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Why the Labour Party should be wary of overconfidence?

 

After almost four and a half years in power the Mauritius Labour Party and its allies of the Social Alliance have quite a bright political scorecard. A close look at the quantitative and qualitative parameters on the political dashboard will show the following about Labour and its partners:

 

– Intelligent economic management which has yielded a GDP growth of 2.8% in 2009 (compared to the global average of -1 %) and Foreign Direct Investment of Rs 10 billion in the same year. The economic management of Labour has even been positively appreciated by institutions like the IMF and prestigious publications like the Financial Times.

– A rather positive mandate with a mix of macro and micro achievements (modernization of the health sector, the expansion of the country’s entrepreneur base, the adoption of progressive legislation like the Equal Employment Opportunities Act, more creative diplomacy, serious actions for a greener Mauritius, National Empowerment Programmes, enlightened CSR, greater access to Internet among others)

– The main opposition party the MMM is subject to aging leadership and is unable to position itself as a credible alternative.

– The strong possibility that the MSM or MMM join the Social Alliance prior to the next elections

 

Paradoxically this rather cheerful picture has translated into a certain over-optimism and overconfidence among certain Social Alliance members and activists. This could be counterproductive by the time elections come in. Some are unfortunately acting like the elections have already been won and are almost in a euphoric mood. Before taking a nap in an idealized world, these people should factor in the following:

 

* The Labour Party has a hard-core of opponents: The Labour Party and its allies may gather additional momentum for the next elections. However this will not be sufficient to conquer bastions which since 1967 have shown a strong anti-Labour sentiment. Here one can think of constituencies like GRNW-Port Louis, Curepipe-Midlands, Beau Bassin-Petite Rivière, and Stanley-Rose Hill.

 

* The Mauritian electorate loves change: Since 1995 Mauritians have made it a point to vote their governments out of office. This partly explains why the slogan ‘Bizin Changement’ worked well in 2005. What if the Opposition mounts a demagogical campaign (with the help of mavericks like Dinesh Ramjuttun) and successfully re-ignites the taste for change.?

 

* Success builds complacency: The overconfidence currently present can lure activists of the Social Alliance into a state of inertia which could prove to be fatal. Any campaign requires that activists stay dynamic until the close down of the polls at 6 pm on election day.

 

* The opposition is already doing fieldwork: The main opposition party the MMM has already announced a shortlist of candidates who are already at work in certain constituencies. True many of them are having a hard time canvassing voters but a few of them have met with relative success. Nobody in his right mind can deny the fact that Pradeep Jeeha in constituency Number 4, Vijay Makhan in Number 18 and Sudesh Roopun in number 12 have made some gains on the field.

 

* Possibility of swing in certain constituencies: Individuals like Madan Dulloo in Constituency Number 6 and Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo in Number 13 have their own personal vote banks. According to objective sources Madan Dulloo with an estimated hard-core supporter base of around 5000 could prevent the Social Alliance from winning one or two seats in Grand Baie-Poudre d’Or.

 

* No major alliance has been concluded yet: True there is a possibility of a political alliance with the MSM and even the MMM. It is not a done thing yet. The painful memory of 14 August 2000 still lingers in the minds of the Labour establishment. On that day MSM and MMM successfully concluded an alliance based on the ‘accord à l’israélienne’ at the last minute and Labour was denied a victory. At that time MMM was flirting with Labour and vice versa. Thus the Labour Party more than anybody else know that last-minute events could modify the course of an election.

 

* Political surprises are very much part of our political folklore: Scanning election results since 1983 one can say that political surprises are present in our polity. Some eloquent examples:

 

– In August 1983 a young lawyer Anil Gayan after less than two months of campaigning defeated MMM historic leader Paul Bérenger by 567 votes in Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes. This happened despite the fact that the latter had been present in that constituency since 1969 and commanded the support of 45% of the electorate at the national level.

– For the August 1987 polls, PMSD strongman Allan Driver unexpectedly conquered the seat of the the popular Said Maudarbaccus in La Caverne-Phoenix.

– In September 1991 in Vieux Grand Port-Rose Belle MMM candidate Subash Lallah defeated incumbent Ajay Daby who was a national figure then in less than two months of campaign.

– La Caverne-Phoenix was the theatre of another surprise in June 1989 when a neophyte politician Cyril Curé unseated Ivan Collendavelloo in a by-election.

– On the day the municipal by-elections at Beau Bassin in August 1993, Rajesh Bhagwan an MMM key figure was cheerfully walking in the streets of the electoral ward convinced of his victory. The rest we know, he lost miserably against an unknown PMSD figure Mr Anthony Chung and polled only 26% of votes.

– In 1998 Satish Faugoo, another newcomer in politics, defeated two veteran politicians Anerood Jugnauth and Madan Duloo in the Flacq-Bon Acceuil by-election.

 

So what if the Opposition pulls some surprises and deprives the Social Alliance of some seats perceived as being ‘safe’.

To recognize the number and complexity of the electoral threats facing the Social Alliance is not to yield to pessimism but rather a call for action. What type of action we are talking here?

– The Social alliance carries on with the good work at the level of government to successfully close certain national issues that are still open: for e.g. reform in the judiciary and education.

– The Social Alliance carries on with aggressive public relations in the different constituencies (the manner the late James Burty David was handling Constituency No. 1 could serve as an example.)

– The Social Alliance starts planning the forthcoming campaign at national and regional level in an intelligent way.

– Bickering and backbiting among future candidates should stop.

 

Some activists of the Social Alliance are already in the mood to sip the champagne of victory but they should realize that there can always be a slip between the cup and the lip. They should not get fixated on the ‘dogberry phenomenon’ – named after a horse who lost most of its races despite starting first from the bloc. Winning an election is very much the ‘law of the farm’ as one would say. You have to sow in the right season to gain a good harvest. Now is the right season to sow.

 

Paul Hawkins
Quatre Bornes


 

Retribution

 

In the wake of D Manrakhan’s article on the late Arjoon Koolaput, the taxi driver whose life was maimed by the “monster”, as Mr Manrakhan put it, I seek your co-operation to pay tribute to the deceased who was my maternal uncle, and to raise a few questions. These questions have been haunting my mind since the day my uncle disappeared into the unknown, the very day when he was going to celebrate his 82nd birthday. How cruel is Fate sometimes! Anything can happen at any moment in life. One never knows what’s around the next corner.

 

The untimely death of my uncle has left many in his circle of friends and relatives perplexed, shocked, revolted and disgusted beyond imagination. The moment that I came to know that he was not to be seen my heart started juddering in my chest. I could not think. My reason tottered. I failed to understand why a person who was so good could meet such a fate at the hands of a man who seemed to have no compunctions and not the least sign of remorse.

 

Arjoon for his intimates was a very good person. He incarnated all the good qualities that a person could have. To us, my family, his relationship was beyond estimation. Whenever we paid him a visit he would discourse at length on any topic and especially how I should keep my car in good running condition. He was an adept at it. He would keep his car always spick and span not because it was his only means of eking a living but the car denoted a sense of cleanliness, a sense of dignity, a sense of pride.

 

My uncle was on very good terms with his children. Looking retrospectively I can hardly recall any instance when he was found talking abusively to them. His voice could hardly be heard. He spoke softly and lovingly to all in his vicinity; he was on very good terms with his neighbours. As for his ex-colleagues again he was very friendly and we have seen how they were vociferating and clamouring the death penalty against his presumed killer. In matters of religion he was a man steeped in religious principles. With his help my aunt would organize religious ceremonies whenever required and whenever the need was felt.

 

Given his family, social and religious background, to me the first question that arises is: Why didn’t God who is omniscient protect him, he who was so affable a person, full of the “milk of human kindness”? Why did God allow the “killer” to carry out his premeditated plan? Was my uncle made to pay for a vicious crime committed in his past life and of which he knew nothing? Here I am reminded of a poem written by Kevin Halligan published in the Anthology ‘Songs of ourselves’. The poet speaks of a cockroach and its restlessness and he wonders whether the restlessness of the cockroach is not due to a vicious crime committed in the past.

He does not know but he thinks that he recognizes himself.

 

Many of us believe in the laws of Karma. Sages have said that Karma is action and the consequence of action. “As you sow, so you reap” goes the saying. Sowing is the action and reaping is the result. If a person sows wheat, he should expect to reap wheat. So, what we can deduce is that what we receive in this life is determined by our good or bad actions in our past lives and by our past actions in this lifetime. So by extrapolation could we deduce that my uncle’s good actions could not offset the evil he would have done in his past life for which he had to pay by having his body mutilated? What a harsh payment it was and it’s a lesson for us all to learn!

 

In this same vein another point demands clarification. We know that the soul has to go on its journey, has to leave the body only when the latter perishes either through a disease, an accident, a natural calamity or as in this case through a ghastly mortal wound. If it were a disease, an accident, or a natural calamity over which we have no command in spite of all precautions, we could understand. But to die an unnatural death at the hands of a “killer” who had premeditated his action calls for indignation; it gnaws our very entrails and clamours for justice. We know that justice would be meted to him and the culprit would be condemned to some years of imprisonment (15, 20, 30, 45) years or for life for the heinous crime he has committed. But is confining him to a cell be due payment for what he has done?

On humanitarian grounds death penalty will not be meted out to him. But did he have the right to kill a person, 82 years old, just because of a refusal to give him the key of the car? Had my uncle been given the lease of life he could have lived up to 100 years and joined the centenarian club Who knows! Don’t we feel that retributive punishment should be applied in cases where premeditation is the order of the day? The authorities know best what course of action to take that would serve as a deterrent to others. Some would argue that my uncle would not rise from his ashes as the phoenix. There is, therefore, no point to apply capital punishment.

 

Whatever be the line of action that will be taken, my uncle has gone for ever, leaving Victoria Square where he had been serving for the last 60 years or so. May God rest his soul in peace. 

G. Bissoon


 

 

 

Opinion
Lament over Democracy in Fiji

— Sanjay Ramesh

SUVA: A recent wave of articles, mostly from New Zealand and Australian media, criticised the direction taken by the Fiji authorities following the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution in April 2009. These articles should be seen as yet another example of “parachute journalism,” where journalists are sent to political trouble spots to compile informed analysis when they have little understanding of the socio-cultural context.

On the face of it, it is claimed that Fiji is under a dictatorship, but Fiji had gone through this path before, so why overseas media and their willing interviewees are surprised and shocked by the unfolding political events in Fiji begs belief.

In 1987, the democratically elected multiracial government led by an indigenous Fijian physician, Dr Timoci Bavadra, was deposed in a bloodless coup by Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, who was quickly promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General by the late Governor General of Fiji, Ratu Penaia Ganilau. In 1987, Indo-Fijians were a majority in Fiji, and they complained to the international community that an elected government was ousted at gunpoint and democracy was destroyed by indigenous nationalists. However, the same international community, including Australia and New Zealand, remained largely silent, and policy makers in these countries actually accused the Indo-Fijians of undermining indigenous interests, thus supporting the nationalist position.

At best, both Australia and New Zealand allowed skilled Indo-Fijians to emigrate, and this trend has continued since. Fast forward 20 years later, and the indigenous Fijians who benefitted from the 1987 coup suddenly found themselves, like their Indo-Fijian counterparts in 1987, under the gun of an indigenous military leader Frank Bainimarama, who became fed up with indigenous nationalism and the associated cronyism and patrimony. The very people who supported the destruction of democracy in favour of indigenous rights in 1987 are now champions of democracy and rule of law, while Indo-Fijians—reduced from close to 48 percent of the population in 1987 to just little under 37 percent in 2006—have transformed into avid supporters of the “undemocratic” actions of the commander.

The contradictions in both these communities are caused by the complex trajectories of history that Australian and New Zealand media are refusing to comprehend and policy makers overseas are adamant to acknowledge.

Hot on a mission to sensationalise and exaggerate Fiji’s political situation, regional media played a major role in the 2000 coup where anti-Indo-Fijian arguments were published in the local press, unchallenged by the Australian and New Zealand journalists, as indigenous thugs held an elected government hostage for 56 days and unleashed unprecedented terror and violence against Indo-Fijians living in rural Fiji. With unrestricted access to the 2000 coup leader, George Speight, local media created a misguided view that indigenous nationalists were once again reacting to the tyranny of Indo-Fijians and, in particular, their leader, Mahendra Chaudhry.

In 2000, indigenous Fijian traditional institutions—for example, the Great Council of Chiefs—were divided along indigenous confederacy and provincial lines because indigenous cultural logic dictated that chiefs from the provinces involved in the Speight coup supported them, despite the fact that rule of law had been effectively compromised. The Australian government, which has now taken a moral position on democracy and is deeply worried about the impact of a coup culture in the South Pacific, remained an impotent regional observer, along with its counterpart New Zealand, as Fiji descended into anarchy.

The political establishment that came into power following the Speight coup continued with the agenda of the indigenous nationalists. In 2003, reports surfaced that the commander of the Fiji Military Forces, Frank Bainimarama, had become increasingly uncomfortable with the elected government, in particular with its policies to appease indigenous militants. A series of events started over a three-year period resulting in the December 2006 coup. Initially, the military government attempted to work within the 1997 Constitution, but this position became untenable following the judgment by the Fiji High Court that the 2006 political order established by the 2006 takeover was illegal.

Overseas media alleged on many occasions that Commander Bainimarama executed the coup to scuttle the investigations into the deaths of eight Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit soldiers who were allegedly involved in a mutiny at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks in Suva in November 2000. These allegations, while sounding quite serious, ignored the fact that there was a bounty on the head of the commander in 2000 for refusing to acquiesce to the demands of the indigenous chiefs who supported the Speight coup. It was a dangerous situation of kill-or-be-killed. Supporters of the commander rounded up and interrogated the mutineers and their associates, and some interrogations resulted in death. Human rights conventions abhor deaths in custody, but following the events of 2000, there were deep divisions within the army that had the potential for prolonged violent internal conflict.

Moreover, following the 2006 coup, the military discovered a number of irregularities in the manner in which the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) conducted its business with respect to indigenous land. Much has been written and discussed on the rate of return on indigenous land leased by Indo-Fijian farmers, but a greater and a more interesting story relates to the way elected indigenous nationalist governments conducted business with overseas commercial interests with total disregard for indigenous land rights. As a result, the military government “cleaned up” the NLTB.

There are endless volumes of information compiled by the Fiji Islands Independent Commission Against Corruption that point to past indigenous Fijian leaders exploiting indigenous Fijians and their resources for personal gains. The details of official corruption in Fiji make for very dry reading and do not fit into the agendas of Australian and New Zealand media and, as a result, we never hear about them, except claims that “corruption and mismanagement is often overstated by the military to support their own agenda.”

Overseas media are interested in understanding the resilience of indigenous Fijians who have yet to rebel against the Bainimarama regime. The media hopes to overturn an authoritarian system and in its place establish a nationalist indigenous government based on ethnic division as it existed from 1970 to 2006. There is no choice for the Indo-Fijians who are currently supporting the Bainimarama government because, on the face of it, the Bainimarama regime has offered a “non-ethnic political solution” while the indigenous nationalists want continuation of “positive discrimination,” as stated in the deposed government’s political manifesto of 2006.

The question is still asked as to why the Fiji regime has suspended freedom of the press indefinitely in Fiji. The answer is quite simple. The press has, in the past, attempted to instigate ethnic hatred and destabilise the Fiji government. Overseas-owned newspapers in Fiji have continuously emphasised the need for quick elections and democratic rule, but they have yet to make a case for addressing deep-rooted institutional and ethnic problems in divided communities. What could be done to cement multiethnic democratic values does not fit within “commercial parameters” of contemporary journalism. Overseas media have little idea of the socio-cultural history of Fiji, including the emphasis on communal politics established by the British colonial rulers to support their indirect rule of the colony.

While many indigenous soldiers have sacrificed themselves for the Commonwealth and the empire and continue to volunteer to fight in failed states like Afghanistan and Iraq and replenish war-weary soldiers from “democratic” nations, there is lack of appreciation on the part of Australia and New Zealand journalists for the complexity of Fiji’s multidimensional problems. Past indigenous Fijians as well as Indo-Fijian leaders have failed Fiji because they were interested in protecting their own communal hive. Since independence of Fiji in 1970, Fiji has oscillated between ethnic conflict and conflict between elected and appointed entities, and these conflicts are yet to be resolved. To argue that democracy is a “magic bullet” that will solve Fiji’s problems is naïve. Previous initiatives to move Fiji towards a non-ethnic model were comprised by indigenous nationalist assertions, and the current regime should be allowed to implement its reforms without interference.

* Sanjay Ramesh is an adjunct research associate in transforming cultures in Fiji at the University of Technology, Sydney, and is currently completing a research degree on inter-group conflict in Fiji at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney

 

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