Getting out of the Classic Political Trap

Election after election, voters have seen their choice of their representatives in Parliament narrowed down. To the point, the numbers of those abstaining altogether from voting – due to the absence of credible alternatives and other reasons — increased significantly to around 40% in the elections of 2014.

It is the usual game. The two principal political parties of the country – Labour and MMM – make ever new alliances with the smaller outfits (MSM and PMSD), narrowing down their range of choice. You have to play the game with them in their ever changing clubbing of alliances. Once voted to power, they play by the same abrasive “rules” by which they played the last time they were in power, if not worse.

Although a couple of independent candidates did secure a large number of votes – but not enough to get elected – in the last general elections in some constituencies, this was not a common trend reflecting rejection across the board of classic political parties, or the alliances they had managed to concoct. The view is held that the electoral characteristics of the country and the electoral system itself can do little to free the country of the stranglehold in which voters are held by the principal political parties through changing incarnations.

We have seen parties in opposition composing with parties in power before the elections, in a bid to be in power in a new alliance the next time round. Yet, in a system which keeps sending abusers to power, one was in need of a strong adamant and determined opposition to exercise the necessary checks and balances which a democratic system necessarily calls for. What is the point if the incumbent opposition fires a few shots against prevailing abuse during the first part of the term of a government, only to fall back in line, come election time, in yet another alliance with the erstwhile decried abusers?

For all practical purposes, we have a perversion of democracy under such a system. That is why there are plenty of public recriminations against the abuse of power by parties having been in power, in alliances or otherwise. This explains the frequent alternation of political power from one alliance to another, people having been fed up with the perversions practised by the ejected coalition.

One would have expected that such a sorry state of affairs would have caused enough irritation among voters against all the past and present incumbents of power and brought up some fresh party to look after the affairs of the nation. But no, on the contrary, the same old chaps are brought back under new combinations and permutations. Political parties which have ideas on better governance remain there – in the domain of ideas, no more. Thus, the stale air of the past tends to become more stale with each election.

A prisoner of its electoral characteristics and its electoral system, the best Mauritius could have done was to have enough solid alternative safeguards to hold down, before it is too late, abusive exercise of power by politicians in place. That would have involved a Freedom of Information Act and its de facto application in practice to stop politicians making abuse of power. It would also have required public institutions uncompromisingly denouncing political abuse before the harm is done – without exposing to harm objective implementers in the public institutions of action against such abuse.

Society would be witnessing the denunciations, to be able to take radical enough decisions the next time round in order not to bring the abusers to power again or to write them off for good. Political interference has unfortunately undermined the good working of many of our institutions. Certain social organisations have condoned or wilfully turned a blind eye on abuses being perpetrated by politicians due to private advantages secured by their more influential members.

Having travelled so far down in past decades, can we still redeem ourselves from the self-perpetuating political trap we are thrust into? That would be possible if thinkers, opinion-makers and true patriots, irrespective of their private interests, openly and objectively condemned abusive political decisions (irrespective of private interests needing to be protected or free masonry of the sort) and got bad decisions reversed before irreversible damage is politically wrought upon society as a whole.

The media – including social media in particular – which is in principle free to defend the public interest can engage in this much needed social sanitization project. Thus, the public good would be prioritized come what may. The past has shown however that, even here, influence is peddled so as to benefit specific private interests at public cost. Currency devaluations are praised; low interest rates approved of as it suits circumstances; business rivals destroyed and certain political parties preferred over others. Partisan denunciation – as it suits the convenience of those the media groups adhere to – takes place to prevent governments from hurting specific private interests. The powerful communication tool which would have started remedying the poor state of affairs in public life is therefore blunted for the sake of private lobbying.

Surely, it would have helped to know with precision whether the sound construction of roads and reservoirs was objectively minutely scientifically considered before the contracts were allocated? By whom? Where is the endorsement certificate? It is only such investigation that would enable to see clearly whether the flaws later identified were within the scope of human error or deliberate due to other considerations. Surely, it would have helped to have examined the consequences of dismantling the BAI group the way it was done and whether an alternative least damaging route was available to remedy shortcomings but actually discarded due to immediate political imperatives?

So long we continue supporting incestuous business and other private relationships in the name of obscure political financing, abstracting from overarching national priorities, we will keep running an architecture in which the country will remain a loser in the hands of classic political parties and narrow private interests. The million – sorry we should have said trillion in present times – dollar question is whether we are capable of effectively turning our back on the vindictive type of self-perpetuating politics which has prevailed and kept thwarting the prospects of the country. The alternative is to keep doing the same things as in the past and hope to get better results. For this, Albert Einstein had a particularly scathing remark: “Only an idiot will do the same thing over and over again and expect to get different results each time.”

M.K.

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