Hobson’s Choice for Labour
The latest that has come out from the series of discussions being held between the Labour and MMM leaders in view of a contemplated alliance between the two parties is the statement made by the MMM leader that he would be having misgivings on the proposal in writing he has received from the Labour leader in the evening of Wednesday last and that this could become a “turning point” in the ongoing negotiations. His intention is to present the facts to his party’s Central Committee for a decision.
We do not know which of the proposals has/have brought about this “turning point” in the negotiations. But we can make an intelligent guess.
The MMM leader, it appears, has been asking for an equal sharing of tickets (30-30) between the two parties for a fast-track forthcoming election which it has also been asking for as part of the deal. It would appear that Paul Bérenger has also been insisting that the Prime Minister of the new government (which would be himself) should enjoy a large degree of autonomy in the running of government affairs, free from undue interference by the President of the Republic (who, he thinks, will be the current Labour leader, with additional powers conferred on him after the elections under a projected constitutional amendment). He has no mind to be subordinated to the President in the conduct of the business of the House. He has also been asking that Reza Uteem, an MMM member, should occupy the third rank in the front bench of the new government. Symbolically, that would imply that the MMM would be thereby sending a strong message to the Muslim community, at Labour’s cost, about the MMM’s greater commitment to the community’s representation in the government hierarchy.
One wonders whether one or all of these conditions would have upset the applecart that the two leaders have been concocting since quite some time through a stretch of private discussions (popularly known as “coz-cozé”) they’ve been having jointly. That could explain the roundabout contradictory turns taken by the MMM leader alternately during past months as to whether the proposed alliance was “on” or “off”.
It should be evident to anyone untutored in the local political game that those conditions, if conceded, would have proved totally unworkable for the country’s political system. We have repeatedly stated in these columns that for a Labour Party in a position of strength, vis-à-vis a party like the MMM, nothing short of having a commanding parliamentary majority could constitute a workable deal. This is not only because Parliament would otherwise be under the full sway of the MMM. It would also be a weak position for a President of the Republic to be in (however much constitutionally empowered) unless the party he belongs to also commanded a strong hierarchy and majority in the House. A 30-30 deal is not conducive to such a construction. It will only herald an extended phase of political instability for the country. Temporary expediencies engaged in to salvage private perceptions of political weakness may carry serious costs not only to political leaders themselves but also to the majority of the population.
No one who is deeply anchored in what the Labour Party has done towards the advancement of the people of this country would give in to this kind of long term agenda to impose an altogether new imprint to the way the country should be governed without the least chance of having checks and balances in place. In other respects, the country itself would be at great risk from deepening ethnic fractures which could hurt it to the core were they to become even more firmly entrenched than during the 2000-05 period, in the proposed political configuration.
As with all Constitutional matters, it will become amply difficult, if not impossible, to reverse Constitutional changes that would have been made in the context of the proposed political arrangements. The risk would be that there might take place a permanent reversal of all that has been achieved so far once the MMM is firmly fixed in the saddle of state under those conditions. The harmony that has helped the country to make progress may then suffer a long term reversal the more the instabilities would fall into place under the configuration hoped for by the MMM.
It is well known that it would be well-nigh impossible for a party like the MMM to win an electoral majority alone in the style of 1982 when it joined forces with the PSM under SAJ’s leadership of the MMM. It may be noted en passant that such was the stuff political leaders at that time were made of that, even in the face of great uncertainty over their own fates at the polls, they did not compromise on the basic principles they stood for and what they perceived as being in the whole country’s best interests. The country has always needed and still needs leaders of such mettle and strong character who can see beyond their immediate predicaments and realize the longer term jeopardy the country might face up unless they are extremely careful about their decisions and read clearly into the ultimate motivations of rival parties.
The country is badly in need of a purposive and decisive leadership away from entanglements of seemingly endless political negotiations. Leaders who want to take up the extraordinary challenge facing us will swallow their pride and private agendas and work to give the orientation the country badly needs at this stage. Compromises made on the altar of political arrangements fit very badly with the country’s deeper agenda in dire need of the combined skills of all its non-scheming political and business leaders to help it overcome its handicaps, even if that involved calling in all the talents we have across the board, post the elections.