Political Waltz and Overtures


Mauritians are probably amazed by the twists and turns being taken on the issue of potential political alliances. Why so many announcements of diverse alliances are being made but nothing concrete is happening on the ground? How come political parties which, only a year ago, posted themselves as the most bitter of adversaries of each other are yet willing to join hands?

When did those major differences between them get evened out and by what means? All these questions obviously have no answers.

It was sufficient for the MSM to break away from the ranks of the government three months ago to set the political cauldron of potential alliances boiling. Paul Bérenger, the MMM leader, has been hesitating to come out with a clear choice as to which suitor, between Labour and the MSM, he will finally stick out with. Like Navin Ramgoolam for the election of 2010, he has been playing the same game with these two potential allies as it happened then. It will be recalled that Navin Ramgoolam did all he could to keep the MMM and the MSM from coming together, holding out hopes to each one of them and to the MMM in particular till the last minute that he might get into an alliance with it. Paul Bérenger is now toying with Labour and the MSM in just the same manner.

He has let it be known that he has been meeting the President of the Republic, SAJ, who is the father of Pravind Jugnauth, the MSM leader, to share his concerns about the state of affairs in the country. SAJ has let it be known publicly in no uncertain terms subsequently his view that ICAC and other public institutions were mal-performing and that it was time to prevent the country slipping towards its own disaster. This kind of statement has given rise to the interpretation that the President would be preparing the ground for him to step down, join the political fray and lead a political alliance between the MMM and the MSM in a remake of the MMM-MSM alliance which won the elections of 2000.

The MMM’s possible alliances have thus become the favourite hobby-horse of public conversation. Clearly, the strategy of the MMM is to keep the MSM in reserve, should its on-going talks with Labour land into failure. Those talks verge on different alternative objectives the MMM is seeking to achieve. Its top preference would be to get something out of the forthcoming Carcassonne proposals for electoral reform so that the MMM could, on its own strength, face the electorate without having to seek an alliance with any political party whatsoever. This will be the case if the proposals contained a strong dose of proportional representation on the basis of votes cast in favour of individual political parties. Were this to be the case, the MMM would presumably combine its numerical strength in the National Assembly with that of Labour to better steer towards its preferred objective behind the on-going political gamble.  This, it hopes, should place the MMM into a sufficient position of strength for it to become the nucleus around which future governments would be formed.

Another objective contemplated on the side of the MMM is to obtain an acceptable formula for the sharing of power between Paul Bérenger and Navin Ramgoolam, short of, or even in addition to, coming out with a mutually acceptable formula on proportional representation. That will involve the positions of Prime Minister and President of the Republic which the two protagonists might be called upon to occupy as a way out of the current political imbroglio and in the shadow of a possible MMM-Labour alliance. Under such an arrangement, the MSM will be purely and simply jettisoned, whereas Paul Bérenger and Navin Ramgoolam would each be comforted with sufficient powers in their respective hands to run the affairs of the country in these two roles with one of them exercising checks and balances on the other. Were such a deal also based on a proposal that proportional representation would be applicable only to parties which secure not less than, say 10%, of the votes cast in an election, that might end the cautionary role that the MSM is allowed to play between the two major political parties as at present.

It is in view of such diverse possibilities for the MMM to achieve an outcome in its favour from out of the current political situation that there is no finalisation of all the discussions taking place among the major political protagonists at present. There is an element of deliberateness in this demarche. It is in the MMM’s interest to wait for outcomes favourable to it, at the risk of finding that patience has run out at one end or the other. The MMM is betting on the fact that the MSM would be distancing itself the more from Labour in days to come so that it would, in any case, have a potential ally at hand should its discussions with Labour fail. In such an event, it is also betting on the damage that incumbency of power inflicts on governing parties, let alone Labour’s separation from its previous partner in alliance, notably the MSM, which currently finds itself bitterly opposed to Labour.  

People should therefore expect many different outcomes from the prevailing situation. Politicians know that all they have do is to convince voters that it is they who are going to win at the polls. This is usually enough to shift sufficient number of marginal voters to vote for the alliance that is seen to be winning in the elections. Those uncanny people who are determining in the change of the majority from one side to the other do not care about noble things like voting for disinterested and capable politicians able to steer the ship of the state with efficiency. Shifting voters of the sort only pursue their private interests and want to be well aligned in order to walk away with the spoils of victory eventually.

Many claim that Mauritian voters are lethargic enough not to put into question the assumptions that political leaders already have about voters’ classic behaviour. That they will follow like a flock of sheep no matter what their leaders have packaged up for them. In contrast, we have been having examples from several other countries, whose voters had been bowing to dictators for several decades, in which voters have revolted against the assumption of their sheepishness by those political leaders. Many of the so-called sheep have and are still facing bullets if only to turn over to a new page. There are no such rumblings in Mauritius so far. There is always the risk that social networks may rouse voters from their deep slumber and upset all the political calculation that has been going on their back about their legendary passivity into accepting whatever politicians come up with at the end of the day. The signs are few and far between for the moment for an overhaul of political conscientiousness in Mauritius and it is most likely classical politics will carry the day once again. Politicians will then be back to their game of compromising and third-best solutions for the country.

* Published in print edition on 25 November 2011

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