A Fresh Wave of Political Horse-trading


Sunday last proved to be a hectic day on the political front. Early in the morning four new Ministers from the Labour-PMSD fold were sworn in at the State House to fill up the vacancies left over after the resignation the week before of all the MSM Ministers from Cabinet in protest against the “manner of proceeding” of ICAC. The Cabinet reshuffle which took place on the day previous led to the Ministry of Finance going to Xavier-Luc Duval, leader of the PMSD. New Ministers were appointed to take charge of Tourism, Social Security, Health, Commerce and Industry, including one, an MSM member who took up the Ministry of Cooperatives breaking apart from party line. Minister Anil Baichoo climbed up the ranks to become one of the three Vice Prime Ministers and No 4 of the government. Two posts of Ministers remain to be filled up after this reconstitution of the Cabinet. SAJ was stoic throughout the investiture ceremony of the Ministers.

This was followed by a press meeting around mid-day organized by the MSM to announce that it was resigning en masse from the government. In other words, a major component of the Alliance de l’Avenir was definitely moving out of the government. By 1 pm, the Prime Minister was meeting the Women’s wing of the Labour Party celebrating the 75th anniversary of the party, which was an occasion for him to give back serenity to Labour supporters in the wake of the various incidents that had marked political life in the two preceding weeks. One thing was clear: things were no longer the same after this break-up of the parties constituting the government, the more so as the MSM leader had enunciated during his press meet of the day a series of difficulties being encountered, according to him, in the smooth running of the affairs of government while his party was forming part of it.

After these incidents, the MMM which had been the focus of attention as to what its move would be in the context of the turbulence that had hit the government, started coming out of its silence. It may be recalled that it was the MMM’s action concerning the suspect MedPoint deal that had triggered the turmoil in the government. This party was stating that it had more ammunition in its bag, apart from the MedPoint deal, to fire the government at. It was also clear that the government was not enjoying the comfortable majority it was having when the MSM formed part of it. The hunt was on for alliances that might consolidate the government’s position after the MSM’s departure. The MMM looked like a potential ally in this direction to comfort the government’s fairly thin majority of 36 to 33. It was clear that the Prime Minister was being soft to the MMM in this context when he publicly claimed that the “MMM leader had a political culture”, meaning that this trait was not so evident on the side of the MSM.

They say that “all is fair in war and love”. While one may not morally endorse the lack of scruples that this saying is suggestive of, one may add ‘politics’ to ‘war’ and ‘love’ in the saying. It is normal for a government to operate with a comfortable majority and hence it is normal for it to engage in a game by which it could enlist additional support to carry out its program without let or hindrance. The alternative is to invite the population to greater instability in the event elections were suddenly called up to determine where exactly the majority voter opinion lies. The MMM is already claiming that, minus the MSM and plus the variance public opinion would have registered following the resignation of the MSM from the government, more than 50% of voters would currently be aligned to the side of the opposition. The MMM may be playing a game but it convened itself to a meeting yesterday with the MSM leader, apparently to discuss about electoral reform. People would read more than what is on the surface. The two parties are surely not going to bed together after this session of Koz-Kozé but they have to keep their following together and it is well known that it is more difficult to do it in a place like Mauritius where people tilt more easily to the seat of power. On the other hand, it can be surmised that the MMM leadership would in fact be on a mission to assess the extent to which it needs to position itself together with either the MSM or Labour or none of the two.

It is evident that even if the MMM and the MSM found common ground to agree upon to ensure that election results reflect more fairly the votes cast in favour of each political party, that would not be the end of the matter. Assuming that Labour came to an identical view with the two other major parties on what a fairer representation of voters’ intentions should give by way of membership of the National Assembly, this should not give grounds enough for them to get together and amend the Constitution outright. This kind of crucial decision capable of changing altogether the election results or giving to political parties greater discretion as to whom they might send to Parliament in their own wisdom and whom not, will first need to be endorsed by the population. In other places, important issues are put up for referendum to decide whether to go ahead or not.

This has just happened in the UK where voters have rejected the referendum motion for adopting the Lib-Dem proposed proportional representation and maintained, therefore, the First Past the Post system, which is what obtains in Mauritius currently. Political parties will need to get the people to first endorse their proposed change on the system of electoral representation they want to go for as expressed in their manifesto before they can attempt to gather the necessary majority to amend the Constitution to this effect. This means all the talk about comparing notes on the issue of proportional representation among the parties is irrelevant and looks strangely rather like a conspiracy on the back of voters.

Instead of all this sophistry, let each party state with which other party it wishes to go into alliance for the next elections. This would be more straightforward and less distracting from the country’s main goal. We cannot be subjected to serialised horse-trading and pretexts of the sort. What we are seeing actually is a game in which parties are positioning themselves for the next round of so-called negotiations and seeking to know preferences of the public by the same token before aligning themselves in one configuration or other. Part of the media has already shown where its sympathies do not lie. By elimination, one can guess what it favours. Now, all this looks strangely like the pursuit of private advantages, be it at the level of individuals or political parties.

We know this to be the case for having been in similar situations in the past and we know that the ensuing horse-trading has frequently led to unstable governments or to the adoption of radical policies to the detriment of the less fortunate citizens. It would be time perhaps to look at the bigger picture in which the country ceases to become a victim of dissensions among political parties. More than ever before, we are in need not of patched-up alliances, but of political parties having significant ideas that distinguish them clearly from each other and help the country meet a precarious global situation with some levers at least in its own hands. Anyone in sight? 

* Published in print edition on 12 August 2011

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