What Do The municipal Elections Portend?

The l’Alliance Lepep government has decided that municipal elections will be held on 14th June.

Its object would be to cash upon the wave of popularity in its favour seen during last December’s general elections. Despite the short lapse of time between then and now, some water has flown under the bridge, and this may affect the electoral outcome, which may not be exactly as Lepep is anticipating.

On the positive side, Lepep has kept its word about increasing basic retirement pension; it has also maintained, as promised, a generous wage compensation of Rs 600 across the board. It has also delivered its first budget.

The latter doesn’t look adequate to the task but it is mild enough. It doesn’t not contain some of the bold but socially disquieting measures that Westminster-type governments are wont to take at the beginning of their terms with a view to setting the tone. At best, voters do not see it as a radical budget that could either hurt their immediate interests or bring about seismic changes to usher in any “economic miracle”.

On the negative side, there appears to be no rush to invest in the economy and thus raise the level of jobs-creating employment. On the ground, therefore, this situation doesn’t seem to reflect the positive sentiment entrepreneurs posted in the course of a recent private survey. The rupee has been depreciated, and prices are on the rise. Nobody would be happy with such a state of affairs.

The budget set as its axis of future growth the creation of multiple “smart cities”.

Short of demonstrating how such “smart cities” will actually be integrated with a lurch of economic growth, it remains a mere idea. Smart cities have come about in other countries by bringing together a series of interdependent infrastructure, social, technological and investment initiatives which produce and sustain growth. In other places, like Detroit, loose association of factors such as lack of sustained research backing up diversification of economic production, has resulted in the city’s bankruptcy. We will have to await to see how concretely this idea will be given shape.

Lepep is not only hoping to ride on the December wave of popularity against the battered Labour-MMM alliance. It wants to cash upon the state of disarray in which opposition parties are finding themselves.

Many long-standing members of the MMM have gone their separate ways. Alan Ganoo who heads one of the splinter groups, has stated that his grouping, now joined as a political party, will not run for the forthcoming municipal elections. Another split-away from the MMM, the Muvman Liberater (ML), is fielding its own candidates alongside the two other parties constituting the current government, notably the MSM and the PMSD.

So, the ML will snatch away votes in favour of the government, votes that used to go in favour of the MMM in the past. The PMSD on its part wants to pose vis-à-vis traditional MMM voters as the alternative to the “disintegrating” MMM. But MMM voters have in the past remained stuck to the MMM because they have not felt an affinity with the PMSD. It remains to be seen whether the MMM currently in tatters, as a sequel to its alliance with Labour in the last general elections, will let go such of its traditional voters, still with the party, to the PMSD.

The MMM appears to have been weakened by the abandonment of the party by a large section of its traditional voters. Dissensions and separations at the leadership level have added to its weakness. The big question therefore is: what exactly is the number of votes the party can look forward to in the coming municipal elections? If it is repudiated by urban voters this time, it risks losing the very base of its support. The MMM leader, Paul Bérenger, has maintained a low profile. Nevertheless, he has wrenched the leadership of the party and recast against all these odds the politburo as suits his convenience. The party is going alone to the municipal elections.

How well will it do, pitched against the current juggernaut, the Alliance Lepep? On paper, it looks like having little chance to overturn the huge governmental chariot. Are there attenuating circumstances that could turn the tide in its favour? Yes, there are specks of hope on the horizon. They come from the stance adopted by the Labour Party and fallouts it might benefit from due to some amount of mishandling of public affairs by the government.

Perhaps not to incur again the wrath of its electorate in such short a time, Labour headed by Navin Ramgoolam, has decided not to take part in the municipal elections. Labour supporters, dissatisfied with the way the government has conducted itself in certain matters – to which they had switched their votes in the last elections – now have a fall-back position in the MMM. This situation might have been craftily organized by Navin Ramgoolam with a view to favour his eventual political resuscitation, possibly through another future alliance with the MMM. Traditional Labour voters may not see the stratagem but they might add to the votes the MMM could garner out of spite. Not having a liking for the MMM they might even abstain. The outcome is not clear-cut.

But the MMM stands to gain by far from a good element of support from voters who are disgruntled with the government’s action so far. The way the BAI case has been handled by it – with threats of loss of funds invested by the public in the BAI group, loss of jobs in BAI-related enterprises and in the BA Insurance – will play with particular voters in certain urban areas against the government. It’s uncertain but not impossible that this could trigger a shift of votes in favour of the MMM in specific urban areas.

Will all this be enough for the MMM to resist successfully the government side’s bid for the municipals? If that happens, it will put in doubt the amount of support the ML and the PMSD bring to the government from their traditional base in the urban areas. In the worst case, such an eventuality might trigger a rethinking of the real contribution of the PMSD and ML to government action.

Finally, we may be having a good number of urban voters being dissatisfied with the government’s action so far – such as appointing people to high offices in the same manner as the previous government, without regard to merit, perception of arbitrariness in police action against political adversaries — who will choose to abstain. If the number of abstainers is significant, the tide might turn either way for the parties engaged in the elections of 14th June.

The municipal elections should not have assumed the importance they do. People however seem to be minded to give a strong signal. Will they, by voting or deciding to abstain, send an even stronger signal to Labour-MMM that they should never again be taken for granted? Or, will they address a serious message to the government that it should attend to the task for which it was appointed? We’ll know for certain in two weeks’ time.

* Published in print edition on 29 May  2015

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