The Bad and The Less Bad

Choosing between

Politics hasn’t been exceedingly gratifying for voters. Not only have they had to overthrow governments by turn when they were unhappy with them. Over time, they have also been putting up with political representatives of diminishing calibre. National Assembly debates sometimes reach abysmal levels for lack of men and women of high culture.

This situation is reflected in the ever declining level of the national debate across all platforms – whether in Parliament or in the media. For example, so many gaffes were committed by the political class in the past two years that the changeover to a new Prime Minister has partly been viewed in public as the chance perhaps for something better and refreshing. It was becoming difficult to put up with the chest-thumping ministers, who were popularly known as the ‘serial gaffers’ in local parlance.

There is an assumption in the mind of certain politicians that they may overcome all such handicaps and gaffes in the end provided they deliver a good economic outcome. This is not borne out by facts: the outcome of the previous elections (e.g.1995, 2005) is here to prove the contrary. People consistently get fed up with poor performance of individual politicians and take the opportunity of the elections to square up with them. Behaviour that contravenes the norms of common decency is duly noted down for eventual corrective action. 2014 showed this.

While all this looks perfectly sound, the question that arises is about the long term consequences of a series of grievances held by voters against particular politicians’ abuses over a stretch of time and spanning over several elections. Many dismiss the issue in the belief that voters would not be having long term memories and are easily influenced by the latest drama staged up.

Is that borne out by the persistent anti-government (i.e., pro-opposition) support by a significant proportion of the population, election after election? Not at all. Those voters have pursued their original objective, just the same. Opposition politicians have tried everything they can to breach the fortress on the other side. There have been quite a few occasions when they almost made it to their sought-after objective.

It is in this vein that people have, for some time, been looking for credible new political leaders. Since there are not many to choose from, leaders like Xavier Duval and Arvind Boolell – who have a track record – have shot up in popular esteem, one of whom was in government at the time and the other in the opposition.

Older leaders hope that they can make one coalition or other so as to deal with the amount of gaffes they’ve personally accumulated over past decades. It’s a gamble that has usually paid off. But that didn’t happen for the leaders of the MSM and MMM in 2005, as well as those of the MMM and Labour in the 2014 elections. In the latter case, their parties’ electoral bases were deeply dissatisfied with them to the point of flatly rejecting their bid for power.

It has been some years since the erosion of base loyalty – helped by individual politicians’ misbehaviours — has been happening. The hope on the side of the opposition parties has been that this erosion should continue until the scales tilt over in their favour. They look forward to the tipping point of a stressed party loyalty that has so far alternately held Labour and the MSM in power. This changing tendency may be helped by increasing inroads made by social media on the minds of the younger generation, erasing old party loyalties of the previous generation.

Despite all its flaws, Mauritius’ electoral system has helped sustain political and social stability. We have avoided extremist groups influencing public policy decisions. The kind of lawlessness seen in some neighbouring countries has not plagued us. This goes to our credit. Mauritius is seen internationally as a stable political location. This has had favourable effects on our economic activities. Places like Egypt and Tunisia, despite having far more history than Mauritius, have ceased attracting the tourists they used to bring in due to the instability factor.

Leaders who put up the mostly clumsy of conduct once in power have caused a lot of alienation in their political power base. With unstopping scandals – fully and vehemently exploited by media that do not necessarily prize the stability factor – the previous government and the present one are consolidating the disaffection of their primary base against them. The base showed in 2014 that they do not care about the consequences of throwing abusers out of power.

Given this, would any reasonable government not collect itself, taking a stand in favour of future political stability? Unfortunately, the image is being projected by some individual members of the government – and being heavily broadcast by the more aggressive part of the media – that they’ll take undue private advantage so long they are in power. The future seems to be no concerns of theirs. The most inept practices and abuses are surfacing about their doings almost regularly. Mutual destruction is afoot for the sake of personal interests. The devaluation of the concerned political class is also thus continuing unabated.

So far, political bases have chosen between the bad and what appears to them to be relatively less bad – despite politicians in power going on aggravating the bad image of themselves they’ve been projecting. We may have reached a point where this dilemma may cease operating altogether because people are really fed up.

The tension is becoming increasingly palpable as voters see their range of choice increasingly narrowing down. Were this to continue unchecked, helped by the aggressive part of the media, the tipping point will be reached, perhaps at the next elections. We will then reach the station where it is said: “Tant va la cruche à l’eau qu’à la fin elle se casse” (so much goes the jug to the water that at the end it breaks). We have to ponder deeply whether this is what we want for the good of the nation.


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