Shifting Sands

There is a general agreement that Pravind Jugnauth’s budget presentation marked a turning point. It represented a salutary break from the previous chaotic management of public affairs. Whether the measures announced in the budget will take concrete shape and re-energize the economy remains to be seen. For this, the Minister will need an exemplary solidarity from his team who should see beyond the present term of the government.

The question has been whether different members of the Cabinet have been acting in concert with a view to consolidating the perception of the government as one which means business and will deliver flawlessly. This is not the general impression.

The perception has been created that the government members do not see themselves earnestly joined together by a common, irreproachable and enduring agenda of development. The opposition and some papers have lost no time to weaken the government’s perception of itself as one riddled by scandals.

They have kept portraying the government not as one bloc; they have projected it as one made up of more or less distinct non-performing ministers and acolytes. This is usually the image projected of governments of which the MMM is not part. The aim is to write it off or undermine its self-confidence to a point of making it ineffective in the delivery of results. This is not to deny that certain immature members of the government have collaborated to this purpose: they have displayed all the bad qualities it needs for this part of the media to project the government in such an unflattering posture.

At this stage, the government appears to have collected itself, brushing aside some of its most non-performing and rowdy elements. There is therefore a chance that it may still make it without the need for stilts from outside. The task is tremendous.

First, there is the need to get over all the handicaps the government has cast upon itself, caught in the hubris of power. Second, it is not evident that even if it did its utmost to overhaul the economy, the prevailing sombre external environment will kindly help it to launch itself credibly as a performing government. It has no choice but to take up the challenge.

Were the members of the government to regain their composure and catch up with the hopes they had created in the public in December 2014, there is a chance that the alliance the government is made up of will resist break-up. If so, it would forge ahead as a united team once again and do its duties instead of losing its way into irrelevancies and conflicts of personality.

On the political chessboard, however, Labour and the MMM, as they stand at present, will, in such a case, find themselves ever more isolated from voters. This kind of situation will crystallize the more the present government delivers on its mandate. The question is: will it? Or, instead, will it lose its way, apprehensive of what the next polls may be keeping in store for it?

Given the nature of the political risk, the MMM appears to be back at its classic game – to make new alliances and to break old ones. It is no doubt being helped by the unflattering image projected of government members acting their separate parts so badly at times, out of sync with the aspirations of the people. The PMSD – which the MMM cannot see itself teaming together with – is sought to be alienated from the government alliance to make the MSM rapprochement with the MMM possible. The press is helping.

The leader of the MMM has appeared to approve of Pravind Jugnauth’s budget, keeping in reserve however points that may be hurled against the government were the MSM not to allow itself to be persuaded into another alliance with the MMM. He has even suggested that the economy’s turnaround can be achieved only with “an imaginative, realistic, disciplined and hard-working team under the ‘required leadership’ ”.

There is no doubt that rather than providing helpful comments to the new Minister of Finance – who is also the leader of the majority party in government, the MSM – the MMM leader is launching an open invitation to re-invent the government. He has made reference to the way things were being done in the 2000-05 MMM-MSM government, involving sharing of prime ministership between the two parties.

It looks like it is out of the question for the moment that the leader of the MMM should contemplate another catastrophic alliance with Labour, after what happened in 2014. For the MMM, the MSM is the alternative, and not necessarily for altruistic reasons. If such an alliance does not materialize, the MMM is even considering, so he says, going it alone.

On its part, the MSM may not have only the MMM to join forces with – under fresh re-configuration — in a bid to deliver convincing results. It is for the MSM to consider the MMM’s covert offer of alliance by spurning those who joined forces with it – a splinter group from the MMM, the ML, and the PMSD, which had to be ejected from the previous Labour government to accommodate Labour’s new alliance with the MMM.

If politics is merely a power game, political leaders will be swayed by considerations of holding on to power or the constant fear of losing it. But if politics is more an instrument to serve the interests of the nation, there are games which need not be played over and over again.

It might help Pravind Jugnauth think out whether it was a conspiracy that made him lose his personal election in No 11 by a thin margin when he was fielded as candidate under the MMM-MSM alliance of 2005. There is no sticking point of sincerity and loyalty when politics is employed as a sheer instrument to gain and retain power and to set aside potential rivals for power. Was it he himself who was targeted by the MMM during the Labour-MSM alliance government of 2010 with the MedPoint “scandale du siècle”? Did this outrage seek to eject the head of the MSM from the government and hence to provide for alternative political accommodation?

No one will deny that, given the nature of the challenges facing the country on the economic front, the time has come to embrace a deeper management of the economics chapter. Also, a competent, strong and well-focussed political team delivering results in all compartments should help steer away from having to face the path of permanent obstruction to progress, no doubt. But of what avail is it to allow oneself to be ensnared into an unending tale of shifting sands with the risk of sinking in it eventually?

M.K.

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