The Power Game
All of a sudden, the sole issue dominating the political debate in Mauritius is about which political alliance will finally emerge. After having spoken at length about three-cornered fights in the next general elections involving the three major political parties, followed by possible post-electoral alliances, etc., the talk now is about convergence of programmes for accommodating new partners in political alliance. It is a matter of making programmes converge in order to forge the relevant political alliance. Yet, we were given to understand by some of the greatest advocates of a political alliance between the MMM and Labour that there was hardly any fundamental difference in the pursuits of these two parties, implying that they could easily form an alliance in view of the prospective elections. One wonders whether, if an alliance between the MMM and Labour could be postulated on this basis, the same would not be applicable for potential alliances between any other pair of major political parties: all of them can narrow down their differences to suit the convenience of having to get into a political alliance.
The ‘agwas’ have a simple task: they should only highlight the major common points between any two parties they want to unite provided they can quietly shelve away any sharp differences which may emerge ultimately.
This entire gimmick is about securing political power. Everyone wants to make sure at this stage that he is on the winning political bandwagon in the elections. Labour wants to be part of a government in which chances of its being minoritized in Parliament are remote; the MMM does not want to be reduced to insignificance by being kept out of political power for one more term; the MSM does not want to be similarly marginalised on the political spectrum. The outcome is uncertain for each one of them going it alone. The preferred choice of each one of them is to go into alliance in order to be sure to wield power.
It must be recognised that alliances of all possible colours have been formed in the past to secure power. There are no two major parties which have not at some time or other joined forces to win elections. The MMM and MSM allied in 2000.Labour and the MMM did it in 1995. Labour and the MSM were together in 1983. Labour and PMSD are currently joined in alliance and they have been so several times since 1969. Each one set out to convince the electorate at the time of forming the various alliances that it was the best combination for delivering results to advance the objectives of the nation. Some alliances were voted to power; others were not.
Looking at the records of achievement, after the 1969 Labour-PMSD coalition laid down the basis of outward-orientedness of Mauritius, the next best thing was to take place in the 1980s. It is the MSM-Labour-PMSD alliance of the 1980s that may be credited with having achieved something worth mentioning in turning around the country’s fortunes; all the others have been adding bits and pieces to this edifice or fudging it. The achievement of the 1980s was due principally to a no-nonsense political leadership which quickly identified the constraints facing the nation at the time and knew exactly which solutions to apply to overturn those constraints into opportunities. The same leadership brought up further economic diversification in the shape of IT and IT-enabled services in the early 2000s, the positive outcome of which is showing up in the fast growth of jobs in the BPO sector, a sector which is one of the main current drivers of employment in the economy.
If pronounced success of political alliances in diverse combinations has proved in reality to be so sparse over decades in terms of results delivered, one is led to conclude that most of those alliances were mere patchwork designed to gather the maximum number of votes. Some of the alliances have merely remained in power; a few only have exerted political power to empower the country and the economy towards bigger adventures and wider horizons. Obtaining political power amounts in most cases to individual politicians obtaining personal security. They will thus not find themselves crossing the desert for long or being part of ineffectual governments that are likely to be toppled over the next time. It is not illegitimate for politicians to want to secure power by all means they can; in fact, it is the game which they are the most adept at.
If one analyses deeply the political outcomes, it is evident that most governments secure power not only for the self-aggrandisement of their leaders but also finally end up playing in the hands of powerful self-seeking commercial lobbies. The latter frustrate the adoption of solutions which benefit society at large to their detriment. Thus, if the latter succeed in installing a strong government of their choice the next time, they are sure to want to trim down the welfare state in order to minimize their own contribution to tax. One can remain assured that, in the circumstances, no countervailing power whatsoever will be able to sway decisions differently. People will pay the price.
The question then arises as to the exact use to which political power should be put. In most of the cases, despite professions of lofty objectives made by politicians in quest of power, the achievements are sub-standard and have been so over long stretches of time. This is because when conflicts of objectives present themselves, politicians choose the least resistant course in order to secure power again by employing some device or other each time. Any alliance is possible for this purpose. Clearly, the altruistic motive is absent, except on the surface of things. The vision is narrow and limited to day-to-day management. It is not enough to say: “we are going to do this or that for your advancement once in power” or that “we need more time to achieve great things for you and therefore you should vote us into power”.
Tricks like this have been employed time and again in Mauritius. But when Mentor Minister Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore says something of the same tenor, we are likely to believe him because he is capable of delivering and has shown concrete actual results thanks to his foresightedness. He gets the most competent on his side for producing tangible results which impact positively on the lives of citizens and he brooks no complacency in the pursuit of real goals. He does not state why the law and order situation is getting out of hands; he acts before it gets out of hands. The government over there does not need last-minute artificial stilts and crutches to get social cohesion. Since there is no discrimination against anyone and meritocracy is the established norm in society, no one can ask for and obtain more than his fair share over there or complain having been dropped down due to his ethnic or other such belonging. Since Singapore has the entire world as its competitor, it places value on those matters which keep it playing in this league, nothing less. It concentrates on science and technology to remain part of this world. Despite having a population four times that of Mauritius (or even more counting the numerous tourists visiting it), it manages its traffic with far greater ease than one could have expected. It is as clean and efficiently organised a place as any in Europe despite being part of Asia.
Our governments should have conducted themselves in an exemplary manner as it is the case in Singapore. No need to sentimentalise. No need to find out last minute partners to salvage the system. No need to discover that square pegs have been fitted into round holes after the damage has been done already. No need to stultify the faculties of the people with vague promises that will not be kept for winning elections each time. No need for winning formulas each time the elections come round. The need is to demonstrate how exactly the power being sought will be employed to improve conditions in the country.
What’s the point of saying afterwards that the set goals were not achieved because of certain factors? A government needs to identify achievable goals beforehand instead of setting out caveats explaining non-achievements. We do not believe that there exists some magic wand by which a last minute political alliance will be able to paint a rosier picture than what is possible with the given resources and the system structure in place. It is by making changes in those resources and system structures that effective governments make a real departure. This kind of change is obtained through hard work which needs to be detailed out to convince people that something better can be achieved in fact. Broad statements of intention do not fit in this framework; what’s the point if they are not supported to implementation when it comes to the crunch? It is better to pursue fewer but demonstrably achievable objectives for people not to be taken for a ride again and again. This is what securing political power should be about.