General elections: plus ça change…?

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

It was almost a foregone conclusion, as noted repeatedly by many observers of the local scene, that that there would be no by-election at No.7 following the resignation of one of its elected representatives, Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo. For various reasons that were analysed in fair detail, it was predicted that the country would go for a general election instead.

That’s now done, with the official announcement on Sunday last of the holding of the general election. This will take place on a week day: Thursday 7th November. Although primary schools will already have closed down for the holidays, the HSC and SC examinations will not yet be over, with some papers due on that day and the next. Prior to that the students will of course be in full revision mode. It is not unreasonable to assume that the brouhaha that will inevitably be part of the campaign folklore is likely to generate some disturbance, as a lot of nocturnal meetings will be held.

Already, many students and student representatives as well as teachers have expressed concern about this aspect of the preparation for the exams by the students. Further, not all of them are entirely reassured by the guarantees being given by the Mauritius Examinations Syndicate that all precautions will be taken to ensure the smooth running of the examinations, as well as that of the adequacy of transport arrangements so that students reach on time for their papers. Besides, it seems that provision will be made for students who arrive late.

Though hotlines have been given which students can contact – imagine the state of mind of any student in that situation, the panic that s/he will be in. Having been late once for my HSC examination – the chemistry paper – I know what I am talking about. But at least I did not have to wait at the bus stop, and with today’s l’enfer routier as I have had occasion to write about earlier, especially during peak traffic time, the mental plight of the students is sure going to be even worse and most likely this will affect their performance

But there are other consequences too, such as the fact that those eligible to vote among the students will not be able to do so. Has this fact been taken into consideration? Or perhaps they are deemed to be a negligible cohort compared to the larger constituency of senior citizens who have been thrown the bait of the increase of their pension by a significant amount. Enamoured as the latter are, they have little concern for what this increase will mean in terms of debt for the future generation – who are after all their own descendants. This is something to seriously think about, and we hope that they do.

On the other hand, we have seen so many times in the past of the bonnet blanc, blanc bonnet phenomenon that many of us become very cynical about the promises to turn things around, feeling that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! I am already hearing echoes of this all around me, from all age groups – but worryingly, even among young people. After all, they are the future, our future, and if we as adults cannot offer them hope for their legitimate aspirations, shouldn’t we feel some shame?

At this crucial time when we are collectively going to decide the course of the country for the coming years, this remark applies in particular to those who are poising themselves to assume that enormous public responsibility of representing the people. Because the latter cannot easily forget the excesses — beyond what would be considered adequate and normal requirements for a reasonable human being – in which their representatives have indulged in the preceding years.

It is true that one can cite numerous examples drawn from all over the world of displays of venality and ostentation by politicians of all hues, but when it comes to our own country with its limited resources this matter becomes even more concerning. Given our limited resources, which should in theory have compelled our politicians to be extremely cautious about handling them, what we have witnessed instead is that over these past years the number of those involved in pursuing and indulging in excesses that erode these resources has gone on increasing, to the extent of blackening even our highest symbol of State, the Presidency. There has been an insatiable appetite for appropriations and misappropriations well beyond the already generous salaries and perks of office, not forgetting those who in addition are the recipients of multiple pensions after serving more terms than one.

Hoping against hope, we must therefore pray that such temptation for excessive material accumulation that harms the country will somehow be curbed, and that those who are going to assume political office, whether they are freshers or veterans, will be guided by at least some fundamental human values as they prepare to serve the people. We would be fooling ourselves if we were to expect politicians not to indulge in some realpolitik, but at least they must realise that there are a lot of people out there, the masses who are struggling to make ends meet and have the normal human aspirations to fulfill – a proper education, a decent means of earning a living, affordable health care, a conducive physical and social environment in which to bring children up, some form of social protection to cover needs when one is in difficulty and when old age sets in, etc., without, however, compromising the future of the coming generation by trapping them in a debt spiral.

This is the enormous responsibility that awaits the country – to do what is right by the people by political leaders in whom they put their trust, almost blindly. The question is: will the leaders live up to it? Let them take the pledge vis-à-vis the electorate and solemnly promise to fulfill it – and go on to demonstrate that in the mandate they will be accorded.

* Published in print edition on 11 October 2019

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