Existential Crisis

It is not a reform but a true revolution within the parties that is required for them to wake up to the realities that have changed down the years

Never before has a sitting member of the MMM been so critical and gone public to voice his criticisms of the functioning of the party, as Steven Obeegadoo has done in his interview to ‘Week-End’ newspaper last Sunday. The harsh comments coming from one who was at one time the Secretary General and right-hand man of the party leader, Paul Bérenger, follows upon what he has been consistently saying since quite some time in the columns of this paper itself and in other publications. To date no one has faulted him for pursuing a personal agenda and for being against the interests of the party. However, short of directly attacking Paul Bérenger’s stewardship of the MMM, Steven Obeegadoo has this time round not minced words to decry the sorry state in which the party finds itself today. It is a party in disarray in the wake of the No. 18 by-election, whose image is no longer credible, with the lack of trust between the electorate and the MMM suffering from outdated party structures, he stated.

Earlier critics of the ways of the MMM’s leadership had been pushed up against the wall, and their continued presence within the party establishment made untenable. After the departures of the Jeeroburkhans, Bizlall, Virahsawmy, Darga, Bhayat and so many others down the years, the latest had been that of the former deputy leader Alan Ganoo. He was made a scapegoat for the debacle of the MMM, in alliance with the Labour Party, at the December 2014 elections even as the two head priests who officiated over the crushing defeat of that same alliance are still around. Unlike the Labour Party however which appears to be coming back, the MMM has had to face another humiliating defeat at the No. 18 by-election, last December, which goes to confirm the party’s gradual loss of esteem amongst the electorate. From 42% in 2010, the fall has been constant: 28% at the 2015 municipal elections, and down to 17% in December 2017. In the absence of concrete measures to address a wide spectrum of issues, the MMM would not be able to reverse this trend; worse it runs the risk of disappearing from the political scene, stated Steven Obeegadoo in his interview.

The MMM will decide within the next two weeks how it will react to the criticisms of Steven Obeegadoo. It might choose to downplay the matter for fear of further alienating a cross-section of the electorate, whose feelings about the party would have been echoed by Obeegadoo. Or it might press on, no matter what, and seek a political solution to its present dilemma, reduced as it has been to a “parti d’appoint” as qualified by Jean Claude de l’Estrac in this paper in the wake of the No. 18 by-election. Whether it will seek to adopt a truly national and inclusive agenda, rather than the divisive politics it has been advocating through various political instruments down the years like PR, the promotion of sectional cultural centres, etc., which clearly sought to further balkanise the country’s vote banks, is for the MMM establishment to decide. These have clearly not worked, and in the process have been detrimental to the country’s interest and serenity.

More’s the pity because Berenger’s MMM was premised at its onset on a solid ideological base of egalitarianism and inclusiveness. Besides, for long he had retained much of his youthful drive and energy and he had a broad swathe of support across Mauritian society. With his reputation for hard work and his undeniable ease of access and links to the oligarchy, he could have endeavoured to bring the people together in the pursuit of a common agenda – ‘development for all and with all’. Instead, as the years rolled out the erosion of ideology was accompanied by a mode of divide and rule that smacked more of a colonial than a forward looking mind. Today’s MMM reflects this slide away from the grand ideals of yesteryear.

But there are lessons for other parties too, because the loss of trust and credibility between the traditional parties and their electorate has again been reflected in abstention at elections – as was the case in No. 18. This reality stands despite Arvind Boolell’s undeniable victory. As a result of this trust deficit, voters are left with little choice than to keep flitting from one party to the other, so that all parties end up being re-elected by default – for lack of credible alternatives.

Such alternatives are prevented from forming or emerging because of ‘party capture’ – akin to ‘state capture’ – by leaders of the traditional parties and their blind followers. They thus repel decent people who might have been interested to join politics but prefer to keep away when they see the ongoing machinations that repeat across existing parties.

It is not a reform but a true revolution within the parties that is required for them to wake up to the realities that have changed down the years, to be shaken up and churned so as to separate the wheat from the chaff, and send some obsolete ones among them to the stable where they can take well-deserved rest and chew the cud. And leave the field for others to carry on and alter the legacy as the circumstances demand.

 

* Published in print edition on 2 February 2018

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