Rebalancing the Political Power Play

Information had been coming out in public in rapid succession these past days, not only about the proposed electoral reform which the Prime Minister detailed out in a public statement recently.

It would have also embraced Constitutional amendment to create what was being called the “Second Republic”. The latter changes were designed to give executive powers to the President of the Republic along with a term of office of 7 years and subordinating the Prime Minister’s powers to those of the President. The further information was that all this would be rounded up shortly so that by mid-June, the country would be called upon to vote in general elections. It is amazing that such major changes to the main instrument governing the life of the country were sought to be proceeded with at such breakneck speed. Discussions, popularly known as ‘Constitutional talks’ prior to Independence, to round up the rough edges of the original Constitution of the country stretched over a much longer time and gave an opportunity to all the stakeholders to take calculated risks.

All this recent discussion had been taking place against the backdrop of a Labour-MMM electoral alliance. This had been happening even as a highly resilient Paul Bérenger was using the ‘Remake’ all the time to leverage as much advantage to himself as possible under threat of using the ‘Remake’ to hit at the Labour Party weakened by internal problems at the government level. Accordingly, the MMM and Labour would have shared 50% of the tickets each, with the MMM accorded the Prime Minister’s position and Navin Ramgoolam shifting over to Le Réduit. Plus, political parties involved in the election would have benefited from the inclusion of proportional representation (PR) in the electoral process for 14 (?) Parliamentary seats or more on the strength of votes cast. The new proposals would thus be carrying forward the Best Loser System in a disguised form while party leaders would also have at their disposal a Party List of some 6 additional nominations to be made at their own discretion. It was clear that once Paul Bérenger obtained what he has actually been looking for (PR et al), he would quietly jettison the MSM, if he has not done so already in practice. The deal was being finalised with impending forthcoming elections in view.

It is not clear how the two parties were to operationalize the deal they were making. All that we have heard so far is that there would be a “nettoyage” (major cleaning-up), which could mean that the government would be made to shed all the dead weights it is been assumed to be carrying along and thus lose the support of the lobbies and vested interests backing them. There was no indication which mechanics would be employed for Labour to make the necessary amends to pacify the MMM’s followers in their “rightful” wrath against all they have to reproach the party in power. There was no indication as to which steps would have been taken to make the country governable in the circumstances. There was also no indication as to how the MMM would be prevented from gaining a permanent upper hand by embarking on a “parcellisation process” of the population on the lines of what was undertaken by the 2000-05 government. All this process was accompanied by Paul Bérenger saying certain things sometimes and their exact opposite at other times.

In the absence of clarity about all these matters and others which would have emerged as the agenda of a political alliance between the country’s two bigger parties, some issues call for attention. The first one is that political leadership will not be prone to stability unless there is a main leader who cannot be destabilized by the other under any circumstances. If Labour Party is to assume de facto this historical commanding political role that has been conferred upon it and its successors in election after election, it needs to command a comfortable majority in the House. There is no alternative to this option.

If the PR or additional devices sought to be introduced should put this governing stability at risk in this sense, the matter has obviously not been thought out clearly enough while irrational expediency has been given the upper hand. This could open up the door to defy whatever arrangements would have been put in place if the PR and such other devices could assure the MMM that it can win the race going it alone, if not immediately then at some future time. The power to dissolve Parliament will be to no effect if such a possibility exists. Such a situation will be a recipe for instability or possibly a permanent hijacking of all the work of consolidation done since independence under the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system. The risk would persist that personal susceptibilities could be used to overturn the situation anytime in the absence of a concrete majority in the House at all times.

It should be evident that compromises of the sort which threaten to bring in even more political instability in future are the result of unmanaged and lasting internecine disputations and power struggles among those very people who have generated stable governments in the past by acting in unison. This type of behaviour has continuously eroded the natural political majority of the country, helped by irresponsible conduct of the country’s affairs by duly elected leaders.

A second point that needs to be addressed relates to the question of inclusiveness. It is being said that, under the stated scenario, PR is being allowed to ‘correct’ the existing FPTP system in order to make for greater political inclusiveness. A premium is accordingly being placed on political representation. The question which arises is: should the process of inclusiveness stop at the level of political representation? Or, should it go out to embrace other fields as well, such as widening up of economic opportunities to others than those which certain political establishments have privileged whenever in power? Is something being done in the reform that will open up the space for others as well? There is no answer.

What explains the concentration of economic power in the country and the emptiness of what was called the “democratization” process? Have the less well-off been allowed to make inroads into the high seats of economic power or has it continued rather, by constant leverage exerted by specific political leaders, to remain as concentrated as before? The failure to invite others to share this hallowed space of economic power in any substantial manner has shown that the reality, when it comes to economic and similar opportunities, is quite divorced from the way political power might be given away. The lack of constructive vision in this regard has, to put it mildly, been appalling. But, when it comes to the political dimension, the risk now exists that years of struggle to get to where we have come from, might be lost in a hurried decision to come to political terms expeditiously.

At this stage, discussions between the two leaders appear to have stalled on the issues of accountability to which a President vested with executive powers should be subjected and the applicable threshold for eligibility of parties to participate in the PR allocations. There are serious differences of opinion, apparently, and both of them intend to report on where things stand to their respective politburos in the coming days. Whatever the outcome of the course on which the Labour and MMM leaders have embarked, one would wish that good sense would prevail in the higher interests of the country, viz., in terms of seeking long term stability of political power and keeping national interests above all other private considerations.

* Published in print edition on 25 April 2014

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