Clamour For a New Dawn

Mauritius is not an exception. Let the local political class not kid themselves. The people are fed up with all the political class and their leaders irrespective of political parties

The writing has been on the wall for years. The pervasive ras le bol towards the political establishment and traditional political parties has been looming larger and larger by the year. There is a mounting revolt against corruption, decadence and plummeting political ethics. People are tired of being systematically let down by successive governments promising the moon but who once in power pander to their own interests rather than altruistically serve the people. The replacement and alternation of governments at each general election have been of no avail. The distrust of mainstream political parties and their contested mode of governance is on the rise. People are fed up with a political system monopolized by the same inept political parties rehashing their own failed brand of economic liberalism for donkey’s years.

There is therefore a growing clamour for a new dawn and a profound revival cut off from a decried and failed system of government which has been incapable of meeting the existential needs and aspirations of the people. There are growing signs of a pervasive sense of exasperation towards a failed political and socio-economic system. The cry of revolt is evidenced across the world by the Brexit vote, the Bernie Sanders anti-establishment movement, the Donald Trump election and the rise of populist parties in France, Germany, Holland, the UK, Austria, Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain. They have all challenged and gained ground against traditional parties who have monopolized the political scene in these countries for decades. There are signs of an impending big bang in politics.

Big bang

The result of the first round of the French presidential elections on 23 April says it all. The anti-establishment anger has taken a heavy toll. For the first time in the French Fifth Republic both the centre right Republicans and the Socialist Party, the two main French political parties which have governed France in turn since 1981, have been eliminated in the first round. The second round of the presidential elections to be held on 7 May will therefore break new ground. It will oppose the centrist Emmanuel Macron, the leader of the En Marche (On the move) movement he founded in April 2016, who has never run for election before, and Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right Front National. The 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron has simply overshadowed France’s established politicians.

The outcome of the first round should remind all political leaders and parties who fail the people and breach their trust once in power that they cannot do so with impunity. The first round vote has had a seismic impact. The French political landscape is basically in disarray. Both presidential candidates chosen by the primaries held by the Socialist Party and the Republicans, namely Benoit Hamon and Francois Fillon have been knocked out of the presidential race in the first round. The candidature of Francois Fillon, once the front-runner forecast to win the presidential elections, has been scuttled by his arraignment under charges of embezzlement. The hegemony of these traditional parties over French politics has been cut short by the backlash of the electorate. The vote of the electorate has thus defined a new political configuration in France.

The vote has also exposed the undemocratic rationale of the system of primaries. How can a few million party members participating in the Socialist and Republican Parties’ primaries be a proxy for the 37 million voters who participated in the first round of the French presidential elections?

Emmanuel Macron who has, in the wake of the first round results, been endorsed by Francois Fillon, Benoit Hamon and President Francois Hollande for the second round, is widely forecast to win the presidential elections on 7 May. He has cleverly read the pervasive disillusionment of the people with politics and the political establishment. His proposal for a revival of France anchored on the values of the French Republic, a socially progressive and humanist policy platform, social justice, addressing the challenges of climate change and on economic progress is deftly scripted to respond to the aspirations of the multitude and the business community. He has therefore benefitted from the votes of a broad cross section of the electorate across the left-right political divide and of the educated.

The other presidential candidate who has aptly captured the mood of the country through the game changing programme of his movement ‘La France insoumise’ is the leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon who with a score of 19.6% of the votes, garnered the majority of the left vote at the expense of the Socialist Party candidate, Benoit Hamon.

A victory of Emmanuel Macron would not end the battle against the political establishment. He will also have to win the French legislative elections to be held in June 2017 in order to avoid being a lame-duck President. Without a majority in the National Assembly, Emmanuel Macron will not be able to implement his centrist government programme. He will therefore have to swiftly field candidates to contest the 577 seats of the National Assembly and win a comfortable majority to run the government and avoid having to endure the throes of a crippling cohabitation with the traditional political establishment.

The lessons for Mauritius

Politicians worth their salt must be au fait with the history of the nation and be driven by the lofty ideals, ethos and political ethics of the leaders and stalwarts who fought for and won the independence of the country. However, such values are becoming rare among the political class with the emergence of a growing breed of professional politicians more intent in exacting their pound of flesh from the perks and trappings of power than selflessly serve the people and contribute to the improvement of their quality of life.

Mauritius is sadly not an exception. Let the local political class not kid themselves. The people are fed up with all the political class and their leaders irrespective of political parties. The perfidy of the decried power sharing deal of the ill-fated Labour Party-MMM alliance and the shenanigans and ineptitude of L’Alliance Lepep culminating in a dynastic swap of Prime Minister without the legitimacy of a formal endorsement by the people through general elections have been the last straw.

People want an end to systemic poor governance which has systematically undermined the country for years and hobbled its growth. The people want an end to the endless cycle of scandals plaguing the country and lame cover ups, to the payment of astronomical salaries and handsome perks to political nominees, advisors and party cronies at the expense of the Public Exchequer. How can the government justify fat cat salaries paid from public funds which significantly exceed Rs 110,000 per month earned by the Director General or CEO of a State organization, to political appointees and cronies by smugly highlighting that the previous government was doing worse? Two wrongs cannot make a right.

Is it not indecent for political nominees in cushy fat cat jobs to earn six digit salaries financed from public funds when the median salary in Mauritius is forecast at Rs 12,800 per month and some 160,000 employees of the country earn less than Rs 8,000 per month? Why on earth should the privileged coterie be allowed to cumulate numerous key positions in diverse state companies and institutions? Is that a device to exercise tentacular control over key public bodies and companies?

Why is the government so defensive when quizzed on so many issues of public interest such as the sale of the Britam assets and the Appollo Bramwell clinic to make sure that the best deal had been obtained or the controversial conditions under which licences were granted to Alvaro Sobrinho? Do they have anything to hide? Such questions assure more transparency, ascertain that public interest has been rigorously safeguarded and keep everyone on their toes.

A sea change

All this will no longer do. As is the case in the best democracies, people want defeated political leaders to step down and be replaced. They no longer want party allegiance to supplant the interests of the nation. They want a sea change through a thorough clean up of politics. This means putting an end to fat cat jobs for the coterie and blue-eyed advisors or political appointees in state institutions and as ambassadors. This means an end to opacity in the management of the affairs of the State, to nepotism, to highhandedness in particular towards the civil service and to any tinkering with public institutions.

The people want transparency, accountability, meritocracy, inclusiveness, fundamental reforms to assure a level playing field for all economic actors, the protection of the environment and robust measures to stem the adverse impact of climate change bearing in mind that the rise in temperature is already damaging our coral reefs, the marine eco-system and eroding our coasts. They basically want politicians to be imbued with a new political ethos which safeguards public interest and those of the multitude at all times. Above all, they want a government that honours its promises to the people and assures the continuous improvement of their standard of living and wellbeing.

The current situation is therefore untenable. The present political system has long outlived its shelf life. Its time is up. The country has been bogged down by incompetence for too long. The remedy is in our hands. There is an urgent need for new young leadership and talented men and women to team up to charter a more innovative and intelligent pathway towards inclusive prosperity and to reboot the country to a high code of ethics and a culture of service to the nation. The people are rearing to catalyze this salutary game changer.

Mrinal Roy

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