It has become customary in Mauritius for voters to throw political parties or coalitions out of power through the democratic process. This has happened so many times already in the past decades. The MMM was thrown out in 1983, the MSM in 1995, Labour in 2000, MMM-MSM in 2005. The latest in the series was the overthrow of the Labour-MMM alliance on 11th December 2014. A new alliance Lepep has taken over. On this trend, one can easily forecast which grouping it could plausibly be the next time round.The series of overthrows over such a long period shows that the people are unhappy with the way politics has been practised by all of our political parties singly, or jointly in alliances. Time and time again people have been unhappy with how our politicians have been assuming their responsibilities.
Yet, there has been, in the course of our political history, a steady phase of the political quest when the Labour Party, moving on from strength to strength as from 1936, consolidated itself as the single left-leaning torchbearer of popular emancipation, of consolidating the welfare state, of moving people out of poverty and giving them better hopes for their future, and galvanising popular aspiration towards the battle for Independence in 1967, despite the very strong bastion of opposition it faced in the PMSD in its various incarnations. This means that the Party was able to create the space for giving a significant, unstinting sense of direction that matched the deeper aspirations of the people of Mauritius over a long period of time.
Today, there is a sharp contrast to this brilliant and honourable track record. The Party was shredded at the last general election, its own generations-old supporters casting massive votes of protest in favour of Lepep and helping bring the latter and its allies to power. The past glory and nostalgia the Party evoked amidst the population were completely obliterated in the scale of the defeat the Labour-MMM alliance suffered during the last polls.
Currently, public events seem intended to bring as much opprobrium and disgust about the Party as possible. This point was played out explicitly in the glare of publicity during the investigation of the Party’s leader at the Police Line Barracks. The defeated leader, his safes and trunks and the large amount of money found in them were amply exposed to public view, together with the exaggerated ‘estimates’ of what the police were hoping to end up with when the slow-paced count of the money would be over.
In the process, before the evidence of alleged malfeasance had the chance of being tried by a court, Mauritius got assimilated into the ranks of other countries whose political leaders have been associated with large-scale corruption. Without apologizing for mischief that may have been committed, it is for the people of this country to judge whether this kind of characterisation of the country is for the better or the worse – and, importantly, whether this is genuinely in the national interest. It is for them to decide whether they can hold their head high, when dealing with counterparts from other countries, about the status of the country as a jurisdiction hosting best practices and the rule of law.
Of course, without prejudging what the final outcome will be, one can argue away that the present case is not commonplace. Will outsiders be all too willing to entertain this type of argument after what has come to pass in Line Barracks and in all the rumbustious media hype during the past week? The current international projection of the country is undoubtedly one of the very deep lows Mauritius has ever faced. It will be difficult to stand up again after shooting ourselves in the foot like as we have been just doing.
There has been a considerable misinterpretation of the signals voters have been giving for decades by brushing parties and alliances out of power alternately. More often than not, the vote in favour has not been a vote of approval; it has been a vote of protest against the recurrence of a sickening political culture that has failed to renew itself convincingly and bring up a broader view of things in the eyes of the people.
Misreading this fundamental signal that at least one party should come up with a profound new political agenda which is close to the hearts of the people’s most intimate aspirations – giving the new ideals and ideologies for a country in our position to pursue during the next 50 years – a few politicians, in pure quest for power, have instead cashed on it by fostering divisions within the population on ethnic grounds. They have called it realpolitik. It is a shallow and self-defeating pursuit but none appears to have given up on it. Despite looking for something grander, something better, people have been swept away into this confusing ‘realpolitik’.
What do we see at the moment? A general feeling of resentment against all that has gone wrong with the diverse political leaderships, not limited to Labour. Political parties across the board appear to have been trapped in a sort of past paralysis. Yet, the need of the moment is for a strong political force to emerge with the next wave of transformative ideas to re-ignite the country’s destiny altogether. The country need not be mired in finding faults with its highest holders of office, unmindful of the damage done internationally by so doing, especially when much of it could be based on presumptions of guilt not meeting the standard of proof that a law court would need to convince itself of guilt.
Caught in the trap in which it currently finds itself, a party like Labour should have seen in its current plight an opportunity to renew itself with fresh ideas that last and a leadership which can unflinchingly and convincingly stand up to execute such ideas. Instead of fighting on that front, Labour is today engaged in an existential battle about who should be its leader and how the leadership should be reconstituted, with a view to pass back the baton at the right moment. Is this a priority?
Surely, this is not the best way to convince a whole following that the Party is seriously minded to write off completely its serious errors of the past and that it now has the truly empowered leadership and alternative fresh vision which can inventively implement fresh ideas, programs and policies relevant to the country’s future. That it will never again limit its vision to appropriating the Constitution for self-gratification. It is normal for political parties in tumultuous democracies like ours to face ebbs and flows. It is also normal that it is at the ebb that they have to turn the tide in their favour, preferably for the long term.
If the gravitational pull of low-level politics were to continue to bring the country and its institutions down, we will end up depleting our balance sheet, which has not been so bad to date. Yet, we have to fight on and politics is indispensable to get us there. The political party that will make the long term difference, here, like the Labour Party of bygone days, will be the one that can rise above petty considerations and occupy that place of choice in which people will cease to have nostalgia about the avatars of the past. The new leadership will incarnate that elevating and noble image the country should make its own so as to re-ignite popular adhesion to The Cause of the Future.
* Published in print edition on 20 February 2015