Labour at the Crossroads

Labour faced a debacle in the elections of 10th December 2014. In alliance with the MMM, it was able to get only four of its candidates elected.

Within hours, the MMM repudiated its alliance with Labour, going on to put the responsibility for the collective debacle of the alliance squarely on Navin Ramgoolam, the leader of Labour.

The latter was beset by other troubles with the police landing at his residence, seizing a couple of personal coffers and taking care to exhibit to the public the big amounts of money found in them. His public image took a serious blow. The police are still keeping a tab on him, inasmuch as they can take him back to Line Barracks and even put him under arrest again on new charges. The courts come into the picture much later, anyway.

So long Navin Ramgoolam remains the leader of the Labour Party, he may well choose to explain the police actions taken against him in the blare of a systematic media publicity as part of a political plot, a vendetta. Despite being presumed innocent until proved guilty of malfeasance in this respect, this is not the age of political martyrs. He still has to give a plausible explanation for the unusually large amount of cash seized at his place to get back his credibility in public. This has not been forthcoming so far – except for the fact that he would have explained it away to political donations for the last electoral campaign. It will not be enough to claim that other political leaders have enriched themselves immensely, just the same.

It is not part of the political culture in Mauritius for defeated political leaders to step down. Neither SAJ in 1995, nor Bérenger and Ramgoolam in 2014 followed this democratic tradition in their moments of electoral defeat. This may be so because in our case, leaders of political parties place themselves as the centres of gravity of the parties they lead. In their absence, centrifugal forces would start operating to dissolve the parties themselves. This is the reason SAJ was brought back to be at the centre and rallying point of l’Alliance Lepep in 2014.

The question that arises at the moment is: at this juncture, when the effective leader of the Labour Party is facing so many personal hassles, whether it is apt that the party should be allowed to drift in the surrounding ocean of uncertainty.

This question is more pertinent by virtue of the fact that none of the other political parties of the country has as rich and convincing a history of political achievement as Labour. The party has been trusted for generations as one deeply grounded in advancing the social cause, despite some errant decisions it has taken from time to time to accommodate right-wing thinkers in the party or parties with which it has been in alliance.

In a world dominated by technology today and an emerging new generation with the associated culture coming up on the scene, there was a need to make the leap to the new age but to also pass on the deep sense of social values Labour has stood for historically. This is not possible if there is uncertainty created at the very head of the party. Yet, current political conditions dictate that the party should make a quantum jump in order to be the torchbearer of the times to come.

This requires not only an enlightened and convincing leadership. It also calls for a strong enough character at the helm of the party who can rally the majority of the people behind it and win elections convincingly. People will trust it if, as they did for the December 2014 elections, they were convinced that SAJ, as the all-rallying leader, would provide the necessary leadership to enable the country to steer clear of the impending twin dangers of ‘Electoral Reform’ and ‘Second Republic’.

Labour is in need of a leader who can trounce its adversaries and win elections comfortably, as SAJ did in the last elections. It is a fundamental point that the many who claim to be eligible to lead Labour should bear in mind: do they, in the circumstances of Mauritius, have the national appeal needed to win elections across the board? If they have it, so much the better. If they don’t, they have to rally around an alternative best fit capable of bringing up the rich harvest of which they would also be a part.

Many claim cynically that it is the present government, with the MSM in the lead, that will eventually pave the way for Labour’s (as well as the MMM’s) comeback to the centre stage of Mauritian politics – that is through its handling, or rather its mishandling, of the affairs of the State. They assume that as the government will carry on doing the same sort of things for which the Labour-MMM alliance was thrown out by voters last December, people would rally back behind Labour and the MMM which they had ditched only a few months back. Maybe. But insofar the Labour Party is concerned, that will not happen so long there is a perception of a weak command beset by all sorts of troubles at the helm of the party.

Consider an example. The municipal elections have been fixed for the 14th June. A strong leadership at the helm of Labour could have brought out in public the risk that the country may be running with the politics of retributions, of ‘form rather than substance’, more than four months after the new government was voted to power. It could have used the general state of disarray in which the country is finding itself to turn the tide in its favour by winning the municipalities where a significant part of the country’s voters resides.

Instead of concentrating its guns on the way forward, the party found itself caught up in a fight for installing a new leader, ignoring the fact that a leader who wins the municipalities despite all the odds in favour of political incumbency, is treading the path of stitching together the torn-out pieces of the party’s following from the last general elections. It is successes such as this that have put back the winds into the sails of political parties which might have been totally written off due to electoral defeat.

Power is not received. It is snatched away by fighting for it and proving one’s worth as being capable of honourably carrying it forward. It is obtained by dint of electoral success and hence the capability to demonstrate to followers that, comes the next turn, it is they who will walk away with the trophy. This is what l’Alliance Lepep demonstrated by putting together in one common compartment several disparate pieces from the political jigsaw. Parties which want to succeed have to demonstrate that they mean business, no less, by coming together despite the greatest adversity. The alternative is to bungle up the available golden opportunity to rise from the ashes.

 

* Published in print edition on 8 May  2015

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