Going beyond the fine print

The leaders of the LP and MMM are due to meet tomorrow to finalise and make public the details of the parameters which are going to be the basis of an alliance between the two parties, which alliance will then be the one to take part in the next general elections. It goes without saying that until the fine print is made public – which we will have to assume as being the final version – we are not in a position to make a proper analysis of the situation.

However, as we have indicated in last week’s editorial, so far not enough has come out, thus leaving everybody with many ‘unknown unknowns’ that may well be the more critical aspects that need to be given serious consideration. We therefore hope that the document due out shortly will uncover these grey areas that can then be subjected to a more appropriate examination.

Nevertheless, there are certain general remarks and issues that are pertinent whatever form the accord takes. For example, the parameters on which it will be based must surely at the same time serve as benchmarks for any future policy decisions and actions deriving therefrom. There are certain fundamentals on which much greater clarity is required, and several of them, such as democratization of the economy, the opposing positions of the two parties on such democratization as exemplified by their divergent views on the energy sector for example, have been flagged a number of times – because they are of determining importance in any coming scenario – over the past few weeks in this paper.

To begin with the very concept and workings of democracy themselves have been a matter of public concern, articulated very vehemently across all media. Here is a ruling party with a majority of one whose leader, acting not as primus inter pares but simply as primus, decides to start discussions in view of an electoral alliance with an opposition party about electoral and Constitutional reforms. This was never mandated by the population when the party was voted to power. Next, in the same primus line, Parliament is prorogued indefinitely so that the two leaders give their full attention to a political business whose essential focus is their individual (political) gains arising from the reform they are planning, ostensibly in the country’s interest.

In the meantime, as Parliament is on holiday, day-to-day problems that need to be debated at that level are put on hold even as all the Members who are elected to work for the population are in fact being denied the opportunity of this service to their electorate, and for which they receive their salaries. What does this tell us about democracy – is this the kind that is likely to be perpetrated, and will the proposed reform address the issue of a corrective to such a weakness of the current system? It is not sufficient to advance that the rules of the House allow for this apparent contingency – which is not a genuine one from a people’s perspective. If such are the rules, then they must be changed so as to allow Parliament to function as it should at all times.

Another issue is that of a strong Opposition which is a feature of a strong democracy. It is odd indeed that the two leaders are pushing and hoping for a 60-0, given the history of such electoral outcomes locally in the past. The risk of autocratic rule is almost hardwired into such a winner-takes-all scenario, and so far the explanation and apparent guarantee given that should there be a 60-0, there will still be a minimum Opposition is tantamount to throwing dust in people’s eyes. What will a few members do in the face of an overwhelming ruling alliance? There will be a very weak and ineffective opposition, a situation which will in effect be a negation of genuine democracy, as any grievance or issue sought to be aired in the Parliament is not likely to be given the consideration it deserves.

On the other hand, what about creating the conducive environment to prevent a brain drain? It is common knowledge that practically every Mauritian student who goes abroad is not keen to come back for lack of appropriate opportunities of employment in the country; for that matter, even parents are known to be encouraging their wards to look for greener pastures elsewhere. Even if it is known that such pastures are narrowing down, still it would seem that many are prepared to take the risk of staying away rather than returning. The proposed Alliance has not given any inkling about its take on this worrying trend, nor about the hordes of graduates produced locally who are entering the market and expecting to find gainful employment.

A related question is: what sectors have been identified as the potential ones likely to launch the country on its path of future development, not only to welcome with arms high net worth individuals, but that will employ the locals in positions that give them dignity as well? Or will the locals be condemned as being fit only for low-level tasks at the service of new masters?

This also raises the issue of the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, which carries the potential of social unrest, what with land and housing becoming so prohibitively expensive that the middle class – which in every democratic country is considered to be the driver of development – will be squeezed. The situation is already aggravated by partiality in policy measures that further alienates the middle class. Has the alliance done any thinking on this vital issue?

To shift to another matter which has not been talked about but which is an incontournable: on paper everything may look fine, but in practice the picture is never as rosy, especially where politicians are concerned. Let us not forget that we are dealing with human beings, with their biases and agendas, and weaknesses. Not to speak of the various interest lobbies that bear down on them. While it is true that the prevailing philosophy of development almost everywhere is a mix of the socialist and liberal approaches, it is a fact that one party favours ultraliberalism. How will these streams be harmonized?

Besides, how far we can trust the ‘firm’ words of politicians, especially those of the leaders, has been more than amply demonstrated down the years in our country. Truly is it said that a week is a long time in politics: we have seen so many volte-faces on the part of the MMM leader in particular, with respect to both Sir Anerood and Pravind Jugnauth and to Navin Ramgoolam, and in respect of so many scandales de l’année that we are convinced that it is not possible to accept any of their so-called ‘solid’ guarantees as being as solid as they pretend they will be. What we need are more concrete institutional guarantees. And we have seen – at least so far – none of these.

So we come back to the initial premise, namely that we must look very meticulously beyond the fine print and read in between the lines to really understand the deeper implications of whatever will be proposed. Even then, inflated or deflated egos or extraneous not to say occult considerations may well undermine the bright future that is being promised. We have to tread very carefully before we plunge into that kind of uncertain future.

* Published in print edition on 19 September 2014

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