The political plot has taken several colours under cover of the MedPoint affair. It will be recalled that this affair came out in public in January this year. It is still hogging the headlines with the difference that it has now veered from its main objective. It initially raised two principal questions.
The first of these related to the person who would have instigated a second valuation of the MedPoint hospital with the result that the government had to acquire it at almost double the value estimated for it barely a month or so earlier. The second question was whether the conclusion of the deal was deliberately accelerated for it to close before the end of December last in view of the fact that had the deal been concluded on or after January 1st 2011, it would have attracted capital gains tax amounting to some Rs 20 million. If so, the responsibility had to be established.
It was a purely money matter. It was surmised at first, including by the Leader of the Opposition who tabled the issue as a major scandal, that since the property which had seen its price inflated to this extent, belonged in the main to members of the Jugnauth family, the answer had to be sought in these quarters. Actually, the Leader of the Opposition targeted the MSM, then in government, for having acted vicariously to secure financial advantage to the owners of the private property.
Once the MSM decided to quit the ranks of the government on the assumption that the investigating body, ICAC, was wrong to place under arrest two MSM Ministers in the matter, the MMM leader changed tack. He decided that it was now a priority for him to sort out the agenda for “electoral reform”. This opened the door for him to negotiate alternately with the MSM and the Labour leaders, with a background risk that the MMM could ally itself to whichever party acceded better to its own political ambitions.
The MSM’s decision to split apart from government had weakened the Labour government’s majority. It was logical that Labour would seek to comfort its majority with the MMM’s support if that was available. The Labour leader had accordingly a few sessions with Paul Bérenger to discuss about “electoral reform”.
We do not know the outcome from these discussions so far. But the MMM leader has intimated in some of his recent public statements that there was no further discussion with Labour but that he was continuing to compare notes with the MSM leader, Pravind Jugnauth, better to coordinate opposition action in the National Assembly. As for the MSM itself, this party is conscious that it needs a political alliance with another party at all costs for its survival; it is therefore keen to form an alliance with the MMM as it may not be in a position to exercise a similar option with Labour.
This is where the political parties stand today. Each one is making sure that it should be in the right place the next time round so as to be in power. Thus, what began as a scandal surrounding money matters is likely to end up spinning off some political alliance or other between the major parties of the country. None of the protagonists has put down on the table as to what exactly will be the program it will defend for the betterment of the country were it to get into some political alliance or other to pursue such an agenda. Each one is centred rather upon political survival.
This also explains why the tug of war between Labour and the MSM is continuing in public with each one trying to persuade its audiences across the country that the other one would be corrupt. The net result is that the political base which voted both of them to power in 2010 is no longer united.
On paper, the present government which secured power in early May 2010 has a remaining mandate of 3½ years. There is no objective reason for it to get into alliance with another party. If it were to form an alliance with the MMM at this stage, however, the sole reason for this would be to comfort its majority and to avert any potential poaching away of its existing members. The MMM has, on its part, shown that its main objective was to secure changes in the electoral system to its advantage; those changes should put it into an unchallenged position of strength compared with what obtains currently.
These recent events show that the major concern of political parties is about securing power and to employ this power to protect interests that are close to each one of them. Not all such interests coincide with the interest of the public in terms of promoting a better social balance, creating as much employment as possible and distributing fairly the benefits of economic growth. This explains the current situation of “any-alliance-is-possible” being entertained by the two major political parties. Intrigues are going on, which should explain all the noise we hear even though it is not even mid-term for the government voted to power in May 2010.
The game of political alliances we are witnessing these days draws from the need to protect particular interests, given the electoral arithmetic that has remained the same for decades – notably, a predominantly ethnic voting pattern in which marginal swings sufficient to secure victory in elections are sought to be made by means of alliances. No one could have imagined or thought it reasonable to assume that what began as a serious question about misappropriation of public funds in the acquisition of a property by the State would have turned into a platform for negotiating political alliances.
In Mauritius, however, anything can be converted into political dividends. Voters need to be aware of this dimension.
* Published in print edition on 28 October 2011