Elections again: What massive abstention will imply

Voters have to choose once again. On 10th December 2014, the majority of them voted in favour of
l’Alliance Lepep in general elections. 

Now, it’s the turn of municipal elections on Sunday next. Let’s look at the municipal elections in perspective.

In July 2005, people voted against the 2000-05 MMM-MSM government, bringing the Labour Party-PMXD-MR-Les Verts-MMSM alliance (Alliance Sociale) to power with a 38-22 division of seats in the Assembly. Such was the sweep then of this Alliance Sociale that it went on to win all the five municipalities in the municipal elections which followed immediately after.

With the elections of 5th May 2010 however, the outcome was different. Another political alliance, called Alliance de l’Avenir clubbing together this time Labour, the PMXD now re-baptised PMSD and the Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien (MSM), won the general elections 41-18 against the MMM-Union Nationale-Mouvement Mauricien Social Démocrate (MMSD) alliance called Alliance du Coeur.

Municipal elections did not follow immediately as it had been the case in 2005. By the time municipal elections were called in 2012, the MSM was already out of the government alliance. An MMM-MSM alliance that got formed subsequently won three out of the five municipalities, the Labour-PMSD alliance won one of them and seats were equally divided in Curepipe: 7 each for the Labour-PMSD and the MMM-MSM, the balancing 15th residual seat having gone to the MMSD. Strangely enough, the MMSD which had partnered earlier with the MMM chose to align itself with Labour-PMSD (the government in power) to give the latter control over that municipality.

It is barely six months now between 10th December 2014, when l’Alliance Lepep won the general elections, and the municipal elections scheduled for 14th June 2015.

The question which arises therefore is whether, as the Alliance Sociale did in 2005, this new alliance has the same momentum to sweep to victory in the municipal elections next Sunday in the wake of its significant 47-13 win in the last general elections. Considering that it trounced both the two other major parties, Labour and the MMM, in the general elections only six months ago, it could potentially repeat that experience.

Some political observers believe however that this will not necessarily be the case, despite the fact that Labour has decided not to present itself in the municipal elections, having consequently helped to polarise the contest between the Alliance Lepep and the MMM, a party which has been in continuing disarray since after the general elections.

Clearly, Labour is seeking to leave traditional MMM voters with little choice than to go back to the party they abandoned in droves at the last general elections. So doing, it might be wishing to revamp the MMM and get a chance for itself to eventually renew the Labour-MMM alliance which failed at the polls in last December. If voters look at it this way, they may have little option than to vote for Lepep in the forthcoming municipal elections.

Having realized the potential benefit of a shift of its fortunes by polarizing the MMM against Lepep, the MMM leader is playing back one of his tested and favourite recipes, notably to portray the government in its most sombre costume to secure a protest vote in favour of the MMM. He has been mobilizing sympathy for his protocol led “ill-treatment” as Leader of the Opposition at the recent ceremony appointing the new President of the Republic. He’s been evoking the bullying (‘dominere’) to which one of Dawood Rawat’s daughters has recently been subjected to by the police. He’s been blaming the government for mishandling the BAI case, in a bid to cash upon the loss-of-money, loss-of-jobs the government’s handling of this matter has caused – and, why not, gain some communal ascendancy?

Were he to succeed in this enterprise, he might regain not only the full sway he appeared to be losing over the MMM as seen by the exit from the party of his most trusted lieutenants recently. He could even make the MMM the biggest challenger of governments, a role the party has assumed most of the time it has been in existence. He might also prepare the MMM to become the most eligible bachelor for marrying over either Labour or the MSM at the right time, given the history of the most promiscuous political alliances the country is capable of.

In December 2014, the people appeared to be minded to finish off with this type of politics which puts political parties’ leaders’ private interests above those of the country. They might still be in the same mood not to invite back this kind of antediluvian political match-making, standing up one part of the population against the other. It is the principal reason they brought Lepep to power, notwithstanding they ignored how it will play out actually. Admittedly, several actions Lepep has been taking since assuming office have kept disappointing voters over the last six months.

The MMM is bent to cash upon the several missteps — the BAI affair being a major one among these — the new government has been accumulating with no indication of a positive re-direction of its line of action. The municipal elections are seen by the MMM as the earliest opportunity to resuscitate politics as of old.

The people are caught up between a rock and a hard thing. Some sections of the urban electorate might consider backing the Lepep government if only to ensure that the municipal administration obtain the support of the central government. They might also not wish to again appear to be intrinsically anti-Lepep despite their unhappiness at the government’s handling of the BAI affair. On the other hand, many who voted enthusiastically for Lepep last year are so disappointed at its loss of concentration on real economic issues – even though 6 months is a short time in the mandate of a new government – that, short of having no alternative option to vote for, they are prepared to stay away altogether from the vote on next Sunday.

Already, the turnout of voters has been historically low for municipal elections. These disaffected voters might increase the rate of abstention and jeopardize the evolution of local – and national — politics in the right direction. In such a case, we might again lose another opportunity of concentrating on issues and charting a brighter course for society and the economy.

In the circumstances, if the government wanted to reverse the negative perception of its action so far, it could come up to reassure voters that it will quickly leave behind the sterile preoccupations which have been top of its agenda so far. And state that it will henceforth prioritize our economic development and consolidation despite tough external economic conditions, a task that will call for a wide scale cooperation of all. It requires some courage from a credible leader from the government side to do the required convincing.

That could arouse a better sentiment among those who feel frustrated for having voted for the government in December. And, who knows, persuade them to express themselves at the polls instead of risking that minorities of voters acquired to classic political parties trounce the new turn the electorate of the country gave to politics last December.

Will Mauritius lose the opportunity to turn over a new leaf?

*  Published in print edition on 12 June 2015

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