The Devaluation of National Politics

Following its defeat at the last general elections, the Mauritius Labour Party (Labour) appears not to have taken adequate stock of the strong message voters sent to it.

Voters clearly expressed deep dissatisfaction at the superficial way the party was being instrumentalized to serve private interests. They did not endorse the alliance concocted by it with the MMM with a view to securing the personal positions of the two respective party leaders, relegating to a lower level national concerns of urgent priority about the public accountability of decision-makers.

In fact, by voting in favour of the alternative, they sent the same message to the leader of the MMM as well and to all those who had followed him in this task of political brinksmanship. Voters signalled clearly that they were mature enough not to be taken for a ride again in the pursuit of personal political gains.

One would have concluded that the lessons were duly learnt. But they don’t appear to have sunk in. At least, as far as Labour is concerned. As all know, the leadership of the party is in limbo since after the last elections, in which its leader himself did not get elected in a constituency in which he has never lost before.

The Labour Party’s politburo has now been tasked to consider whether, post the party’s electoral defeat, Navin Ramgoolam (NR), the defeated leader, should stand for elections again, presumably still wearing the cloak of the party’s leader. The politburo is also tasked to consider the constituency from which he should stand for election, whether No. 5 (in which he was defeated) or No. 10. The second assignment given to the politburo presupposes that NR will get the agreement of the party to stand and, presumably, to lead it again.

Any astute political observer could have foreseen such weird assignments to the politburo coming after a good crowd was rounded up by the party at Kewal Nagar on 20th September to mark SSR’s 115th birth anniversary. One need not be too wise to understand that all this personalisation of decision-making is calculated to make NR pass muster at the level of the politburo – and then to the people at large. While Labour is free to give whatsoever assignments it thinks fit to its politburo, the question remains whether such an apparent instrumentalization of the politburo will increase public trust in the party.

Will it be all right if people start believing that the politburo of a party with such a glorious past track record will be rubber-stamping personalised decisions which look already made, to all intents and purposes? Will a situation of the sort increase or decrease the trust with which its political decisions will be made in the future? There is no reasonable ground to believe that the element of trust will increase in this case.

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To be fair, the apex committees of other political parties also indulge in similar make-believe games. They create a semblance of endorsing decisions having been taken by their party’s highest instances. Recall the MMM’s Comité Central decision to approve the party’s proposed alliance with Labour last year, and to disapprove this very decision they had themselves just taken in this respect. It was a big joke.

The impact of such wayward behaviour on the part of politburos, at the demands of their leaders, has devalued political parties. This has been taken to such lengths by individual political parties that, given the series of gaffes accumulated since the new government was installed during its relatively brief existence so far, voters are at a loss as to whether there exists on the Mauritius political platform any party that would put high principles and reasons of state above petty internal struggles for personal power.

The disenchantment with this situation is strong. Every day that passes by is adding to it. It cannot go on except at the cost of making Mauritians terribly cynical about all existing political establishments.

The end result of this process, if it were to continue across all political parties, would be to make a public display of the impotence of political parties’ establishments – if we may call them so – against abusive leaders who see their private interests above those of the parties they head, nay, above those of the country itself. The anger and deep frustration with which voters made their statement against the MMM-Labour alliance last year will persist and the outcome of the next elections would be as unpredictable as the previous one.

Surely, voters deserve to have a better alternative to go for if all fails.

Even though the PMSD and Labour clashed bitterly against each other at the polls during the independence period, most of the differences between them were about the choice of national policies each one was advocating.

The men and women who did politics at that time had lived through interesting times, having important lessons to impart on how injustices of the social and market systems should be removed for the greater good, what should be the qualities of a society which fulfilled the deeper aspirations of its members, how deeply social reforms should be undertaken to make for a balanced economic outlook to a brighter future for all. That’s how an ideologically rich political party like Labour emerged and captivated the imagination of its followers. It must be said that this party was not anchored in trivial last-minute marketing to win back its fold.

One has the impression now that the party ceased climbing to greater heights once it started prioritizing the interests of individuals above those of the country. Authentic and well-grounded followers of the party refuse to believe the ‘low heights’ to which it appears to have fallen in its precipitous decline today.

The last elections – while thrashing it at the polls – gave it a severe warning about the path it should not follow. It was a shock therapy that would have awakened any other party from the path of oblivion it had been treading so far. There is a question. If voters were to again administer it a second similar shock therapy, will it be able to collect itself again and become the party that will again discuss national issues – such as the diminishing strength of our institutions, the havoc that price rises have been causing on the lowest earners, the state of disorder towards which we appear to be travelling, the impact of currency devaluation on poor people’s livelihoods, enhancing the country’s economic platform in the face of changing global realities, briefly, making politics the noble art it once was? About issues of national concern with a capital I, not the fate of individuals.

  • Published in print edition on 23 October 2015

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