The Test of Legitimacy

No country can safeguard its democracy if the people, democrats from all walks of life, do not stand up like one man to defend democratic principles whenever democracy is undermined or subverted

Last year, Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, ordered a referendum to create the post of Vice-President in the Constitution and extend his own term of office from five to seven years. The referendum also voted to eliminate the age requirement to become President, a decision which critics allege may be aimed at paving the way for his 19-year-old son to eventually succeed him as President. Clearly intent on safeguarding the dynastic rule of the family over the oil-rich country, he appointed his wife Mehriban Aliyeva as Vice-President, last week. In 2003, Aliyev had himself taken over power from his father Hayder who had ruled Azerbaijan for nearly three decades.

The Trump presidency has been plagued by controversial decisions, embarrassing backpedalling after being wrong-footed by reckless foreign policy pronouncements, a botched presidential order on travel ban rejected by Federal court rulings, contested appointments and resignations, frontal conflict with the media heightened by a ban on major news outlets such as the New York Times or CNN from White House press briefings. The endless wrangles and highly contested decisions in just five weeks in office caused liberal minded people, democrats and ordinary American citizens proud of the American melting pot and American open-mindedness and values to be up in arms.

Up in arms

Protesting against the travel ban, leading US companies such as Ford, Google, Apple, Amazon, Tesla, Starbucks, General Electric said that the ban could unfairly target employees and harm operations. In a statement the Chairman and CEO of Ford said that ‘we do not support this policy or any other policy that goes against our values as a company’. The upshot was that one of the first initiatives of Donald Trump who pledged to boost business in the United States ran aground with strong opposition building against the travel ban from business and different quarters.

Thus, the 62 institutions comprising the Association of American Universities, released a statement urging government officials to end the travel ban as quickly as possible. Other deans of universities stated that ‘the executive order is fundamentally inconsistent with the values that are the bedrock of our universities and of our pluralistic, welcoming society’.

In the UK, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge was more categorical in his condemnation as he stated that the executive order issued by the US government ‘is an affront to one of the most fundamental human freedoms… I cannot accept a policy which… blocks the pathways to understanding between peoples, faiths and nations’. John Bercow, the highly regarded Speaker of the House of Commons, stated that he was ‘strongly opposed to President Trump speaking in the Commons before the imposition of the migrant ban. ‘After the ban, I am even more strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall.’ MPs broke in spontaneous applause in support of John Bercow’s statement.

America has been built and shaped by immigrants from all over the world. Earlier this week, at the Oscar ceremony, a number of award winners in a pointed dig at President Trump highlighted their origins as immigrants, minorities or foreigners.

In essence, Donald Trump has shaken America and jolted allies as well as the world. His abrasive style, truculent body language and controversial stances which are perceived by many as being contrary to the values and ethos of the American Constitution have deeply polarized public opinion in the US.

For a newly elected President, polls showed that 50.5% of voters disapproved his actions. However a significant 44.6% of people approved what he was doing. The chorus of democratic forces and mounting criticisms from the US and the world have had a sobering effect. The tone and content of his first presidential address in Congress this week was more subdued and statesmanlike. His opening remarks made reference to ‘our Nation’s path toward civil rights and the work that still remains’ and condemned hate crimes following the Kansas City shooting of two Indian engineers working in the city and an American who tried to protect them, last week.

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Plummeting standards

It is shameful that standards of political ethics have plummeted to such abysmal levels in just 49 years after independence

No country can safeguard its democracy if the people, democrats from all walks of life, the media, the opposition parties, the trade unions and the common man do not stand up like one man to defend democratic principles whenever democracy is undermined or subverted. Our democracy can only be safeguarded and strengthened if its ultimate guardians, the people and the forces vives are ever ready to protect it again, thin and thick. Not to do so is to encourage licence of every kind and hue. Not to do so is to be party and tacitly complicit to undemocratic political shenanigans of every kind.

Mauritius is not Azerbaijan despite all the main political parties having an entrenched dynastic culture. Yet, this is the first time in the history of independent Mauritius that changes at the head of the State has been ushered without the legitimacy of a formal plebiscite and endorsement by the people through general elections. The right to chose and elect a Prime Minister is the sole and unalienable preserve of the people. This absolute right cannot be usurped by anyone. The election of the Prime Minister through the sovereign choice of the people at the ballot box provides authority and legitimacy to the government in place for its policies and actions in the eyes of the multitude. The government Establishment, the economic actors and all those dealing with ministers and their instructions are also comforted. No one, let alone cohorts of obsequious apparatchiks or all kinds of stage managed tom-tomming can confer legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

What makes matters worse is that the Prime Minister chosen by the people at the December 2014 polls left his post two years into his term of office and the main commitments made to the people unfulfilled without much of a valid explanation nor logically allowing the people to exercise their unalienable right to decide who they trust and choose to vote to vote to become the legitimate Prime Minister of the country. To add insult to injury, the elected Prime Minister (also past President and Prime Minister) remains part of the new government as Minister Mentor and third in the government hierarchy. Minister Mentor conjures the disquieting image of greenhorns and neophytes which need to be upbraided and groomed into their new posts. For their part, the people are just biding their time and rearing to sanction at the polls, as has been the case in December 2014 and on so many occasions in our political history, such a galling breach of their trust.

It is shameful that standards of political ethics have plummeted to such abysmal levels in just 49 years after independence, aeons distanced from the lofty democratic ideals, ethos and seminal values of those who fought and won independence for the country. At a time when the opposition parties needed to put up a strong and united front against the change of Prime Minister, their protests petered out into a whimper. They openly showcased their disarray and divisions.

Instead of fighting together to demand that the people be allowed to exercise their paramount right to choose a new prime minister through general elections in the wake of the resignation of the prime minister, the opposition parties remained mired in their endless power driven political calculations, bloated egos and petty squabbling.  Politics cannot be about constantly devising new game plans to remain in power or be elected at all costs at the expense of every democratic principle. It is above all about altruistic service to the people.

All the opposition political parties have therefore disqualified themselves de facto in the eyes of the people, the more so as the discredited old guard rejected at the December 2014 polls still holding the main political parties hostage just won’t get out of the way. Despite representing obvious liabilities for their parties, the leaders of the Labour Party and the MMM aided and abetted by their subservient coteries continue to hold on to their posts, despite causing irreparable collateral damage to the future prospects of their parties.

The Labour Party built with the help of the downtrodden workers of the sugar industry into a national force by Emmanuel Anquetil as President as from1941 cannot be the preserve of anyone, let alone that of a disavowed leader. Despite persistently seeking a mandate from the people to govern the country, the leader of the MMM has been repeatedly defeated at the polls. The country is therefore in dire need of a talented new leadership with a proven track record of achievements and imbued with a high sense of service to the people to lead the country around an innovative projet de société to new heights of inclusive and merit based socio-economic development.

Verdict of history

It must be remembered that these questionable events and the role played by each protagonist will not be able to escape the impartial scrutiny and judgement of history. No amount of obsequious court scribes or state TV tom-tomming or lame justifications can mask the cold verdict of history.  The manner SAJ opted to end his tenure as prime minister as well as the trust placed in him by the people and the promises made to them is a shame and taints the end of a long political career.

The poor state of governance and the general state of disarray witnessed in the last two years seem unabated. Nepotism cannot replace competence. In the space of just a month, there have already been several hiccups.

It seems that the exercise of inviting a chief guest for the Independence Day celebrations has been botched. It also makes no sense to hike petrol prices at a time when the economy urgently needs a boost. The more so when levies, duties, fees, various subsidies and taxes unfairly penalising vehicle owners represent 50% of the price of diesel and 59% of the price of petrol and earned a whopping Rs 14 billion of revenue to the state in 2016.

Similarly, it would be simply daft to slow down the fluidity and swiftness of traffic on the Verdun-Ebene highway given the importance of Ebene as a dynamic business hub, in the context of the Highlands City project when the whole idea of building cross-country highways bypassing towns and villages across the country is to reduce congestion and speed up the movement of goods and people to improve economic efficiencies.

Democratic Mauritius is therefore living through unprecedented and awkward times. No government can shy away from a test of legitimacy. The prerogative of conferring legitimacy to a government is the sole preserve of the people whose democratic choice of a Prime Minister and a government remain absolute and paramount at all times.

Mrinal Roy

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