Barring any last-minute disagreement between the leaders of the Labour Party and the MMM, we will hopefully take cognizance of what looks very much like a forceps-assisted ‘in extremis’ deal they have taken so long to deliver, in view of an electoral alliance for the forthcoming general elections.
Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Bérenger will seek the ‘approval’ of their respective party members today before their agreement is made public, but both have already expressed their total satisfaction with what they have achieved and committed to paper, and which they contend will serve the best interests of the country. We would like to believe that such would have indeed been their overriding motivation at this point in their political careers and, further, that the political deal agreed upon would not go contrary to what has been painstakingly achieved over the past decades in terms of progress and stability for the country.
But politics is also about power, the right balancing of various competing interests in society as well as ensuring the long-term ambitions and objectives of political establishments and of the leaders themselves. The details of the LP-MMM deal, once they come in the public space, would thus inform us about how skillful or otherwise any or both of the protagonists have been to extract the best bargain for their respective parties. But these details will in the main confirm the two leaders’ own appreciation of the real electoral strength of their parties at this stage, notwithstanding what they are wont to sell on political platforms.
What has transpired so far suggests that the Labour Party would have finally given in to the MMM’s demands for an equal sharing of electoral tickets (50:50) for the forthcoming elections, and that the same principle would apply for ministerial portfolios, besides a new power-sharing arrangement between a Labour Party President of the Republic and an MMM Prime Minister. If such is indeed the case, this would indicate that the Labour Party has travelled a long distance — backwards, that is, towards a downgrading of its electoral strength for having softened its earlier stance that nothing less than a 32-28 sharing of tickets would do.
It is quite likely that the Labour Party-MMM combine will capture all the 60 seats at the polls on the basis of the current electoral system, but that is without contending with the additional 4-5 Best Losers (most probably Xavier Duval, Showkatally Soodhun, Cehl Meeah, etc) who will come in and be in a position to skew the balance of power either way should the LP and MMM fall out in course of time. That would effectively put one of the two parties – the LP or the MMM – in a minority situation if things do not work out as planned.
We have also argued earlier that a 50:50 electoral alliance between the LP and the MMM would have two centres of power (possibly at cross purposes at times) besides effectively reducing the LP to the status of a Junior Partner even if were to assume the role of President with enhanced powers. This would amount to a powerless President without the backing of a necessary majority in Parliament to ensure that this majority has the upper hand in the formulation of policies and the conduct of the affairs of State. Such a political arrangement would in all likelihood give rise to political instability given the different political cultures of both leaders and their electoral following, and their own inclination to lord it over all that they survey.
The MMM leader has repeatedly put across the prerequisites required for an alliance with the Labour Party, namely the introduction of an electoral reform package that would introduce a dose of Proportional Representation into our current FPTP-based system, an all-out battle against corruption and the marshalling of new economic initiatives with a view to engineering the country’s economic development towards a much higher level, etc.
The Labour Party is no doubt alive to the inherent threats that Proportional Representation represents to the balance of power in Parliament and in the country, and will surely approach this question with the necessary caution that is required. It may not however be comfortable with the narrative of the MMM leader about rooting out corruption – for having been in power for most of the 19 past years since the new Labour team got elected in 1995. It would be interesting to see which rooms of the State the anti-corruption broom will seek to sweep clean and which others will be left out.
What is of more crucial importance however is what economic philosophy will prevail or predominate. It is no secret that the model of democratisation of the economy that is favoured by LP is the diametrical opposite of the Illovo-type economic policies and deals that the MMM regime pushed, and of which it has been very critical in the past. The MMM has systematically opposed inroads into the energy sector, as shown by its stance on the Sarako project and the discrimination it has maintained between ‘black coal’ and ‘white coal’, whereas LP has tried to ensure that there comes about a genuine democratisation in the energy sector.
Given these contradictions and uncertainties about the eventual stability of the power-sharing formula and the economic model, it is difficult to see how there could be a harmonisation of views and policies that would guarantee an inclusive development and progress of all Mauritian citizens.
* Published in print edition on 5 September 2014
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