When the MSM recently left the government, the issue of the next political alliance came suddenly on the top of the political agenda. Speculation was rife as to who would join hands with whom. One should not fool oneself to think otherwise than that behind the sudden imperative of the MMM and Labour to discuss about electoral reform, there was not in fact a hidden agenda for political alliance. A concurrence of views on the subject of electoral reform would have led to mutual support of the project at voting time. This would surely not have ended the bargain being sought between the two parties. The fragilized government majority after the MSM’s departure dictated that the government side should take out an insurance policy against the risk posed at the moment. This would have appeased rumblings surfacing up within its rank and file. The MMM appeared willing to caution against the risk if in the bargain, it got for itself and its followers a fool proof electoral reform that would put it in a sufficient position of strength so that in future it would not need anybody’s support if it decided to go it alone for the elections from a better position of strength than what has been its fate at the polls so far. In the meantime, Professor Carcassonne and his two assessors were brought in with a timetable to deliver the results before the close of December this year. This clock is still ticking.
Paul Bérenger did not appear to be convinced. This stated lack of conviction on his part has therefore helped to keep the question of political alliance open. He is keeping his options open but he has not committed himself to any such alliance. He appears to prefer waiting to see whether the deliverables of Prof Carcassonne and others will satisfy him eventually. For all practical purposes, he has kept himself and the MMM on the touch line as far as any alliance project with Labour is concerned. He may not, after all, need an alliance if the prospect of a favourable outturn were to materialize for the MMM from a three-cornered fight in the light of the recommendations of Prof Carcassonne et al. It is not quite certain that the government will deliver the MMM such an outcome on a silver platter to its own detriment. Consequently, Paul Bérenger has reserved his position and the game is still on.
On the other hand, if there were no material difference in the electoral reform recommendations from the system which prevails currently, the MMM would like to keep for itself the option of being able to choose between Labour and the MSM for its future alliance. All things remaining the same as far as possible election outcomes are concerned, the MMM knows that it will hit against the same obstacle as happened for the 2010 elections if it is not backed in the elections by a coherent enough party rather than single individuals with specific warlord qualities in particular segments of the population. This experiment failed in 2010. Water is still flowing under the bridge and things may well change for it after the Labour-MSM split of 2011. So, the past experience at the polls need not repeat itself. Nothing is certain however on this count. It is therefore keeping its MSM option alive.
A week and a half ago, Paul Bérenger had a meeting with the President of the Republic because he apparently wanted to raise the law and order situation in Mauritius with him. Shortly after this meeting, the President came out with a public condemnation of ICAC which was proceeding on that day with the arrest of his son, Pravind Jugnauth, on a charge of being involved in a situation of conflict of interest in the MedPoint transaction as Minister of Finance. The President also intimated to a questioner that should it be necessary for him to resign his position “in the national interest”, he would do so. He was clearly transgressing the duty of reserve imposed on him by virtue of his tenure of office as President when calling to question the impartiality of an institution of the country. Once again, this sortie by the President in the footsteps of his meeting with Paul Bérenger started being interpreted as signifying a rapprochement between the MSM and the MMM.
This was probably what Paul Bérenger had targeted to be the outcome from that meeting. Was he sending a signal to the Labour leader about his future program of political alliance were the latter not to meet him where he was expecting him? Was he declaring openly that he had options other than Labour even if the current electoral system were to remain in place? Maybe. This is because, rightly or wrongly, SAJ is still seen to be influential about the future course of action that the MSM might take. In any event, Pravind Jugnauth has declared after the MMM leader’s change of attitude as to where the blame might really lie for the MedPoint affair, having come closer to the MMM leader after their acrimonious separation in the wake of his personal defeat in the election of 2005. Another door for an alternative alliance has thus opened up for the MMM. Paul Bérenger is no doubt also keeping his options open in this regard as well until the final conclusions on the MedPoint affair are on the table, clearly establishing who has to be blamed for all this mess.
From a Labour angle, internal squabbles about ministerial positions appear to have been dealt with. Two defections from the ranks of the MSM have comforted the slim majority of the government. The party would have been more confident if it had secured a block of guaranteed votes from the MMM had the latter tacitly indicated such support to be forthcoming. This is not so for the moment. The government can however still carry on with its business despite its slimmer majority than what obtained before the split. Moreover, it is betting on the fact that general elections are in theory far off and that the risk of it being destabilised are more remote than at first appeared. Anticipated elections may also not be necessary unless that were to improve its chances to return to power with a standalone stronger majority. It hopes to build up enough goodwill in the meantime before facing voters once again even if there were no alliance with another political party for the next polls.
When all is told, it is clear that while plans have been laid down for alternative alliances, nothing concrete has shaped up on any one of the three fronts. All the flurry of expectations about forthcoming alliances appears to have died down for the moment. Individual parties are now well experienced with the fact that they risk being phagocyted, at least partly, by the party in power in case they join in an alliance and that alliance were to break down in mid-course; so, they are ultra-careful not to commit themselves to any expeditious alliance. The MMM in particular is taking time to get the full support of its backers were it to form an alliance with one or other of the two major options in front of it. It is all a game of which the chief arbiter is the electoral system. It is also a game in which the bride-to-be is being careful not to let the passage of time wither her beauty away and fade her complexion to the point of not being desirable for an eventual alliance. Voters are watching from a distance the limited options that will eventually be placed in front of them to get into the ritual of selecting the winner from the loser.
* Published in print edition on 7 October 2011