Distractions from Real Issues

Whilst it could be safely argued that the outcome of the last general elections represented a huge protest vote against the outgoing government, and more particularly against the political programme of the Labour Party-MMM combine, especially its so-called ‘Second Republic’ agenda, one could also attribute the Alliance Lepep’s performance at the polls to its backers’ trust primarily in SAJ. People voted the fairly recently constituted alliance under his leadership to power.

The new government has started going in the direction wished for by those who voted for it. For example, it immediately gave effect to some of the social agenda (revision of basic pensions, additional cost of living allocation) which people had hoped for. The Prime Minister recently announced decisions to come to the help of small planters, a community that has been slowly disappearing economically in the absence of measures to redress the situation. It is said that the small planters’ 35% shareholding in the diversified sugar sector, which has long eluded them, might now become a reality. We are also told that small planters who lost their agricultural lands in the implementation of the Jin Fei project will be settled again. The provision of social housing is also on the cards.

Unfortunately, other issues including police investigations involving the former Prime Minister and the former Governor of the Central Bank, have, with the help of a clamorous media, come to occupy the centre stage of national affairs. There is no problem if the police do their job with due circumspection and in good measure, outside the glare of publicity. However, as things stand today, hiting at public figures with the help of media appears to have become the nation’s major preoccupation.

It is not something that will stand Mauritius in good stead as a confident young nation taking on a lot of the challenges that the fast globalizing world is throwing up. In fact, events unfolding on our public stage could become a major distraction from the real agenda that the country should be pursuing at this juncture. The political battle having been won, the stage was set to address the deeper issues confronting us in several domains.

Each of these domains would have needed exceptional movers of change to get the country to its next higher stage of development. Countries which have moved up the ladder significantly have identified world-class archetypes to position their immediate most promising growth sectors to their next higher stages. They have typically been men and women of great vision and global clout. In India, for example, persons like Sam Pitroda (under the prime ministership of Rajiv Gandhi) and Elattuvalapil Sreedharan have set the stage for its ICT sector and its urban metro networks respectively, to levels that could hardly have been contemplated for countries at their stage of development.

Since long, we have been in urgent need of reinventing our manufacturing, tourist, ICT, education, national airline, energy, water, housing and land management activities. Decentralisation of public administration from Port Louis to Highlands finally ended up in talk only. If we really meant business, that should have become a reality by now with the help of modern technology. We’ve left all these critical actions unattended and they are likely to become costlier the more we delay action. It is one of the reasons we haven’t therefore caught up with the best and most performing countries in the world in all these areas.

The question is: should we be attending to them? Certainly we should. That would keep us from losing time in law courts and in the political arena, because we would then be focussed on those activities which hold life-and-death challenges for our society and the economy. The media would then shift focus from having to trade off between seekers of currency devaluation, on the one side, and the public trying to protect itself against continuous erosion of its purchasing power, on the other side. Hopefully, it would instead seek to know how new grounds should be broken in the country’s upward move to a higher level of development.

Countries which make progress do give a small amount of attention to temporary sensational things. But they don’t fail to fix their eyes on what to do to assure themselves of a better future.

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Political parties emptied of their substance

At the low ebb of its popularity, the MMM is beset today by the risk of splitting up further. It appears that those who did not toe the leader’s line have been ejected from the main bodies of the party. The latest casualty in this regard appears to be Jean-Claude Barbier, a 30-year plus adherent of the party. It would appear that his fault was to ask for a rejuvenation of the party’s leadership.

Before the elections of December last year, the MMM had already come across a fresh wave of fractures. Ivan Collendavelloo, a long-standing Vice-President of the party, decided that the time had come to leave. He went further. He set up the Muvman Liberater, a new party, opening up the doors for other disaffected members of the MMM to join with him in order to repudiate the party’s decision to form an alliance with the Labour Party on the agenda of the so-called “Second Republic”.

The view was that the party was being dictated to by its leader and that the latest of his imposed decisions on the party line was too much to put up with. Ivan Collendavelloo went even further: his new party allied itself with the MSM and the PMSD in the new Alliance Lepep in an electoral tussle against the MMM. His stand appears to have been vindicated by the massive vote of protest voters, especially those in No 19, lodged in favour of the Alliance Lepep against the MMM.

There are indications that the MMM risks being splintered even more as other members could leave its ranks, now that the old guard of the party appears to have reasserted itself at the party’s helm. There have been revolts within the MMM party in the past but, as the new splinter groups did not create sufficient momentum around themselves to fill the void assertively enough, the voter base rallied back to the old MMM.

The question is whether history will repeat itself. This time however traditional MMM voters are deeply hurt. They have not only the reproach to make to its leaders about the artificial alliance it entered into with Labour in the last elections. They have a feeling the party has evacuated the ideology it has traditionally stood for. No one, including the MMM, is offering them the identification they are looking for. For them, the party has emptied itself of its historical substance.

In the circumstances, they can either look forward to the party’s historical leader giving them an ideology to rally around. And get back to the fold eating humble pie. Political insurgency is a rare commodity in the Mauritian environment. Time will tell whether supporters may decide that they have had enough of past gimmicks and obsolete styles and whether they can digest no more of it and shift over to an acceptable alternative.

It is unfortunately the fate of our older parties, such as Labour and the MMM, that they run out of the inspiring causes which brought them into existence in the first place. Their leaders have the potential to run the whole ship aground when they trap themselves in an improper self-gratifying vision. They carry on diluting the solid substance on which they were raised in the eyes of their followers until the leaders become the be-all-end-all of the parties. By this time, they personify the party and there is really not any deep social cause to stand up for. That was surely not the idea with which the great political parties were established in the first place.

 

* Published in print edition on 27 February  2015

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