Certain incidents occurred in a vote counting station in Vacoas during the December 2012 municipal elections. A Labour agent clashed against an MSM agent, accusing the latter of having photographed her without her permission. The matter was reported to the police who decided to arrest the MSM agent. The DPP has now decided that the MSM agent will not be sued for lack of sufficient solid grounds to support the accusation levelled against him by the police.
One would have expected such a case to have followed its normal course until the DPP’s decision one way or the other. This is not so. There was a Private Notice Question from the Leader of the Opposition during the last sitting of the House in 2012 concerning the row that was created at the vote counting session in Vacoas. In the question and answer session, various personal attacks were made by politicians against each other. What transpired during this session was not fit and proper for the good standing of this institution.
On Saturday last, the Labour agent involved in the incident at Vacoas requested for and obtained an injunction ex parte from the Supreme Court to prohibit a specific part of the local media from publishing information about her private life and business activities. The injunction granted ex parte has been interpreted by the concerned media as a “gagging order” and they have filed counter affidavits against the granting of the injunction. The matter is being heard and a decision of the court is awaited.
With due deference to the court, we have to look at the case of the Labour agent from two angles. She is right in the first place to ask the court to protect from public disclosure what concerns her past and her children by the concerned media. That sort of ploy by the media could only be intended to denigrate and discredit her and undermine the chances therefore of fairly defending herself on other counts. We know that part of the media is quite selective as regards certain categories of the population that it can drag into the mud insolently, not refraining from pulling up information about their past with a view to hurt. One needs protection against abusive inroads made by media into what belongs essentially to the private domain.
The other angle is concern about the public interest. We know that several governments have been favouring their minions over here at the expense of the public interest over the past so many years. Once the latter have walked away with their prizes and thrived, neither the politicians nor those on whom undue favours have been conferred have been called to account. There has been a certain impunity with which this practice has been going on and various past governments are to take the blame for this kind of high-handedness. It is one of the factors explaining how a commercially minded fringe of the electorate manages to swing its votes to one side or the other alternately in the expectation that rewards will be reaped. It is unfair to bring up this sort of issues only when a Labour government is in place while having kept mum when governments of other shades were abusing their powers to confer extraordinary benefits on their followers. The whole population is held to ransom by the power producers, the IPPs. In principle, however, this kind of partiality should be dealt with and one needs to know how far in the past one can travel to dig up those unjustified favours conferred upon cronies by past governments.
On the other side, the leader of the MSM was arrested some time before year end by the police after a Minister of the government made a statement before the police to the effect that he would have made remarks amounting to sedition and defamation against the government at a recent press conference of his. In fact, the arrest was not in relation to any charge of the sort alleged by the Minister but rather because he had not appeared before the CCID, as requested, to answer the charges, preferring to ask the CCID to explain what exactly was being reproached to him. As there was a risk that he might be charged with sedition, this incident had the effect of warming up the opposition and helping to project itself as victim of a repressive system. So far, there is no charge against him on the points made by the Minister. This has helped the opposition to stage itself up as a victim.
The opposition has thus been reaping windfall gains thanks to incidents of the sort. The public focus has shifted to quarrels among politicians, having little bearing on the bigger agenda of the country.
A government will normally ask voters to vote it back to power. The onus to prove why it should be voted back rests on the government alone. If it is perceived to be earnestly engaged in seeking out more economic, institutional and political security for its voters across the board, it should get the vote. If, on the other hand, it is perceived to have lost its way, preferring to get bogged down in small matters of little advantage to the nation as a whole, there is a risk not only of losing its traditional support. There is also the risk that the international community on which we depend to cut a good picture of ourselves and of our institutions, will end up giving us only tepid support. This has unpleasant consequences.
Judged at face value, the opposition has not come up with brilliant ideas of its own so far to deserve to challenge the government successfully. It has criticized what the government has been doing. On the plane of ideas, all it came up with was the proposal to introduce proportional representation in the electoral system. This appears to be a concern about its own future focussed on power politics. But a country needs a more fertile crop of valuable ideas and a credible team of leaders on which it can build up its strength for future development. In the circumstances, if the opposition were to secure power inadvertently, one of the means for so doing would be by default. By default of something better coming from the side of the government. By going out into the travails of its current preoccupations, the government may risk offering a chance to the opposition, an opposition that fails to show whether it has changed an iota from its traditional lookout for the prosperity of the 1% against the 99%.
At the dawn of 2013, the country would be agreeably surprised to see its leaders focussing on substantive issues facing the country in the current precarious times dominating the global scene. There is no dearth of those issues. There is full time work to devote to them if we want to emerge. The time ahead to show concrete results is limited and one can only hope that it could be put to more productive use.
* Published in print edition on 12 January 2013