The grapevine has it already. The President of the Republic has convened a press conference this morning. It is surmised that this will be the occasion for him to announce his resignation from the Presidency. In turn, this is expected to free him to engage actively in the ‘remake of 2000’, by which is meant he might lead an MMM-MSM alliance as the aspiring Prime Minister of the next government.
If the President will effectively travel in this direction, this will go to show that the MedPoint scandal which started on quite a different note, is unfolding itself in unsuspected ways. After making the MSM quit the government, it would lead the MSM and the MMM to join hands against the Labour-PMSD alliance. It would even lead to the resignation of a President eventually. Moreover, the latter would once again wear the politician’s cloak and go out campaigning on the field eight years after having stepped into the highest office of the State.
It has taken quite some time for the new turn of events, with SAJ in the lead of a potential MMM-MSM alliance, to materialize. While it was possible for the MSM under the leadership of Pravind Jugnauth to form an alliance with Paul Bérenger’s MMM, the MMM leader was clearly not convinced that this was the ‘magic formula’ he was looking for. In his view, Pravind Jugnauth does not have the persuasive power vis-à-vis the electoral vote bank the MMM needs, notably the Hindu vote, for securing a win in the election. In his view, the defeat of MMM-MSM alliance of 2005 had demonstrated this fact. It is SAJ, he considers, who has the necessary authority and respect from this group of voters and, hence, the capacity to sway political power in favour of the MMM. It was therefore necessary for him to unseat SAJ from State House and give him the role of leading the new alliance, to put all the chances of winning on the side of the MMM.
A politician of SAJ’s maturity cannot be ignoring the cautionary role which he would be enlisted for in this alliance, notably to give the necessary comfort to Hindu voters in particular. This role, presumably in Paul Bérenger’s reading of the electoral arithmetic, SAJ’s son and current leader of the MSM, cannot fulfil. It is this perception that goes to explain the various contradictory positions adopted by Paul Bérenger in the course of the past couple of months in his quest for political alliances.
We do not dispute the right of SAJ to sympathize with the alliance that he chooses, but a move to partisan politics clearly amounts to a compromise on principles of good governance and possibly a transgression of limits that a past President should not have crossed. SAJ has been credited with the statement that one should not get bogged down by moral principles when fixating on ulterior objectives. In other words, the end should justify whatever means one employs to get at it. This might have applied to SAJ the politician who would not have allowed himself to be held back by moral scruples but is it the fitting thing to do for someone who has been a President of the Republic to carry forward this want of consideration for moral elevation? Is it not assumed that holding the highest office of the State is conducive to raising the sight towards a loftier un-compartmentalized view of the nation? We had presumed that this would be the case.
One past President stated recently that it was within the rights of SAJ to make politically loaded statements while occupying the position of President. It was even mentioned that a past President has a right to stand for election after he has retired as President. We are not quite sure that this type of self-serving is what the Westminster system of government advocates: it would be as if the Queen were to stand down as sovereign to solicit votes for becoming a Minister, the like of whom she has been appointing to office all the way. Unthinkable! Such a situation would empty the position of President of the solemnity, moral strength and detachment from party politics on which its basic credentials are founded.
It is a sad reflection that for a long enough time now, politicians have bent the rules to suit certain conveniences. This kind of overstepping on principles has largely been undertaken to further private interests. As a result, the system has been corrupted to accommodate certain specific private pursuits.
It is well known that Mr Bérenger has an agenda of his own whenever he has access to power. This agenda consists of consolidating the position of the traditional private sector and giving certain advantages to segments of the population which comprise his party’s central vote bank. Its trail runs along things like withdrawing subsidies on rice and flour in the wave of the sweeping victory of 1982, selling La Pirogue hotel to South African interests in the days of apartheid, omitting to carry out a fundamental agrarian reform that could have been undertaken when the Illovo deal came up, consolidating the monopoly of the wealthy class by increasing the number of IPPs in the energy sector, balkanizing the Hindu community by forming specific cultural centres for certain groups to the exclusion of the Hindi group, carrying out educational “reform” to undo meritocracy and set aside achievers apparently to help specific children overcome their handicaps in the schooling system, and means testing beneficiaries of pensions so-to-say to balance the budget but in reality to alleviate the contribution of the private sector to tax revenues. All these discriminatory decisions were made with the support of the MSM in the past.
By trying to join hands with the MSM, the leader of the MMM is pursuing the very same agenda, along with a Hindu caution ascribed to the presence of SAJ in the new MMM-MSM alliance, led for the first time in history by a former President of the Republic. This agenda consisting of playing into the hands of the rich private sector and carrying out peculiar social engineering to the detriment of the majority in the population is not in the interest of Mauritius. It has wrought havoc of all sorts to the point that Paul Bérenger has had to be thrown out of governments of which he was forming part for his insistence to fight for it whether the government of the day liked it or not. One could not have envisaged that any past President of the Republic could have aligned himself on such an agenda.
Having been in the hallowed position of President, one has to understand that the strategy of Paul Bérenger has always consisted of going for political power alone but using a Hindu caution all the time. His psychology is such that he does not feel comfortable to rule without keeping by the side this symbolic Hindu caution. It is exactly what he has sought and is likely to get at once again this time with SAJ as the protagonist to serve in this role. This clearly amounts to debasing the institution of the Presidency.
There is obviously a limit up to which this kind of abusing can go on without bringing the entire edifice to breaking point. The challenge today is whether we can reverse this process to reclaim the sterling principles by which a country like Mauritius should live and be governed. In places like Singapore, they created confidence for themselves among the international leadership and business community by not making the least compromise on principles and acting without delay to firmly repress the least trespass and signal clearly what they stood for. They did not empty their institutions of their intrinsic worth. They rose above the lot. If we in Mauritius are unable to make it to their level, it is because we cease clinging to solid principles whenever some in our fold are too busy doing exactly the opposite of what a place like Singapore would abhor to do. One has to realize that this road does not go too far. It ends up in self-destruction.
* Published in print edition on 30 March 2012