if called upon to do so.
This episode has shown that temporary and private interests can be so overwhelming in our political system as to almost debilitate the leadership – at different levels – due to a mere incident. Politicians have developed networks of sectional and personal support systems which end up trapping them in the sheer pursuit of power for its own sake. They have to keep propitiating their base in order to win at the polls. And, damn it, these guys – social/communal or economic lobbies — know it quite clearly that it is they who are the real masters of the game!
It is not surprising that the best we’ve been able to do is to throw up, nearly five decades after independence, a segmented leadership which, despite its best intentions, cannot visualize the future apart from propitiating the specific differentiated sources from which it draws its power. It becomes very difficult to run the true business of the country when policy has to be made and implemented so as not to displease vested interest groups whose objectives are not coterminous with the national objective.
This is not the optimal solution for the country as a whole which is in need of a transformative style of leadership transcending particular interests. For a country like Mauritius, the imperative currently is that no project worthy of lifting us up from the current situation should be held down for years to accommodate particular interests. The urgency of the moment is to identify such projects, bring them up to current international market norms and set down to implement them. This is the only way we can deliver on important internal and external challenges actually facing the country.
Despite its handicaps, Mauritius remains an oasis of peace and harmony in a world going increasingly on the turmoil. We need to preserve its “joie-de-vivre” and its harmonious growth. It will not be so easy a transition to move to a higher platform where particular interests cease dominating and destabilising the scene at the national level. But, short of bringing people together who have found themselves diametrically on different sides of the social fence and the political spectrum so far, is there another way of empowering and freeing our political leadership – hopefully renewed and merit-based – to do what it really needs to do than to keep dithering, caught in the tangle hold of divisive politics, as it has been the case so far?
* Published in print edition on 16 January 2014