Only once in five years does the electorate have a chance to rid the political system of any infectious germ and it should make good use of this opportunity
By Sada Reddi
In a previous article on the selection of candidates for general elections in Mauritius, we referred to the rationale which generally informs the choice of candidates. We tried to show that the choice of candidates, rather than being the arbitrary choice of the party leadership, is in fact an interplay between various factors, namely personality profile, gender, ethnicity, religion , jati, pressure from different lobbies coming from the electorate , and even shockingly but not articulated publicly, colour and phenotype. We also argued that different constituencies informally shape the choice of candidates in different ways. While many of the views proferred were only generalizations given the absence of precise data, the coming of the general elections on 7th November provides an opportunity for many political scientists to follow closely whether other factors as well will come into play in determining the slate of candidates in the forthcoming elections.
Since at the time of writing, we are not in the presence of the final lists of candidates for the mainstream parties and it is not yet certain which party alliances will eventually fight the elections, one cannot make any definitive analysis of the different factors which may shape the list of candidates of the different alliances. The old practices are bound to continue but certain new factors may become more pronounced. Obviously, the choice of candidates will just be one of several variables determining election results but nevertheless it is worth giving some attention to this aspect.
How the choice of candidates is arrived at will vary with the different parties. Going beyond the formal features of such an exercise such as approval by selection committees, if they exist, and eventually by the executive committees of the parties and the decisive role of the leadership, one feature which is increasingly becoming established in the selection of candidates is the emergence of dynastic politics within the party itself. In some parties, more in one than in the other, candidates will likely be chosen because of their family relationships.
One can thus expect to see on the party list many family members and close relatives within a single party. The rationale behind such dynastic politics is to retain control of the party especially its finances and other assets and in case they win the elections, nepotism will be further entrenched in the distribution of patronage.
How the electorate will react to dynastic politics remains unknown. However, it has an important role and responsibility in arresting any pernicious trend in our political system. Mauritius still being a face to face society, the people can easily identify the members who constitute these family networks and use the ballot to vote them out. Only once in five years does the electorate have a chance to rid the political system of any infectious germ and it should make good use of this opportunity. This will not only help to breathe in some meritocracy within the party itself but will also contribute towards cleansing the political system and truly democratise local politics.
A selection based on family ties and kinship will result in many sitting members being transferred to constituencies different from those where they had been previously elected and where they stand the best chance of winning. Those who are not related to the party leadership will be fielded in difficult and marginal constituencies. This transfer of family candidates usually comes as a consequence of their increasing unpopularity in their previous constituencies, which they have failed to serve according to the expectations of the electorate. It’s possible that a realignment of candidates may also be necessary to accommodate a new partner in the alliance. It will be up to the electorate to make an assessment of such transfers and the new arrivals in their respective constituencies and decide on their fate accordingly.
For many observers, money politics has also become a dominant feature of elections in Mauritius. This refers not to the fact that the great conglomerates will continue to finance the different parties and buy the election results. It seems that some financial backers have been actively engaged in horse trading on behalf of some political parties, persuading candidates to change sides in return for pecuniary rewards and promises of jobs. A few would have even developed a new-found taste for politics and are tempted to sit as candidates themselves or to impose members of their clan in the party list.
This is a relatively new phenomenon. In the past, the financial backers were content to pull the strings from behind the curtain and reduce government to being a mere puppet in their hands. They preferred to remain invisible and one could only come across their shadows in the corridors of power. At present they seem to have even lost their former scruples, and a few of them can hardly resist the temptation to stand as candidates. From paymasters, they want to become players in their own right.
Financial institutions too have joined the fray and become involved in money politics in their own way. They try to buy off potential candidates, deter others from standing as candidates of parties they do not approve of and even seek to win them by lightening any of their financial liabilities. No wonder some candidate may allegedly easily win the lotto without buying any ticket, and this as fast as lightning.
With so many shifty candidates around, the selection of candidates has become a headache for the party leadership. This explains the caution exercised by party leaders in their choice of candidates. Some may go to the other extreme of valuing loyalty over competence and disregarding the unanimous voices of the electorate even when such voices are well known. Wrong choices will be catastrophic for the party’s interests and eventually for the national interest. In what is going to be a major election that will decide our democratic future, some parties may continue to reward loyalties but not by putting them on the battlefront where they could spell disaster for the party.
* Published in print edition on 11 October 2019