Every political party has a right to propose its major objectives and policies in its -conduct of the affairs of state. The public have the absolute right to accept or reject such proposals.
It is in this context that the Labour Party and the MMM proposed to amend the Constitution of Mauritius. Their aim was firstly to change the electoral system by introducing in it a strong dose of proportional representation (PR). The PR itself would be hinged upon a Party List system on the understanding that additional PR seats would be allocated from the Party List in proportion to what was called Unreturned Votes Elect or wasted votes. Secondly, they proposed that a President of the Republic be elected with several additional executive powers through a one-round electoral process for a term of 7 years.
A few sharp political observers, including the Mauritius Times itself, noted that the proposed amendments, if they went through, would be fraught with political instability due, in part, to the bicephalous sharing of power between the Prime Minister and the President that this sharp departure from our so far Westminster parliamentary model implies. It was also cautioned that once the Constitutional amendments were carried through, it would be nigh impossible to reverse them with the required majority once political instability set in and severely jolted the conduct of the business of state.
This was a crucial decision for voters to take in their own sovereignty in the electoral booths. At the elections of 10th December, voters decided to reject the amendments. It is the will of the people and deserves to be respected.
These elections considerably decimated the representation of the Labour Party in the House with only four elected members. Within a very short time after the election results were proclaimed, the MMM leader decided to put an end to its alliance with Labour while attributing the alliance’s defeat solely to the Labour leader. The MMM’s deputy leader, Alan Ganoo, admitted that one of the principal reasons the MMM had formed its alliance with Labour was the prospect of Paul Bérenger becoming Prime Minister for 5 years. It showed that the alliance between the two parties had not been cast in iron but instead rested on the fulfilment of the political ambitions of a few individuals. The risk of political instability in the event of a win by the Labour-MMM alliance was indeed a reality.
It may therefore be said, with the benefit of hindsight, that the country has fortunately not embarked on the mission the leaders of the Labour-MMM alliance had given to themselves in the matter of Constitutional amendments. Now that this political project is something of the past, we can look more serenely to the future.
Voters would therefore have to remain vigilant not to cast their votes in future in such a way as to jeopardize the country’s institutional stability. This however does not depend solely on voters who, in retaliation against the Labour-MMM proposals, have voted the MSM-led L’Alliance Lepep, comprising the MSM itself, the PMSD and the Muvman Liberater, to power with a comfortable majority. It depends on the government in power.
People will be swayed depending on how the government conducts itself and carries on the affairs of state. If they approve of its actions when they are not directed solely towards the preservation of political power or if it refrains from aligning itself to political correctness over political fairness, the government would be able to concentrate on the task for which it has been appointed, rather than on subordinate issues such as amending the Constitution and other irrelevancies. If the government were to prioritize non-issues however, voters might tilt again and risk inviting the kind of danger they have just averted.
The elections of 2014 have shown that voters are not devoid of common sense. When they realize that an entire edifice is under serious threat, they have the right real reactions. The quality they have displayed in the 2014 elections needs to be strengthened so that, irrespective of who is in power, they will stand up to ward off risks when political parties drift away, without regard to past political party loyalties.
The situation is such now that the government can decide whether voters should swing their allegiance from one set of political parties to another from one election to the next in a bid to get to short-term gains for themselves or whether they should become strongly opinionated and stick to principles. If it earnestly conducts the affairs of state, as it is expected to do, voters will continue seeing the bigger picture and align themselves with those who work concretely to advance the nation’s interests rather than their own.
Now that elections are behind and there is a new government in power, the question arises as to whether the new government will saddle itself firmly to attend to other real issues confronting the economy and society. If it does, it will be able to change the focus on real things which matter the most to the nation, instead of putting its own weaknesses at the centre of national preoccupations.
Mauritius has been operating on a quasi-stable rate of economic growth for a number of years now. It is in need of a breakthrough, new things to do, new ways of doing things we have been doing in the past, opening up scope for those who have not moved up by much, cleaning up the deck where many things have just been lying down in abeyance, shifting attention to bigger vistas for the population as a whole and not leaving decisions that ought to be taken unattended. There are a lot of priorities that the government can take up urgently instead of allowing itself to be distracted by non-issues in the quest of asserting its power more solidly or playing up to the gallery.
The people have given a resounding answer to what should be the government’s priorities by voting the way they’ve done in the crucial elections of December 10th. It is a landmark decision, unexpected in terms of the number of seats obtained even by L’Alliance Lepep itself. This bond of trust, taken to its logical conclusion, could usher in brilliant prospects for the country filling it with the ambition to rise higher in the concert of nations. Betrayed, it will make the majority of people cynical about the doings of politics and undo all that 2014 has brought in as a new statement of faith in the country’s highest institutions.
* Published in print edition on 24 December 2014