Events accelerated after the decision taken to prorogue Parliament. In his press conference of Saturday last explaining the reason for proroguing, the Prime Minister enumerated a long list of reversals of opinion by Paul Bérenger in the course of the past several years. What he was implying was that the latter was not credible as he could hold contradictory opinions on the same subject matters within a short space of time and that he had a track record of behaving in like wayward manner for long.
On the other hand, the President did nothing to clear the air about his alleged involvement in the ‘remake of 2000’, apart from the statement he would have made during his regular meeting with the Prime Minister that he would inform him (the PM) if he decided to get involved in active politics.
Matters did not stand there as regards the Presidency. In the context of the new Local Council Act, the MSM had protested with the President about the manner in which local council electoral boundaries had been laid out. The President had convened the Minister of Local Administration as well as Mayors of towns and cities, to the State House, apparently to seek their counsel on the matter in dispute. The Minister and the Mayors refused to attend. This showed, after the absence en bloc lately of Labour’s MLAs at the Garden Party held on the occasion of the celebration of the 44th Anniversary of independence by the State House, that the hatchet was far from buried in regard to this contention of power between the government and the President. The fundamental clash between the two institutions (government and presidency) was thus continuing with more direct actors now than before.
After the last round-about turn of Paul Bérenger to the effect that the ‘remake of 2000’ will not take place after all, given that he surmised it was not possible to put the government in minority, he is at it again. The talk is now modified and is limited to an MMM-MSM alliance without reference to the famous ‘remake’ which had been the subject matter of various controversies in the preceding weeks. With or without ‘remake’ however, the tension is still on.
At an event organized by the ‘Hindu House’, a socio-cultural group, to mark the celebration of the country’s independence, the President’s speech referred to increasing poverty in the country. He mentioned amongst others the figure of 8,000 households which would have been deprived of water in the wake of the increase of 35% in the price of water since January this year. The Vice Prime Minister, Dr Beebeejaun, has stated that the figure should have been 5,700 and not 8,000. The President asked in his speech on the occasion as to what the appeal to unity of the country would be worth if the ‘driver’ were taking the country to the precipice. He referred to the American State Department’s report to the effect that the incidence of drugs had increased in Mauritius. These statements do not carry the stamp of innocence. They are targeted.
When asked his views on this speech of the President, the Prime Minister quipped back that SAJ would be getting older and was not fully conscious of what he was saying. This dismissive statement cannot hide what is actually going on. Clearly, the tussle for influence between the government and the President has escalated this past week. The background of this tussle is the potential formation of an MMM-MSM alliance in which the Prime Minister and others suspect the President as having an active role to play. In which case, they say, they are not having dealings with an impartial President but rather with a potential political adversary.
If SAJ were to precipitate such an alliance now by his frequent interventions on the party political platform, would he be standing aloof from party politics as his duty requires? It does not require a genius to judge where all this Presidential intervention is coming to finally, or to whose detriment all those pronouncements by the President are. Despite the overall duty of care the President has towards the population as a whole, this duty has to be fulfilled with the necessary detachment by the President. He cannot stretch his intervention to a point where it would become clear that he would be indulging in ordinary political activity. He cannot claim that he is not indulging in party politics simply because he is not explicitly mentioning in his public interventions the names of the opposition parties which stand to benefit when he speaks out in the manner he has been doing. The tension has increased by several notches in the past week on this account.
We have had enough of this kind of dabbling with institutions. It would be time for the equivocation into which the Office of the President might have fallen to cease. The President was smart enough to realize that Paul Bérenger could have dropped him like a sack of stone had he chosen to leave office when talk of the ‘remake of 2000’ was brought to a crescendo a couple of weeks back. He cannot not be realizing it when he is actually trespassing the lines that a President is not entitled to cross, that is, engaging in active politics while still retaining his position as President. People have already drawn their conclusions as to who the President is criticizing directly.
Unless this slant is stopped on time, it threatens to degenerate, bringing the government parties in a direct clash with the President. How then, can it be claimed that Mauritius has to give priority to the economics of the country and not to its politics? The current political escalation is unhealthy. It tends to divert energies and lead to a weakening of the government’s authority in dealing with public matters. What is worse, the opposition parties in whose favour the public’s sympathies have been calculated to go against the background of this tussle for power, have no clue about how they could better address the various weaknesses, economic and all, that are said to be acting against the country’s superior interests. They have not come out with any alternative proposal as to how to deal with emerging problems facing the country.
This clash for the sake of getting on to power will therefore be useless or destructive at best. Much to the dismay of the population, it can have the effect finally of pulling together the MMM and the MSM to carry out the bidding of specific sectarian as also certain power-seeking economic lobbies, as it has happened in the past. Continuing this clash for political power can even be counter-productive if, at the end of the day, the majority of the population are pitched up once again to pay towards social welfare programmes for the rich. Fragilizing governments can clearly have this kind of impact. In this event, concerns transcend petty private political party interests. We will need to bear that in mind.
* Published in print edition on 22 March 2012