General elections will be held on 5 May 2010. An alliance of three parties, Labour, the PMSD and the MSM will team up on one side; 35 out of the 60 tickets of this alliance will go to Labour, 18 to the MSM and 7 to the PMSD. Parliament stands dissolved as from 31 March, leaving a little less than 35 days for the electoral campaign. Nomination Day will be 17 April. The Prime Minister announced that Unity, Equality and Modernity will be the three driving themes for the coming campaign on his side. He has urged that there should be a debate of ideas rather than communal/casteist considerations for the upcoming electoral campaign, realising full well perhaps that this snap decision to call the general elections at short notice will not have given enough alternative objective ammunition for the MMM to drive its campaign.
These decisions were announced by the Prime Minister in the presence of the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Rashid Beebeejaun, the MSM leader, Pravind Jugnauth and the PMSD leader, Xavier-Luc Duval. The announcement must have taken quite a few by surprise, not less the other major party of the island, notably the MMM, which only some days before was busy negotiating an alliance with Labour. The MMM’s state of preparedness in the presence of such a formidable alliance will be a key factor determining the party’s future. But it is not the future of the MMM alone which is at stake.
It must be said that Labour has taken an insurance against the damage an MSM in a potential alliance with the MMM could have otherwise wrought upon it, especially in the rural constituencies. The fact of Labour and the MSM going their separate ways would have fissured that electorate in the first place. Such an alliance could thus have tilted the balance against Labour in quite a few rural constituencies, with the attendant risk that even if a Labour government were elected to power eventually, it could have had only a fragile majority. This power to shift the balance is the real weight of the MSM in Mauritian politics, not the 8 or 10% voting intentions which some pollsters credit the party with from time to time. Navin Ramgoolam has been shrewd enough to avert this real risk posed by the MSM by pulling in the MSM into the new alliance. Keeping also Xavier Duval and Rashid Beebeejaun by his side, he has portrayed himself as a “rassembleur” in the public.
The MMM leader has been highly constructive in bringing about this alliance by the repeated assaults he had been making under different guises against the MSM over a long time, making it well nigh impossible for the MMM and the MSM to come together for the general elections. He “de-materialised” this possibility, even having recourse to personal attacks against the MSM leader at times. Whatever could have prompted Paul Berenger to adopt this attitude towards the MSM can only be qualified at best as “un-political”. The MMM was busy foreclosing its opportunities to refresh itself. Paul Berenger may also be said to have been instrumental to construct this new alliance by pressuring the MSM to opt for such an alliance, given his own late parallel negotiations with Labour, forcing the MSM to accept 18 tickets when the MSM could have played a much more important role, given time, autonomously at the national level.
It must be said to the credit of Navin Ramgoolam that over the past nearly five years, he has kept his fold together. Barring one incident or two, his government remained structurally bound together except lately when rumours went out about a possible Labour-MMM alliance said to be under negotiation during the past three months. The question which arose in this context was whether he would jettison those members of his team who could not reconcile with the MMM in the event of an eventual alliance with that party. As this potential alliance fell on the wayside, he did not have to take such a decision and kept his troops together. Differences were contained within the four walls.
If the alliance which has just been formed were voted to power, issues will remain about its possible cohesiveness and ability to override differences whenever they would arise. Customarily, such differences or the timely need to accommodate more winning allies for the next elections become the springboard for new political configurations to emerge from time to time. Leaders of alliances are therefore required to tread carefully and certainly not on the toes of the other leaders so as not to disrupt the equilibrium. Personal ambitions also come into play to define the profile of future opportunistic alliances. No doubt, the game will continue and voters will have to keep facing Hobson’s choices.
Now that the MMM and its minor allies are left behind, the question arises as to the fate of this party. It has been in the opposition for the past five years. There is a risk that it will face a crossing of the desert during the next five years. Ten years is rather a long period to remain in the opposition. The party runs the risk of becoming a spent force, unable to serve its traditional voters in any effective manner. It is to avoid the party facing this fate that certain persons in the media and others from the party’s ranks advocated that it seek and obtain an alliance with Labour. Negotiations between the two sides dragged their feet until the recent Labour-PMSD-MSM alliance took concrete shape, with the elections looming ahead.
Suddenly, the MMM is finding itself isolated from mainstream political parties and caught napping with the prospect of snap elections in a period of one month. Some of its recent adherents like Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo have inherent capabilities; but can that be said of most of the party’s old guards? Not evident. Can the party find its way into government, taking advantage of any dissensions that may ensue among the parties forming part of the next government? It is a matter for speculation and highly uncertain. If its customary voters are swayed to take stock of this risk and veer course, the MMM would have to face an even bleaker future. The root of all this failure is the absence of subtlety in the dealings of the party’s leadership with others.
To sum up the situation. The Opposition MMM is finding itself in a very weak spot indeed. Facing it, we have a wide-based alliance which on the face of it appears to be formidable as an election-winning machine. Of now, we do not know the manner in which the addition of the MSM to the pre-existing Alliance Sociale will improve the way politics has been undertaken in the past nearly five years. If the MSM toes the line, things will remain much the same and there will be no gain for the population. If it has a vision of its own which it can use to improve the general policy framework adopted by the government so far, the next five years can help rectify the influence of perverse lobbies that have prevented the country from doing politics differently and balancing the social equation more fairly. If its vision leads to clashes, we will be back to square one as opposition MMM may then find the wedge it would be looking for to make inroads into the government.
We find ourselves in this situation because the system is geared to produce the sort of outcomes we are seeing today. It favours political opportunism. In fact, there is hardly any time for an alternative coalition of credible political forces to emerge and give a right real challenge to whoever stands the best chance of winning at the next general elections. Those who have with some amount of conviction stated during the past 5 years that there could be better ways of doing politics should be reminded of the English saying “there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip” as well as the Boys Scout motto about preparedness. The die appears to have been cast now and voters are facing a very limited choice.