More of the same? Or something different now?
2010 marks the beginning of a new decade. It could become the start of a novel experience for our society if we are prepared to reconsider the model by which we have lived in the past so many decades. The alternative is to plod on along the beaten track.
Attention is currently focussed on the general elections due to take place sometime this year. In this context, diverse views have been expressed as to which potential alliances may materialise among the political parties given that, in Mauritius, “tout est possible”. At the heart of all this discussion is the issue of the various arrangements for sharing political power. One might have stopped at that if elections were merely a matter of sharing power. This is how it has been during the preceding decades. But politics is also and principally about forging the destiny of a nation and inculcating among citizens a sound sense of values that will make living in society an enduring and worthwhile experience. It is not about trade-offs for the sake of retaining power or gratifying opportunists who can hold hostage politicians at the helm of power.
A decision has to be taken whether we want to continue with the classical “jeux d’alliances” among the political parties or lay down the foundation for what we may call a new political experience. Weak political parties will keep looking for such alliances. This will not be the case for parties which are confident about themselves. These alliances have been nothing better than inter-communal marriages whereby the partners agree to remain divorced but share the bed nevertheless the time of a coalition government. Once the alliance is blown up, as it inevitably happens each time, the former bedfellows resume hurling their communal backings against each other. Everything is then back to square one. No real social advancement is achieved by adopting this election device.
Past election results have proved that there is an important distinct core communal group which still backs up the major political parties, as our political consultant, D.E.V., stated in the preceding issue of MT. What needs be borne in mind, however, is that it is possible to mitigate the dominant influence normally expected to be exercised by this core group of supporters on political parties by what happens at the margin. If decisive marginal voters, being communally neutral but committed to cleaning up the accumulated communal mess, were big enough to influence voter decision and bring to power political parties that want to put behind the determining communal factor in elections so far, then this core communal group is likely to melt into a cleaner non-communal mainstream. Such influential marginal voters need to believe in certain intrinsic social values for the desired shift to take place.
What can we expect in the absence of this sort of political shift? The communal tug-of-war will continue in the hope that the one group or the other will one day be able to floor down its rival, making it unnecessary thenceforward to abide by the customary musical chair of political alliances. Social stability will continue to remain fragile. Attention will keep being focussed on the one who will walk away with the spoils of political victory. Parties will keep paying homage to local political chieftains who base their power on tribal considerations. Rules and regulations made for civil society will continue to be flouted to please clientelist objectives. In other words, the rule-of-law will be diluted to please partisans. Institutions will continue being undermined by politically correct but technically incorrect appointees. The economy will find itself increasingly ill-adapted to face a highly competitive and ruthless external world in the circumstances. Incompetence and corruption arising from ever-enlarging concessions made in view of electoral alliances, will deal the final blow to an increasingly untenable structure which it has taken years of patient work to construct.
Political parties have the option to continue playing the old game of last-minute political alliances merely to secure power. They have the other option to bring together the different currents into a communally neutral mainstream and challenge each other on the plane of coherent alternative visions regarding the future of the country instead of concentrating on sectional interests. For this process to start crystallising, political parties will need to be governed differently from what has been the case so far. The internal democratisation process should go far enough within each party for it to be able to throw up several potential leaders and true deputy leaders in each major political party. The latter should be recognisable by their wide grasp of truly national and international issues affecting the country. They should be able to state clearly what exactly differentiates their party from the others. They should deserve their place in the party according to universal merit rather than by reference to their clannish belongings. They should be capable of holding the party together and identifying a clear course for its future by themselves. The party should seek adherence of its followers from across-the-board in the nation for the values it stands for, instead of getting support in the current set-up comprised of communal and power-seeking marginal voters.
Labour which is seen as being head-and-shoulder above the opposition parties in the current context has a chance to assert itself into the new but challenging mould. 2010 could accordingly become the pace-setter for doing politics differently, not by forming alliances which prolong communalism but by embracing all into one common fold out of conviction to a common belonging. If that happens, history will be in the making. The party will need to reinvent itself if it is to carry conviction about this new enterprise.