The Road Travelled – and a tenacious atavism

Independence 46:

In an interview to this paper last week, Rama Sithanen brought home his conclusion (based on an in-depth analysis of the voting patterns of the people over the past six decades) that the average Mauritian’s electoral preferences go mostly towards candidates from his/her community.

The pattern of communally-based electoral preferences has become a constant despite the chest-thumping hypes on Mauritianism on political platforms – or even other occasions and at other venues where politicians, if present, invariably exploit as part of the ‘votebank’ agenda, which is ever present.

Even as they apply themselves, through the legislature and the executive, to building the country, with all the attendant hiccups in matters of tenders and similar procedural/legal requirements, politicians been paying lip service to nation-building. This is all too obvious as they happily keep concocting the ‘right’ ethnic profiling in the choice of candidates. In line with current fashion, perhaps an in-depth study will have to be carried out to come to grips with this voting pattern. But should it surprise? After all, the politicians’ double standards, all manner of opposition from different quarters, from a nitpicking press (depending of who’s in power and its selective bashing of parties), from a trivial opposition sometimes for good reasons but often for the wrong ones, from NGOs, religious lobbies… are all in one way or another responsible for this state of affairs.

But in spite of the above, Mauritius has made steady progress thanks to a few factors. To begin with there was the ably negotiated Sugar Protocol, an outcome of the political foresight of SSR which saved the day for Mauritius for more than four decades. There some intangibles too, a major one being the culture of tolerance (mostly of the majority community whatever the naysayers may say – and one wishes that community was as tolerant of itself as of others!!) which made living together a daily reality that is justifiably a hallmark of Mauritian society. Perhaps it could have served as the basis for brand Mauritius instead of the controversial ‘…c’est un plaisir’ absurdity which bled Mauritian taxpayers red.

One cannot miss the private sector entrepreneurial drive which was coupled with some serendipity or ‘luck’ if one wishes to call it so, as entrepreneurs from Hong Kong who set up industries here were searching other horizons as their island’s status was about to undergo a sea-change. The added strong and firm leadership of SAJ at that crucial time helped to create the conditions for the EPZ to thrive and provide employment to thousands. The side-effects of this rapid industrialization were unfortunately not given the attention it deserved, and we are paying the social price today – but that is another matter for researching and remedying, if there is a will to do so. Can we afford not to have that as a priority given the rapid degradation of mores and the epidemic of social ills that we are currently in the throes of?

The ICT and financial sector took off with strong capacity being built to handle the new demands of the market, and all of the above was supported by a dynamic and forward looking Civil Service which had, even before Independence, been at the forefront and led the way to economic/social development. It is unfortunately falling out on some of the high principles and superlative talents which constituted bulwarks that were leant upon by no less than the Prime Ministers. Any reform of the Civil Service that does not restore that element, which means getting rid of some imposed fossils, is doomed to fall short of its objective.

We can safely add to this list the rule of law, a genuine respect of institutions (which must also be restituted), the farsighted investment in public health and education and last but not least, the leadership provided by the political class and Civil Service.

But today there is a new environment, as we have to deal with globalization and therefore face competition on a global scale. We are confronted with the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean: the rules of the game may be changing; even traditional friends (like India) may have other interests to defend, witness the DTAA imbroglio which will need resolving at the earliest.

There is the uncomfortable truth that the voting pattern is usually against the incumbent government and is communally motivated – Sithanen dixit. It is rarely in favour of a ‘projet politique.’ Increasingly, however, people are likely to vote for governments that deliver results. Will they give the lie to Sithanen?


* Published in print edition on 7 March 2014

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