Political power has been returned back to the people who can now exercise their sovereign choice to elect the government and MPs they want
By Mrinal Roy
Finally, after uncalled for shenanigans unbecoming of a true democracy, the date of the general elections has been announced for 7 November 2019. General elections are a potent harbinger of hope for the people especially as they are to be held at a critical juncture when the country above all needs a well-qualified and competent new team to lead and steer the country on a pathway of robust growth, inclusive development and prosperity. The vote of the people must therefore be guided by the quality, credentials, collective intellect and ability of the candidates of various parties contesting the general elections to chart and implement innovative strategies to counter sluggish growth, deteriorating economic fundamentals and surmount the many daunting challenges faced by the country.
Political power has been returned back to the people who can now exercise their sovereign choice to elect the government and MPs they want to entrust the future of the country to. The time is therefore ripe for a game-changing political Big Bang.
Never before in the chequered history of the country since independence will the people’s choice be so momentous. Our democracy is in bad shape. Everyone knows what its intrinsic failings are. The political scene has for decades been monopolized by the same political leaders and parties despite being repeatedly defeated at the polls. They seem to be patently out of their depths to grapple with the challenges faced by the country and re-engineer the thrust of its development in a liberalized international marketplace.
Culture of poor governance
Poor governance, nepotism and the hegemony of government over key institutions of the State through a cohort of political appointees have rooted ineptitude, spawned scandals and costly botched decisions. Omnipotent leaders, in most cases dynasts, maintain a firm grip on the leadership of the main political parties with the support of a cohort of staunch apparatchiks, despite repeated defeats at the polls. All the main political parties seem to follow a similar template instead of being bedrocks of democracy in the country. The abject daily misuse of national TV by the government during its tenure for partisan propaganda at public expense has riled the multitude and will certainly trigger a scathing backlash from voters determined to put an end to this decried malpractice.
The relentless pursuit of power by all means has long supplanted the lofty ideals, standard of ethics and commitment of the political leaders who fought for the fundamental rights of the people, freedom and a better socio economic order, prior to independence. True to form, the main political parties have ahead of the forthcoming general elections contracted for the umpteenth time new permutations of alliances with other political parties or splinter parties born out of dissent or defection from opposition parties.
The battle lines for the general elections are already drawn. Thus, the MSM in a desperate bid to broaden its voter reach has cobbled an alliance with a hotchpotch of dissenters and defectors from three opposition parties. The narrative justifying these alliances is quite flabbergasting. A new musical chair of alliances has led the Labour Party to again team up with the PMSD and another splinter group from an opposition party. The MMM is determined to fight the elections on its own presumably harbouring hopes that a no holds barred clan war between the MSM-ML combine and the Labour Party-PMSD alliance will open its way to power or will, as is the case in Israel, place it in a position of king maker to barter its support. The MMM could however be considerably sidelined at the polls.
It is also quite telling that the main political parties of the country have been unable, 51 years after independence, to forge a national identity and electoral footprint. The tell-tale political alliances cobbled by the main political parties on the eve of general elections to prop their electoral chances is an indictment of the political leadership and the political system prevailing for too long in the country. There is more than ever before a need for truly national parties whose discourse is ideological, people centric, rassembleur and anchored on a unity of purpose and a projet de société which rallies the multitude. More than ever before, there is no place for parties which pander to the narrow interests of clans or other sectarian lobbies which divide rather than unite the nation.
The upshot of these alliances is that the people will once again be asked to choose and vote yet again for basically the same political leaders and the same cohort of front bench apparatchiks likely to occupy the key posts of an eventual government. The people already know who they are not going to vote for. The choice of who to vote for remains a major question mark.
The stakes for the main political leaders and parties are high. For the leader of the MSM, it is a test of legitimacy and a key plebiscite of his claim to be Prime Minister after being nominated to the post. The verdict of the polls will settle this issue. For the leader of the Labour Party, it is the hope of catharsis from the trials and tribulations of the past near five years. For the MMM, the outcome of the elections will determine its future. For all the leaders of the main parties and the parties, defeat at the polls will be disastrous.
In the absence of a law on the financing of political parties, occult financing will obviously have a field day. The enormous scale of such financing can only be inferred in the light of press reports that tens of millions of Rupees have in the past been paid to the three main political parties by only one corporate entity.
The unfairness of the disproportionate size of the 21 constituencies has once again been exposed by the official figures of voters per constituency. Thus, the ratio of the number of electors in the largest constituency – 65,115 (Pamplemousses and Triolet) and the smallest – 21,943 (Port Louis Maritime and Port Louis East) is nearly 3:1 Barring Rodrigues, there are 12 constituencies where the number of electors is below the theoretical average of 45,566 electors in the 20 constituencies of mainland Mauritius. Is it not high time to have single-member constituencies with approximately the same number of electors?
What the country needs
Let it be clearly stated. Are we as a nation to yet again have to choose among the same political leaders and politicians who have failed the country? Mauritius is at an important crossroads. More than ever before, we cannot, as a nation, make the wrong choice.
First and foremost, it is high time to cut loose from a political system subordinated to omnipotent political leaders and a mode of poor governance which has undermined the prospects of the country over decades.
It is equally time to assess political leaders and party candidates on the basis of their qualifications, credentials and track record in their field of activity before joining politics but also on their ideals, standard of ethics and commitment of service to the people.
Transparency, accountability, robust checks and balances and the unstinted safeguard of public interest must be the bedrock of good governance.
Politics cannot a haven for the dilettante and fat cat jobs for the coterie. The major democracies of the world have already established high benchmarks in terms of the quality, qualifications, intellect and credentials of politicians as well as the norms of political ethics and standards of propriety they have to abide by. We need to follow suit if we are to avoid slumping into a banana republic.
Day of reckoning
Mainstream Mauritius in its wide diversity is raring to support and assist a new breed of talented Mauritians having the qualifications, credentials, managerial acumen and innovative proposals to reboot and steer the country out of the doldrums of underperformance to realize our loftiest ambitions as a nation.
The good news is that there are green shoots of such Mauritians who are gearing to take up the challenge of proposing alternative choices to the people at the forthcoming general elections. They need to get their act together and make well thought out proposals and anchor their actions and policy framework on principles, values, and ideals which rally the multitude. The political history of the country is replete with so many instances when the electorate voted single-mindedly to drive and determine the outcome of general elections.
It is therefore time to change the crippling status quo. 7 November 2019 can be the day of reckoning. It is also time to take back the destiny and future of the country in our hands. Are we ready as a nation to be the catalyst and soldiers of such a salubrious change? Are we as a nation, given a game-changing choice, ready to trigger a political Big Bang for the benefit of people and country? The onus and choice is squarely ours.
* Published in print edition on 14 October 0219