behind the back of the People
Events took a disconcerting trend when the MMM leader who had established regular contacts with the leadership of the MSM in the context of denunciation of corruption, abruptly announced in answer to a question during his regular press briefing on Saturday last, that light years separated the MMM from the MSM. He stated that there were fundamental differences between his party and the MSM, notably on issues of democracy and national unity. This looked to all evidence as a break-up of the association so far between the two parties.
He was to all appearances dropping the MSM. But that was without counting on the MMM leader’s enormous capacity to do his customary roundabout twists and turns. In the immediately succeeding days, we were informed that the MMM and the MSM were meeting each other all the same as if the statement about fundamental differences had never been made by the MMM leader. Like a sheep, the MSM leader has taken this episode in “sans broncher”, as if nothing had happened.
One can count on this level of irrationality from the MMM leader to justify any one of his several recent political posturings. The other one of his blunders in this very context relates to his alternative quest for constitutional amendment in view of the so-called “electoral reform”, in a bid to form an alliance with Labour.
It is not difficult to agree that it would be highly unethical to change the provisions of the Constitution by taking away from the People powers that the Constitution has vested in them, the more so when this kind of device is resorted to without a clear mandate to such effect. The Constitution provides, inter alia, that when a government puts to vote in the Assembly an important Bill and that it fails to secure the majority to carry the Bill through, this is tantamount to a vote of no-confidence. Under the existing rules, a government which faces such a predicament has no option than to surrender the power back to the People. This is an acquired right of the Citizens and cannot be taken away as it suits the convenience of individual political parties.
This arrangement, whereby a government is deemed to have failed if it does not secure a simple majority to pass a Bill, obtains not only in the Westminster system. Many non-Commonwealth nations go by the same rule. It is less than one month past since the Italian Prime Minister managed to walk on the razor’s edge by surviving a Bill of no-confidence. After her government obtained an overwhelming vote in favour of a proposal to support the Euro last week, when the opposition voted together with the government in the Bundestag, the leader of the opposition warned Ms Merkel that this voting was exceptional and that she should not expect to be bailed out on another issue just the same the next time. This principle is sacrosanct and cannot be overruled by political parties agreeing among themselves to change the provisions of the Constitution.
We mentioned last week the various alternative political alliances the MMM has been seeking with all and sundry, convinced that it has been conferred the role of ‘king maker’ in the current political situation in Mauritius. It is persistently being rumoured that in its quest for an alliance with Labour, one of the conditions being laid down by the MMM is that the Constitution should be amended to provide that the Prime Minister cannot be removed from office except if the Members of the Assembly garner three-quarters of the votes of Members present. Not only would such an arrangement offend the current provision to the effect that a government can be removed by a simple majority on the equivalent of a vote of no-confidence, as it is generally the case in virtually all democracies, it is adding insult to injury by going in the direction of taking on this kind of a weird decision without any explicit popular mandate. As far as we can recall, neither the MMM nor any other party had suggested during the last electoral campaign that they would make the office of the Prime Minister an impregnable fortress, no matter what, except with a three-quarters majority of the House.
It is also being said in the same context that political alliance with the MMM would be forthcoming were the President to be vested with more powers than currently obtains. For example, it is he who would be called upon to chair Cabinet meetings without having to face election first. In other words, a President appointed by the majority of the elected Members of the Assembly would be having executive powers like those of Presidents directly elected by the people. Not even the Queen of England has such executive powers. This looks like a further aberration. These are apparently the ad hominem cocktail mix being peddled out in the name of the so-called ‘Second Republic’. We are not aware of any intimation of such an action having been given to the People by any one of the political parties engaged in the previous electoral campaign. So, what is at the root of such demands for acting behind the back of the People? Power. Power without accountability.
We are not nostalgic about politicians of the previous generation. We should however put it to their credit that, until all sorts of dubious horse-trading became commonplace in local politics, the men and women of the previous generation were guided by certain fundamental principles. They would not under any circumstances transgress them and their leadership reflected itself in this guise upon the followers. They would not employ some sort of legal triangulation to trespass bounds meant for the protection of society against any temptation of individual politicians to conspire against the public interest. It is true that things like political clientelism have helped to gradually take away the golden credentials of politics as a consummate art of the highest standards of good governance, that persons holding high offices have not hesitated to devalue the position which they occupy, that all manners of unbecoming alliances are possible and are taken for granted by unscrupulous members of the public.
However, politicians of all hues and colours have nevertheless demonstrated the fact time and often that it is from the People that they draw power and not by doing things behind the back of the People. Whenever governments have acted against their perceived mandates, as it happened in the case of the 2000-05 government, the People have thrown them out.
* Published in print edition on 14 October 2011