When the government of l’Alliance Lepep came to power late last year, Kailash Purryag was President of the Republic.
He had taken office in July 2012 following a vote by the National Assembly when decided to quit the post, with the intention of joining with the MMM to fight the next elections together. The government which had appointed SAJ to Le Réduit was a Labour Party majority.
When going to the polls, Lepep had announced that it was intending to place Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, a former academic better known for scientific research in phytotherapy, as President of the Republic. The objective was no doubt to cull up votes from a particular section of the Mauritian community.
The general expectation was that Kailash Purryag would soon be replaced to give way to Ms Gurib-Fakim. However, Kailash Purryag when questioned about his intentions after the new government came to power, stated very clearly that his term of office ends in 2017. In other words, there appeared to be no issue of his having to step down earlier to make way for Ms Gurib-Fakim. The situation echoed somehow the position taken by SAJ in 2005 when he was occupying the position at Le Réduit, that he was bent on carrying on his office at the presidency despite an unbecoming pressure campaign mounted against him by the Labour Party which had then come to power.
There was no comment about this either from the Prime Minister who meets the President once a week for discussion of affairs of state or from the Muvman Liberater whose candidate Ms Gurib-Fakim was.
On 1st June however, unexpectedly, the news was aired that Kailash Purryag was actually stepping down from the presidency. It was announced that a decision will be taken to vote in the National Assembly for a change of guards at the State House on Thursday 4th June and that Ms Gurib-Fakim, 56, would be installed at Le Réduit on Friday 5th June. It was explained that an understanding would have been reached between SAJ and Kailash Purryag, in January this year, that he would step down at the end of May and that this was what was being given effect to.
No reason was given as to why this specific timing for the event was agreed upon between the two men. Coming as it does in the background of all the noise created around the BAI affair which has for long enough occupied and keeps occupying the front political stage, many see the appointment as a means of pacifying feelings which may have been ruffled up in part of the population by the government’s handling of the matter, involving loss of jobs and invested amounts by members of the public.
The Opposition has stated that it will support the appointment of Ms Gurib-Fakim. The latter has made several statements to the effect that she will be replacing Kailash Purryag at the State House. If all goes according to plan – and there is no reason why it should not – Ms Gurib-Fakim will move on to Le Réduit as from today.
She will be the first woman to occupy the Office of the President. Our duty is to welcome and congratulate her in her new position and wish her a fruitful career as Head of State.
In the present state of affairs, the President of the Republic is not vested with executive powers. She will be briefed up regularly about affairs of state and Bills passed by the House will be sent for her assent from time to time before they are enacted into law. Except for Finance Bills, she may refer back other Bills to the Assembly if she has a Constitutional point to defend about their enactment. As Head of State, she is first in the Protocol to whom representatives of foreign countries will make a call to present their letters of appointment.
The Office of the President is an office which deals with a lot of protocol and is seen as a symbol of orderliness. In the last elections, a proposal was being made to confer real executive powers to the President of the Republic for a term of 7 years in what went by the name of ‘Second Republic’. This proposal was turned down by the people in view of the obvious conflicts of power it would engender in the process, especially if both the Prime Minister and the President are elected through universal suffrage.
Ms Gurib-Fakim has made certain public statements to the effect that she will not be a mere decorative piece in the conduct of her office, that she will want to give a new direction to modernize things. This is fair enough. A person who has been a scientist will not want to limit herself to acquiescing Bills passed by the Assembly. She may want to have a stronger voice in the affairs of state than her predecessors. It will help if she can throw a different light on matters of state which sometimes tend to be blinded by the pursuit of party politics rather than the superior interests of the nation beyond party-politics.
However, unless the Constitution is changed, she has to be careful not to step on the toes of the Prime Minister who, in our system, is solely answerable to the population for acts and omissions of the government of the day. Actually, it is possible for the holder of a high office to sway decisions for the greater good through powers of persuasion whereby good sense would prevail over the brutal exercise of power. She would be right to guide holders of political power to put issues rather than individual quests above everything else.
If, in the process, our country becomes the greater beneficiary from the exercise of political powers, Ms Gurib-Fakim would have demonstrated that power is not all that is required to govern the affairs of state for the good of all. Where sincere conviction is subtly married to the art of silent achievement for the greater good, a country can achieve much more than by a noisy demonstration of power. This is our sincere wish to her as she accedes today to the highest Constitutional position of the country. We take the opportunity to wish Kailash Purryag that he keeps contributing to the national edifice notwithstanding the fact that he is now freed from the obligations of holding high office.
* Published in print edition on 5 June 2015