Is there a case for an alternative government?


Any electoral alliance for an alternative government cannot disregard the changing mood and aspirations of the people who ultimately decide which government will take charge of their destiny

By Dharam Gokhool

For a few weeks and a couple of months, the three main opposition parties have taken the initiative to forge an electoral alliance and present an alternative government to the population. There is also the possibility that the Reform Party of Roshi Bhadain could be roped in. Is there a case for an alternative government and could an enlarged electoral alliance be a credible game changer?

Popularity, public discontent and provocation

Hardly has a year gone by since the MSM acceded to power, with a comfortable parliamentary majority, than we are already in the presence of a concerted move by the main opposition parties to forge an electoral alliance with a view to ousting a government, whose popularity rating has taken a downward trend. The BLD protest movement led by Bruneau Laurette on 29th August 2020, supported by a broad spectrum of civil society in the wake of the mishandling of the MV Wakashio shipwreck as well as a string of high-profile corruption cases like the St Louis Gate, has provided additional impetus to the growing public discontent against the present Government.

If we were to exclude a few positive measures, like the doubling of the universal old-age pension, the minimum wage, the negative income tax and a few costly, prestigious infrastructural projects, without much scope for being financially and economically viable in the absence of sustained public subsidies, the Government’s track record, so far, is a huge disappointment. Covid-19 has further complicated matters for the Government with the slowdown of the economy and its adverse impact on the purchasing power of the households, in particular of the poor and the middle classes.

Not only a disappointment, but an outright provocation with a cocktail of reprehensible practices to which the general public is particularly allergic, namely blatant nepotism and favouritism, numerous alleged cases of corruption, repressive legislation to silence critics, abuse of the MBC-TV as a political platform, perversion of the democratic process in the National Assembly and the prevention of the Opposition from exercising its watchdog functions, an unprecedented political interference in all public institutions, an inability to stop drug proliferation reaching school premises and children as young as aged 6-9, persistent unemployment/ underemployment among the youth and women, and a shameful wastage of public funds as brought out in the last National Audit Office report… and this list is not exhaustive.

Victory by default and political opportunism

General elections were held in November 2019 and after nearly a year, the MSM-led Government has been running the country with a comfortable parliamentary majority. Thanks to an electoral system based on the First Past the Post formula and, a three-cornered fight, whereby the MSM bagged 37% of votes polled. Some 20% of the registered voters abstained from voting either the MSM or the opposition parties. If the score of the MSM were to be computed on the basis of the total number of registered voters, the % in favour of the MSM would be around 28%. Some political analysts have even gone so far as to suggest that it is a case of people voting against the Opposition and not for the MSM.

Any right-thinking government, with such a low poll out-turn in its favour, should have acted responsibly in order to avoid public criticism and alienation. It’s true that the Government, on paper, has some four more years to go on their present mandate but as Prime Minister Wilson of the UK had rightly said in the 1960s: “A week is a long time in politics”. These words seem to be quite relevant today as the political landscape can change drastically in a short span of time, especially with a government which may command the majority in parliament but which lacks popular support.

In a Westminster system of government, the parliamentary opposition can legitimately claim to represent an alternative to the government and given the adverse circumstances of those in power, it is quite legitimate that the opposition crafts its strategy for an alternative government. Since such a move can pose a threat to the government, it is also logical and legitimate that it will be vigorously countered and discredited.

Already the first shots have been fired by a few spokespersons from the Government ranks. To Minister Ganoo, the Opposition’s electoral alliance will be a blatant case of political opportunism and is bound to be torn apart due to the conflictual nature of the personalities involved. It is no coincidence that Minister Ganoo, who has some recently proven expertise in matters of political opportunism, should be in the frontline to nag the Opposition…

Collaborative process, electoral alliance and alternative Government

But the idea of an electoral alliance of opposition parties did not surface out of the blue. The three components of the Opposition in the National Assembly – Labour, MMM and PMSD – were already engaged in a collaborative process in Parliament. The feel-good factor that people expected was not au rendez-vous.

The overall mismanagement of numerous sectors (the most glaring being the inclusion of Mauritius in the EU blacklist), issues and dossiers of public interest and the unprecedented opacity surrounding major decisions involving institutions with no accountability to the National Assembly, for example the MIC (Mauritius Investment Corporation with a portfolio of some 80 billion rupees of public money), the deteriorating social climate, fuelled by unbridled hate campaigns in social media, being seemingly handled in a discriminatorily selective manner, and ICAC’s proverbial lethargy to track corrupt cases involving cronies of the powerful, amongst others, have created a fertile ground for the public to distance itself from the government of the day. In such circumstances, is it expected that the Opposition should sit still and twist their fingers for the next four years?

The idea of an electoral alliance forged by the Opposition is not only the next stage in the collaborative process already engaged by the opposition parties within the National Assembly but it is also a response to the erosion of public support towards the Government. That the Opposition combines its energy to forge an electoral alliance in such circumstances does not debar in any way any other political pretenders, to take their own initiatives either against or in favour of the present Government.

While the idea of an electoral alliance by the Opposition has been mooted, the bigger challenge for the protagonists will revolve around the answers they will have to provide in respect of a number of expectations, concerns and apprehensions that various sections of the Mauritian society hold in their minds and hearts as far as the future of the Republic is concerned. Invariably, the initiators of the idea of an electoral alliance will have to come forward and provide clear, convincing and coherent responses to the following set of public concerns:

  • Alternative government for what and why?
  • Alternative government for whom and by whom?

And, of course, to complete the triad on any political agenda:

  • Alternative government for how long?

Any electoral alliance for an alternative government, be it of the Opposition or of the Government, cannot disregard the changing mood and aspirations of the people who ultimately decide which government will take charge of their destiny. If the Opposition can put people’s interests first, there is no reason why an electoral alliance cannot be forged for an eventual alternative government.

* Published in print edition on 23 October 2020

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