The Monetary Coup d’Etat or the limits to the politics of the belly

By J.R

The plan to bring down the government of the day by a motion of censure is a normal practice in any liberal democracy. What is new is the present effort of the opposition parties to ‘buy’ two or three parliamentarians with a view to securing a majority for a vote of no-confidence. This will in effect amount to a coup d’Etat – a monetary coup d’Etat. 

If this stratagem were to succeed, it will usher in a new approach to regime change in the region and in Africa. It will prove that that our democratic system, despite its 125 years of existence or more, and the fact that we are the most democratic state in Africa, is vulnerable to the power of wealth. Henceforth, any billionaire can ‘fabricate’ any future government in Mauritius for we would have created a new race of politicians who come with price tags on their backs and are available in the political marketplace not only to our billionaires but also to any foreign power.

Since the 1960s we have been familiar with regime change engineered and imposed by the bayonet in the region and in many African countries. In fact coups have been a regular feature of African politics, and in most of the countries where coups have or have not been successful, it was the armed forces/foreign mercenaries which brought about regime change.

Only half a dozen or a few more African states have not experienced any coups during the last fifty years. The reasons advanced are many: the absence of an army, external military support to put down coups, skilful management of the civil-military relations, the legitimacy of institutions and constitutional approach which have favoured regime change through democratic means rather than by an army takeover.

In Mauritius, we do not have an army and most of those in command of the police force have neither the credibility nor the legitimacy to bring about regime change. This does not exclude the fact that one or two may have in the past toyed with the idea of taking over power at bayonet point but the most they could achieve, it is alleged, was to sabotage police action during disturbances.

A projected coup d’Etat in Mauritius, if it were successful, would diverge from African politics in one fundamental way. It would be carried out peacefully thanks to the power of money — not by the military. That will indeed be an innovation and confirm Mauritian exceptionalism. Anyone with corruption money will be able to dangle some shining coins before the eyes of our MLAs to defect to the opposition and topple the government of the day without going through elections.

Even those who had contemplated such a move had finally decided not to go ahead with their project, partly out of fear of the dangerous consequences which will follow but mostly because such politicians are yet to be found. The mere fact of having thought of such a plan reveals the type of sickly minds, which unfortunately continue to exist in our society. It is even more reprehensible when one learns that it was women who were first targeted and there was even discussions of buying the seat of sitting MLAs, preferably that of a woman and supposedly from a lower social group – reminiscent of the not too distant past when working women labourers were at the beck and call of the sirdars and the ‘colon’.

It is well known that some politicians very often think that money can buy them anything — a vote, an electoral seat, a government, an institution and anything in the political marketplace. We know that some people stand as candidates not to get elected or to serve the people but simply to get access to both local and international funding. However, we never knew that one can also try to buy one or two MLAs to change the government and indirectly confiscate the thousands of sacred votes of the electorate. Those who thought they could do it made a fatal error of judgement. They misjudged our democracy, our people and MLAs and the moral economy of our parliamentary system.

Our liberal democracy, albeit not a perfect one, has been a stunning success though it has still a number of weaknesses. Very often we can be very critical of our political system and be very cynical about the way it operates. On the whole whatever the many failings of our representatives, they have served us relatively well during the past century or so and remain the bulwark of our democratic system.

Why then should people who are thoroughly familiar with our institutional set-up and who have contributed significantly to enhance the democratic system themselves have decided at one moment that a monetary coup d’Etat was the speediest way to grab power? However the fact that they have been singing different tunes during the last few days would suggest that the coup d’Etat had been nipped in the bud. There is after all a limit to the politics of the belly.

* Published in print edition on 13 April 2012

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