Power Struggles & Power Traps

Leaders of the MMM and the Labour Party stated on last Friday and Monday this week, respectively, that they failed to reach agreement on the discussions they had been holding over the past three weeks in view of ‘electoral reform’ and the Second Republic.

The Labour leader found it regrettable that having come close to a solution, the two of them could not strike a deal, especially as regards the manner of appointment of the President of the Republic. The MMM leader, on his part, stated that there were irreconcilable differences on the threshold for eligibility for proportional representation (PR) and on the manner of appointment of a President of the Republic and that he was ending all discussions on the matter with the Labour leader. He also stated that the ‘Remake’ between the MMM and the MSM, “as it has been agreed upon”, was also ‘out’ (without providing any reasons therefor) and that he had obtained the approval of his Central Committee to spurn the ‘Remake’.

Post these declarations by the two leaders, newspapers close to the MMM leadership have suggested that the MMM leader would however be prepared to engage new discussions with the MSM with a view to remaking the ‘Remake’ under new terms and conditions. The MMM would be contemplating that the MSM could be brought in, under the new scenario, as a “junior partner” whereby SAJ would be appointed President of the Republic with enhanced powers while Paul Bérenger would be Prime Minister for a full term of 5 years with Pravind Jugnauth as his Deputy Prime Minister. The 50-50 sharing of tickets, as contemplated under the first ‘Remake’, would therefore be out and possibly replaced by 40-20 MMM-MSM sharing of tickets for the coming elections. Bérenger might simply be leveraging this makeup and show of force vis-à-vis the MSM to get Navin Ramgoolam to give him the PR he badly needs to consolidate the MMM’s standalone and single-handed victory at the next polls without any stilts such as Labour or the MSM.

On its part, the MSM has been watching this drama unfold with exceptional comment-less stoicism. It refrained from taking the initiative to break apart the ‘Remake’ despite Bérenger’s recent overtures to Labour after the latter unilaterally declared a ‘cooling-off’ of the ‘Remake’ and embarked on negotiations with Labour. This policy of ‘wait-and-see’ appears to have paid off for the MSM. It is increasingly being viewed as the victim of the MMM leader’s acrobatics in his thirst for power. At the time of writing, today 30 April, we do not know what will be the MSM’s stand on the upside-down scenario played out by the MMM leader the past three weeks. There is going to be a gathering of the MSM this afternoon at Universal College, Rivière du Rempart, notably in SAJ’s traditional electoral constituency. SAJ’s position is awaited for by the whole of Mauritius.

Will SAJ adopt a conciliatory and non-aggressive tone vis-à-vis the MMM leader, capitulating to the whims and caprices of the latter? Or, will he spurn him as an erratic and undependable person and make openings for reconciliation with Labour despite all the hard words the two sides have exchanged these past years? The people are waiting to see what tone the MSM will adopt. On the face of it, the MSM would have more to gain by sticking with the MMM, albeit not on the fresh terms and conditions that the MMM leader may be conveying to it through mouthpieces in the media. SAJ – and Bérenger is conscious of it – is not a fan of PR and the sort of ‘electoral reform’ the Labour leader appears to be conceding to Bérenger. Will he rub it out for good as a condition for joining up with the MMM? Will he compromise his credibility by accepting to be subjugated by the MMM leader? There’s a big dilemma.

The terms the MMM is formulating for subduing the MSM in a new alliance with it, were in principle unacceptable had Labour formed an alliance with the MMM during their recent discussions on ‘electoral reform’. As we have repeatedly said, no President of the Republic, whatever the powers vested in him, will be safe if he does not command his own majority in the House. This was applicable for a Labour-MMM alliance. The same is true for a possible MSM-MMM alliance. A President has to have a clear majority of deputies on his side at the risk of being repudiated or being made to sign Bills that would be forcefully thrust upon him.

At the end of the day, all this boils down not solely to the powers wielded by different holders of authority in the country’s political establishment. It is an issue also of the population’s bigger interest, including governing the country’s affairs with stability and poise. Mauritius is lucky to have had a coalescence of votes in past elections which it is good to preserve for having thrown up responsible governments. We have bonded together a voting pattern that, despite all that may be reproached to the First Past the Post system (without the PR), has freed the country from disruptive turbulence born of fractious internal divisions issuing from clash of personalities and borne of fragile and unstable majorities.

The political positioning of 1983, like that of 1967, is a prime example of a situation when internal divisiveness was not allowed to break apart the edifice. It is a huge responsibility on whichever leader takes on the torch to foster inclusiveness from inside while extending it to those who feel left out. The leader Mauritius is in need of therefore is not someone who suits the convenience of the MMM leader in the specific current political circumstances facing each one of the three major political parties of the country. Much more is at stake. He needs to be dominant enough in politics so as not to give away the unity of the nation – that has served us well in the past – for getting a piece of the cake or for private advancement.

* Published in print edition on 1 May 2014

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