Mauritians should not be lulled into believing that Paul Bérenger is switching back to an opposition mode – what in fact he is paid for from public funds to do, namely to provide an alternative to the government of the day. His pronouncement last week to the effect he had put a definite end to his negotiations with Navin Ramgoolam as regards electoral reform and the Second Republic, and his not-so-veiled threats of organizing a yet-to-be finalized concerted opposition front with a view to staging a public demonstration in front of Government House — in order to force Navin Ramgoolam to recall Parliament — and the tabling of a motion of no-confidence against the present government are all bumkum and very much in line with his several volte-faces since the beginning of this tango with the Labour Party’s leader.
The MMM leader is only opportunistically using the other parliamentary opposition parties into threatening Navin Ramgoolam into submission. He is, in effect, leaving the door open to yet further negotiations with Ramgoolam should the latter finally agree to proceed with the electoral reform agenda of the MMM’s leader and accede to his calendar for the operationalisation of an LP-MMM alliance. This would see Navin Ramgoolam, if elected, installed in the office of President of the Republic and Berenger as PM shortly thereafter.
In fact Berenger’s No. 1 option remains an alliance with LP: now is his only hope for ensuring that his 30/40-year dream of revisiting our electoral system and rebooting it to accommodate the MMM’s political objectives with the induction of Proportional Representation in our electoral system. This will indeed ensure its survival as a political entity beyond the current dispensation heading the party, achieved through an alliance with the only party, LP, which commands the electoral strength to enable both parties to see the Bill through in Parliament. The time is opportune because of Berenger’s perception: a weakened Labour government, made worse with the departure of Duval’s PMSD and distanced from the MSM in the wake of the MedPoint affair, and likely to give way to the MMM for the realization of the latter’s political objectives.
Bérenger’s fall back position, however, should his repeated attempts to lead Ramgoolam into submission fail, is the MSM, a party which cannot on its own vote itself to power but has to ride on the back of either the LP or MMM to do so. That, though, is without contending with the MSM’s leader SAJ’s political convictions to refuse to bend backward to accommodate the MMM’s electoral ambitions in terms of Proportional Representation, etc. SAJ may have ambitions for his party and his political lineage, but he will certainly not, unlike Navin Ramgoolam, forfeit his political legacy for short-termism – or for settling political scores.
The best political course for Paul Bérenger would be to choose to go it alone. The electoral base of the MMM – “la base” as they call it — wants Bérenger and their Party to face up to the LP on the strength of their party’s electoral strength, which the last elections placed in the range of some 45% of votes cast nationally. The MMM leadership and the rank and file have not only privately but also publicly expressed their exasperation at being used by light-weight political parties which have piggybacked on the MMM in the past to ultimately highjack absolute control over the State apparatus at the expense of the Party.
And it is also unlikely that given SAJ’s past experience with the MMM, both within the ranks of the Party and in Cabinet, his support and ultimately an alliance with the MMM will come cheap. SAJ will extract his kilo of flesh: 30-30; the sharing of the term of Prime Minister – à l’israelienne, the Finance portfolio for the present leader of the MSM Pravind Jugnauth, an equal sharing of the spoils of power in terms of ministerial berths and nominations to ambassadorial and state institutions to name but a few issues.
Berenger has alluded, during one of his press conferences, to what he termed as a “1983-style campaign”, the innuendo being that it was because of the colour of his skin that he was not being accepted as a prime ministerial candidate. His defeat was therefore, according to the MMM’s reasoning, the result of communalism; and if he had won, it would have been the triumph of Mauritianism. In a perverse twist of local logic, SAJ’s victory then was not because of Mauritianism but because of communalism!
However, ethnicity has been fair game in all elections since 1967, as Rama Sithanen’s analysis (which he explained in an interview to this paper last February) has demonstrated, to the extent of 65% – 70%, accounting for both the loser and the winner. The reality is, therefore, that as far as ethnicity/communal voting goes, both the main parties are quits, so that no one can point the finger at the other and label it communal. In the nature of things, to reiterate Rama Sithanen’s conclusion, ethnicity/communal voting is an undeniable fact which we cannot but live with.
It follows, therefore, that it would be in Berenger’s interest to go it alone, ‘1983-style’, for that is in order. Should he be elected, that will give him the opportunity to bring about the reforms he is pushing for and that will meet MMM’s objectives for the next 30-40 years according to him. It goes without saying that, just as a victory of his would be the result of the ethnic/communal factor, so would be the defeat of his challenger be the result of the same factor. The time has come for a final determination on the part of the sparring leaders.
* Published in print edition on 20 June 2014