Political Survival, more than anything else

Voters decided on 10th December 2014 that “enough is enough”.

They chose to boot out the Labour-MMM alliance, not overly concerned how the alternative team they were voting to power would work up its way.

They sensed that the priority was to discard the danger represented by the Labour-MMM alliance. They were fed up with the multitude of “gabegies” the previous Labour government had accumulated. They were also fed up with the MMM which was an opposition in name only, for having adopted the most indecent condescending attitude towards all the gaffes of Labour while in power.

It is against this background that l’Alliance Lepep headed by SAJ came to power. Expectations were high. It was not long before the disillusionment started setting in. Some members of the new government immediately went out on a witch-hunt. Soon, the major preoccupation of the nation became the unfolding of the BAI breakup starting on 2nd April 2015. The airport became another central focus with concerns about a matter of commissions paid for running duty-free shops. In the process, the Central CID came to occupy centrestage, with arrests galore.

It started looking like the arbitrariness with which the previous regime had settled scores with political adversaries/potential political adversaries was back on the mainstage. Part of the local media, having scores to settle against members of the previous regime, helped to fan out the flames of the outrageous proportions politics was now taking. They aided and abetted the excessive zeal with which a branch of the police force was crossing what would normally be considered outside the bounds of good governance and decency.

It is armed with the zeal imparted by this condition that the police went on to arrest Attorney Pazany Thandrayen on his return from a flight back at the airport after having had consultations with his client, Nandanee Soornack, outside of Mauritius on how to instruct her case for alleged bankruptcy. In the process, his materials, including his laptop, landed into the hands of the police which presumably could leisurely scroll it up and down on the lookout for indicting material possibly involving political adversaries of the new regime. The police had not dared go to that far before to unsettle the privileged bond that our democracy guarantees for professionals engaging with their clients.

Already, muted voices were rising against this slide into excessive behavior. None was strong enough however to call the government to restrain its excessive zeal. The situation mirrored a not too remote past when the leader of the Labour Party cowed down all contrarian views to the point that people had to keep to themselves their store of resentment, only to explode their spite at this misbehavior in the December 2014 elections thanks to the secrecy afforded by the ballot box.

It is in this context that the statement made by the current President of the Mauritius Bar Council last week, Mr Antoine Domingue, in the aftermath of a meeting members asked for concerning the Pazani Thandrayen case, was remarkable. He did not mince his words when he made a public statement on radio that the behaviour of the police had been such in this case that it verged on the instauration of dictatorship in the country. The man is so courageous and principled that he stepped down yesterday from his recent directorship of the Financial Services Commission, on the grounds that “conditions were not ideal for him to fulfill these duties”.

The stand taken by Mr Domingue was salutary because whereas in the case of Navin Ramgoolam when he led the previous government, members of civil society feared to come out in public to denounce the exaggerations of the regime, this time a loud, clear and powerful voice has come up to denounce excesses against the profession. If it is properly heeded, the government may collect itself while time is still on its side, calm down the unnecessary storm it has brewed up on many fronts and start attending to the affairs of state. The latter is by far much more important than political positioning by individual politicians and the survival of political parties.

Should the government change tack while it is still time to do so, it will not invite back on the political stage the type of oppression which Mauritians abhor and against which they voted last December. It will get time to deal with urgent economic issues, maybe even more urgent now than at the time of the last budget as important economies of the world are not picking up sufficient momentum to pull us along. In the event, the budget would not have become secondary to the political agenda, as it is the case currently.

Emboldened by the faux-pas the government has been indulging in, political leaders like Paul Bérenger and Navin Ramgoolam are trying to stage a comeback with whatever is left over of their political parties. Maybe they believe that notwithstanding all the gaffes they have committed, notwithstanding the continuing dismemberment their parties have suffered during the last electoral campaign and after, they could shine again thanks to the oncoming municipal elections scheduled for 14th June.

Just like Bérenger’s inexplicable endorsement of Labour last year has splintered the MMM and continues to do so, Labour seems to be heading for splitting apart the little amount of re-gathering it had been able to achieve in the past months. Arvind Boolell who had held the fort after the previous electoral debacle was forced to leave a meeting of Labour last Tuesday when Navin Ramgoolam made a comeback on the scene and part of the gathering started shouting anti-Arvind Bollell and pro-Ramgoolam slogans. Already, Yatin Varma, a prominent member of the party and former Attorney General, has decided to leave his responsibilities at the party level in order to “give more attention to his professional career”. The meeting was called to decide on the allocation of tickets for the forthcoming municipal elections, on the view that the government had eroded its goodwill vis-à-vis the electorate and that things might change.

This episode has washed away the little glimmer of hope Labour had been able to amass not because it had done anything great itself. Just like Lepep rode on the crest of the wave of popular discontent with Navin Ramgoolam’s way of governing last year, Labour – and maybe whatever is left over of the MMM as well – wanted to cash upon the various gaffes the government has indulged in. Given the disruption Labour has just gone into, there is little chance this kind of hope would at all be redeemed.

Usually, voters are not very active in municipal elections. The voter turnout averages 60% or even less. Given the track record of the government, it was being expected that an even larger number of voters would abstain, not having any valid choice to make really, especially in the towns where voters appear to be more alert politically. If that happens, an even greater minority of voters may decide to elect municipal councillors this time. That however will need to be qualified by the scale of negative voting actions of the government since 2nd April and the conduct of the police will provoke.

The outcome of the municipal elections – whichever direction it took – should not be taken as a barometer of public approval or disapproval. The tight corner in which people find themselves at present may not reflect any entrenched loyalty to any group. But they have shown – as in the last elections – that they do identify the wrongdoers clearly enough and that they can shift votes more freely than ever before, if only to give a tough lesson to those who usually take them for granted and indulge in all sorts of political pranks instead of doing the job for which they have been elected.

 

* Published in print edition on 15 May  2015

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