By Krishna Das
The President should protect and uphold the Constitution but he must be mindful of his constitutional obligation to act according to the advice of the Cabinet
The new President of the Republic has stated that he will be a “Président engagé”. That may be diversely interpreted. The former President, Sir Anerood Jugnauth (SAJ) perverted the office of the presidency when, following the arrest of his son on an alleged charge of corruption, he started to openly criticize ICAC and the government. He started to meet the Leader of the Opposition and other Opposition members on the pretext that he was reviewing the social situation of the country as well as the economy. We know now that it was the alliance between the MMM and the MSM that was being finalized in the hope of toppling the government within days of the resignation of SAJ from Le Réduit.
There is no doubt that Kailash Purryag as the current President will not go that way. Our government is modeled on the Westminster model where the Queen does not dabble openly in politics but discusses matters of public importance with her Prime Minister or makes careful apolitical statements on such matters. The President in Mauritius only replaced the Governor General who acted exactly as the British Monarch would. No more powers were conferred on the President so that he has to tread carefully when it comes to politically sensitive matters. Such matters are and must be discussed privately with the Prime Minister who should keep the President informed of matters relating to the general conduct of the government of Mauritius and provide him with all information as he may request with respect to any particular matter relating to the government of Mauritius as is required by the Constitution of the country.
Under our Westminster pattern of government, the President must be above politics. But that does not mean that the President cannot express his views on matters of public and national interest. He is perfectly entitled to talk on such matters but he cannot, as SAJ was doing, attack institutions and the policies of the government of the day. There is no doubt that a President may feel very tempted to voice openly these criticisms but a wise President mindful of the Constitution would not cross that line and would rather, as he is enjoined by the Constitution, discuss matters that he would be critical of, with the Prime Minister. And in fact right through his interview in Le Mauricien on 9 September 2012 the President has not deprived himself of the opportunity of commenting on a number of issues facing the country in a very subtle manner, an attitude that befits his office and status.
The President made bold to say that he was not chosen on account of his ethnicity or caste and emphasized that ethnic considerations exist more in the minds of people than in reality. He dwelt on how in spite of all odds we have managed and struggled to keep the population united bearing in mind our diversity and cultural differences and how we succeeded to involve all stakeholders in the transformation of the socio-economic paradigm of the country, with the participation of civil society and the private sector without sidelining any section of the population. On the economy he did not hesitate to state that there should not be a concentration of wealth in the hands of a minority and that faced with the international economic crisis we need to further democratize the economy to encourage and sustain social and economic development.
On two sensitive issues where the press is always lashing at the government, namely the police and socio-cultural organisations, the President was very careful on his views. He stated that Mauritius is committed to the Rule of Law where the rights of individuals and associations are guaranteed and that it is not permissible to prohibit a socio cultural organisation to function so long as it does so within the legal parameters. On the police the President stated that it is normal in a society like ours (where the media over flourish) that many matters are printed, reported and discussed. He added however that when the crime rate goes down in a particular area the press does not report it.
The President spoke lengthily on the indiscipline in schools and referred to incidents where parents have gone to some schools to assault teachers. He reiterated the important fact that parents are forgetting many well entrenched values and are surrendering their responsibility to technology. Education is one of the fields where the President is ready to engage himself actively. He spoke of the rate of failure at the end of the primary cycle and the role that parents should play in the monitoring of the studies and education of their children. Parents cannot simply pass the buck to teachers. They should also assume the burden.
This interview of the President has given us an insight of his approach to issues facing us, the manner in which he intends to go about his functions. The way in which he approached the different problems on which he was questioned is indicative that we have a President who, while being engaged in public debate, on a number of issues will do so in the scrupulous respect of the Constitution. It is salutary and it highly commendable on the part of President Kailash Purryag to have stated publicly in the interview in Le Mauricien that the first duty of the President is to uphold the Constitution, the rights of all Mauritians and national unity and that he is the President of all Mauritians.
Though he has been a member of the Labour Party for years and though he will not renege his Labour past, Kailash Purryag is the President of all Mauritians. The President should protect and uphold the Constitution but he must be mindful of his constitutional obligation to act according to the advice of the Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister.
* Published in print edition on 5 October 2012