The Risks of Coalition Politics

The electoral system in Mauritius and its particular ethnic-social politics will continue to throw up the kind of political alliances that we have seen so far and that we are likely to have to live with for many more years to come. It may be argued that it’s too bad for Mauritius that neither of the major parties (Labour Party/MMM) can capture on their own strength the votes of a majority large enough to be able to form a stable, homogeneous government. Thus the need for them to fall back on the support of minor parties which oftentimes come with a political culture more mindful of perks, privileges and postings than the general interest. In other words, the winner in our First Past The Post system no longer takes all; it has to share it with and accommodate a “junior” partner to ensure the completion of its political mandate – very often at the expense of the larger national interest.

We have visited earlier the problem of weak governance that arises when diverse sectional interests (within the government) are willing to yield to sectional lobbying. To please particular interest groups, decisions have been diluted, and that may not necessarily be in favour of the public good. The events taking place currently on the political scene (since late last year) with a minor party in the government coalition, the PMSD, expressing its displeasure about a number of issues have resulted in a conflict with its alliance partner to the point of Xavier Duval apparently threatening to move out and join the opposition benches.

The reasons for Mr Duval’s displeasure are not very clear. At the very least, what have been reported by the press and ascribed to have provoked his discontent – namely the failure or, more precisely, the refusal of the Prime Minister to approve the nomination of Robert Desveaux (who was last year fired by PMSD Minister Michael Sik Yuen from his post of Chairman of the Mauritius Tourism Authority) to an alternative government posting, as well as the PM’s adamant refusal to have Minister Sik Yuen replaced by another PMSD member following the former’s expulsion from the PMSD ranks – do not seem good enough reasons for a political ally to go to the extent of trying to rock the government boat. Could there be more than what is being advanced as regards the causes of the displeasure of the PMSD leader? Has it to do with a problem of dignity or lack of recognition within the government? We do not know.

However there is also a limit to which the PMSD can stretch its bluff, if any, with a view to obtaining a better political deal in view of the next general election, which in any case is still far away. But a week is a long time in politics, and there may be other options available in the meantime to the Labour Party leader should the PMSD decide to move out. That should have been put across to the PMSD leader.

On the opposition benches, it has also been reported by the press – and, as to be expected, quickly denied by the concerned parties – that the Remake 2000 almost came to breaking point due to the MSM’s leader Pravind Jugnauth displeasure with the MMM’s proposals as regards the hierarchical rankings on the government benches in case of an MMM-MSM win at the next elections. It would appear that the MSM leader was to be relegated to the fifth position on the front bench during the planned prime ministership of the leader of the Remake 2000, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, for the first two and a half years of an eventual MMM-MSM mandate. In spite of the denials by both the MMM and the MSM, there is no doubt this matter must have embarrassed the MMM leader and reminded him of his tenuous relationship with his coalition partner when he was Prime Minister from 2003 to 2005. It certainly does not bode well for the stability of his alliance with the MSM in case of victory at the polls in 2015.

The contingencies intrinsic to coalition politics in a country like Mauritius with its diverse sectional interests will increasingly make governance in the public interest a difficult proposition. It is one thing to ensure victory at the polls, another to thereafter hold the reins of power. For this very reason, it is a challenge worth facing by the major party on either side of the political spectrum – that of obtaining for itself a comfortable majority next time round to be able to run the country in serenity, so that the tail stops wagging the dog.


* Published in print edition on 10 January 2014

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