Nine months after the defeat of the Labour-MMM alliance in last December’s elections, a new stir appears to be rousing the local political scene. This election represented a massive no-vote against that alliance. Voters rejected it for seeking to distort the country’s Constitution.
They reacted sharply against a proposal to amend the Constitution whereby Navin Ramgoolam, leader of the Labour Party, would be installed as President of the Republic with executive powers for a term of seven years immune from any prosecution. They also voted against a proposed change in the electoral system that would make Paul Bérenger Prime Minister for five years, along with the introduction of a dose of Proportional Representation that could change for good future election outcomes in favour of opposition parties like the MMM.
Given the heavy defeat suffered by that alliance, Labour has remained more or less quiescent and politically weak all this while, given that Navin Ramgoolam kept occupying the leader’s chair despite his rejection by voters. On its part, the MMM which had already undergone a pre-electoral split, saw another group of its elected members leave the ranks of the party to form a new political party called Mouvement Patriotique.
In other words, the MSM-PMSD-ML alliance has ruled almost without opposition since December last. The MSM in particular has employed its dominant position to target and possibly eliminate for good Navin Ramgoolam as a political adversary. This has had the effect of further undermining the latter’s credibility and weakening, by the same token, a Labour led by the latter.
Political observers have viewed his continuing presence at the helm of Labour as a strong potential threat to the credibility of the party after the rejection of the personal agendas in favour of Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Bérenger that the LP-MMM combine had proposed in the last elections.
Confronted with various provisional charges of wrong-doing and subsequent arrests inflicted on him by the CCID, Navin Ramgoolam has clung on to his political role and leadership of Labour. This has been interpreted as a system of defence adopted by him in view of the charges levied against him, putting it all on the count of political vendetta by the MSM.
Despite all the handicaps and the down-position in which he has been finding himself, Navin Ramgoolam has long been preparing a political come-back. He caused a stir by organising on 20th September last a political gathering at Kewal Nagar to celebrate the 115th birth anniversary of SSR. He used the platform to castigate the MSM in particular, thus pitching Labour in a fight-to-the-end against the MSM, thereby hoping to elicit a favourable decision from the pool of traditional voters common to the two parties.
There is a general sense now that, despite Labour not having imposed itself as dramatically as it would have wished against an MSM-led government, some political inroads have been made. Such inroads have been facilitated by the various gaffes certain government members have been making, without producing any constructive results for the economy. Quite the contrary, these gaffes have the potential to hurt the economy irretrievably.
How far and how effectively Labour will travel on this road – with Navin Ramgoolam, despite losing the general election, still holding the party’s reins — is uncertain for the moment. But it is clear that, just like Labour and the MMM provided solid reasons for the electorate to vote massively against them in the last elections, the MSM-led government alliance is now helping Labour to climb up from its utterly downcast position barely nine months ago.
On its part, the MMM also appears to be staging a comeback. Paul Bérenger, the leader of what remains of the party, has been reasonably incisive in the Assembly with his questions, in sharp contrast to the pre-electoral period when he had, as Leader of the Opposition, adopted a complicit attitude towards the Leader of the Government.
Last week, he went a step further. On the occasion of the celebrations of the MMM’s 46th anniversary, he stated amongst others that voters had rightly rejected the alliance that he, together with Navin Ramgoolam, had presented for election in December last.
His reasons for doing this mea culpa may not be identical with that of voters who rejected that alliance. But he has travelled the further distance now to assume responsibility for the failure, despite dumping it once again on Navin Ramgoolam as being the one who would have earned the wrath of voters by the way he portrayed the MMM leader. In his interpretation of things, the latter’s statements would have caused disaffection against the party, chiefly among traditional MMM voters.
The party’s Secretary General has gone further on the same occasion to state how Bérenger personally stands free from charges of corruption. He referred to the recent sentencing by the court of the MSM’s leader for having been found guilty on a charge of being in a position of conflict of interest regarding the MedPoint affair. He also referred to the various police accusations against Navin Ramgoolam and serial arrests to which he had been subjected, whereas the MMM leader was not involved in such cases.
Just like Labour, it would appear that the MMM has embarked on an uphill climb to claim that it is effectively the nucleus of what the Party has always stood for, not those who have splintered away before and after the last elections. Clearly, the Party is intent on fishing back its traditional supporters. Here again, this is sought to be achieved on the ground of the government having been ineffective so far to re-orient the country and in particular, the economy. Like Labour, the MMM wants to cash on the government’s failure to date and on the gaffes certain of its Ministers have committed against the country’s interests.
Since Mauritius has seen many incumbents of political power being thrown out in the past, the question is whether Labour and the MMM will be able to rise from the low position they’ve fallen into, to secure once again the adherence of voters.
The last elections have shown that voters can no longer be taken for granted, as it used to be the case when new political alliances triumphed over incumbents having accumulated an intolerable number of failings. Voters will not buy into any stupid privately motivated Constitutional changes only because political leaders would tell them that there is nothing to worry about, and that the usual political arithmetic will anyway bring political power in their hands once again.
Voters are also concerned now about ageing political leaders who create a vacuum around them whereby they leave nobody else credible enough to take up the party’s line of succession. They will not even look kindly upon a government in place which would appear to have no real and effective line of command, to avoid committing irreparable gaffes.
The question to ask is, whether in view of the damage they escaped from only nine months ago, voters will still have a short memory at the end of the day and go back to their previous habits of electing to power whoever appears to be winning, irrespective of the potential long term damage such an arrangement might inflict.
If they do, we will travel along the same rumbustious path of political changes we’ve seen so far. If however they want political parties having a more credible leadership structure than those that have failed us so often, they’ll think twice and not follow sheer instincts of party loyalty. It would be good if we started prioritizing the national objective of growth with social stability instead of pandering to leaders with less substance than style.
- Published in print edition on 2 October 2015