The hour is grave. For the people, this battle must be won if we are to safeguard the rights and future of the young and the next generations. We will not be forgiven if we do not do so
The date of the general elections and the list of candidates of the main political parties contesting the elections are now known. Power has returned to the people. Unlike previous occasions when the people were called to the polls post Independence, these elections are particularly important and undoubtedly the most determinant one since Independence. This is so for a variety of reasons.
Labour and the MMM, the two main political parties which had been frontally opposing each other for the last 17 years and constituted the opposing forces within our parliamentary system of government, have contracted an alliance whereby they usurp and transgress the people’s prerogatives in a democracy. In effect, the two leaders of the Labour Party-MMM (LP-MMM) alliance have bilaterally negotiated to share the powers vested in the Constitution to the President and the Prime Minister (PM), posts they themselves project to occupy in case of victory at the forthcoming elections, when it is not their prerogative to do so. As a consequence, they have also bilaterally agreed profound game changing and untested constitutional and electoral reforms without first obtaining the legitimacy and formal endorsement of these proposals by the people.
In rightful democracies, it is the people and not the political leaders who are the paramount and sole arbiter as well as the ultimate authority to decide, through the due process of specific referendums, on such important matters regarding the Constitution and any electoral reform. There has been neither attempt nor intent by the Prime Minister or the Labour-MMM alliance to first subject these fundamental changes to our Constitution and the electoral system to the people’s vote in specific referendums.
This smug and authoritarian mindset stems from the power entrusted to the leaders of Labour and the MMM and their parties by the weight of allegiances of the party faithful. Taking this allegiance for granted, their simple calculation is that the sum of their traditional electorate would create a walkover victory at the polls. They are repeatedly trumpeting that they will obtain a landslide 60-0 before the votes are even cast. In essence, the electorate’s traditional allegiances rooted on each party’s ideology and a ‘moral’ pact of trust for the elected to do and act within the strict confines of the mandate entrusted by the people is being used for untoward transgressions and undemocratic licence to usher un-mandated electoral and constitutional reforms.
The conceited reasoning and premise is that despite such blatant usurpation of the paramount prerogatives of the people on such fundamental aspects of our democracy, the electorate and the people would docilely kowtow to the voting diktats of the leaders of the alliance. Contrary to this scripted scenario, there are already unmistakable signs that this well orchestrated game plan is going awry as increasing swathes of the electorate and the people are standing up to defend and safeguard the unalienable rights wrested and obtained at the time of Independence. The intent is to vote to attain objectives which go beyond that of thwarting the ¾ majority required to vote the disputed reforms being proposed.
The people’s challenge
In management, synergy means 2+2=5. The growing evidence is that the sum of allegiance around the LP-MMM alliance is thawing whereas the people’s opposition to the changes to our Constitution and the electoral system gathering around L’Alliance Lepep is gaining enormous momentum across the country. The battle is grim as evidenced by the massive means and enormous machinery abetted by the national TV being mustered and put in place to counter the David in the present political contest.
Power like a potent intoxicant tends to go to one’s head. High on delusions about their own power, those voted to power can overstep their mandate and cross red lines beyond the legitimacy and finite authority entrusted to them by the people in a democracy. It is at all times incumbent on the people, the repository of all power in a democracy, to remain constantly vigilant and fearlessly thwart any attempt to usurp the people’s prerogatives to have the final say on the tenor of any constitutional and electoral reforms and the shape of our democracy. In the context of the recomposed political landscape and the resultant uneven political divide, more than at any time since Independence, the onus is clearly on the electorate and the silent majority to mobilise massively to exercise their vote as a potent weapon to usher transformational change for the benefit of the multitude.
It is particularly comforting that across the country people and citizens of all walks of life have fully understood the high stakes of the forthcoming elections in respect of the serious threats posed by the reform proposals of the LP-MMM alliance to the basic rights and democratic values we fought for and obtained through Independence. People are braving the powers that be to throng meetings and add their support to the gathering momentum. Across the political divide, the choice between preserving those unalienable rights and loyal allegiances to parties and their leadership gone astray is clear. Voting against the proponents of the radical reform proposals to preserve these fundamental rights is the only valid and rational choice.
The hour is grave. For the people, this battle must be won if we are to safeguard the rights and future of the young and the next generations. We will not be forgiven if we do not do so. The quashing of the objectionable proposals through the people’s vote will also be a strong signal to deter and snuff such transgressions in future.
At the end of October 2014, after 27 years in power, the President of Burkina Faso tried to tweak and rejig the Constitution to allow him to stand again for re-election and extend his rule. Following popular protests, he was forced to an undignified exit and find refuge in Cote d’Ivoire. This was hailed as a warning to several long-time African Presidents contemplating moves to remain in power.
In this banana republic mindset, it is no wonder that the fundamental issue of the electoral and constitutional reforms as well as the serious misgivings about numerous aspects of the power sharing 2nd Republic are being conveniently swept under the carpet. A host of fundamental issues such as inter alia the absence of accountability of the President who will enjoy substantially enlarged powers, the President’s 7-year tenure when the modern democratic norm is 4 years, the inherent instability of a bicephalous mode of government and the unacceptable political vetting of non-sensitive top brass jobs in the public service, etc., are neither being explained nor debated.
Furthermore, as was ably demonstrated by Manoj Gokhool, a practicing international expert on voters’ choice, in Mauritius Times last week, the proposed electoral reform and method to determine the 20 proportional representative nominees to the National Assembly selectively uses only one type of ‘wasted votes’ out of several types defined in political science. In effect this method skews, in the context of the wide disparity in the number of electors among constituencies in Mauritius, the computation and doubly penalises as well as thwarts vox populi. How can such an obtuse and flawed method be endorsed by the electorate, let alone be understood by him?
Need for a paradigm shift
The state of our democracy, society and the economy during the incumbent Government’s mandate leaves much to be desired. The dizzying musical chair of alliances in the past years with yesterday’s virulent opponents becoming today’s coy partners epitomized by the Vire Mam clips is deeply unsettling and undermines the faith of the people and the young in the ruling political class. Instead of strengthening our democracy by truly democratising parties, replacing an ageing generation of politicians by new blood and talent, limiting the terms of office of the PM and the President to two, recasting and converting the constituencies into single Member ones having similar electoral size, etc., political leaders persist in doing the exact opposite.
The exercise of allocation of tickets with the added drama of last minute changes in the LP-MMM alliance candidate list stands among the chronic imperfections of our democracy. Party tickets are allocated solely by the omnipotent Party leaders. Reviewing the list of candidates, one cannot help cynically ask: Why work as a cook, a teacher or an engineer earning some Rs 25,000 per month if you are sufficiently well connected politically or related to a political big-wig in a big party to obtain a ticket to contest the elections? Being elected as a Member of the National Assembly (MNA) is a lottery as it means a handsome salary cum perks package of some Rs132, 000 per month (five times more than an engineer) and a lavish pension after only two terms of office. A Minister is even more handsomely treated. Ministers and MNAs who have not obtained tickets have been assured of key roles and posts post elections at presumably public expense. For the faithful coterie perpetuating the leader’s supreme power, it is a permanently win-win situation. No wonder once in nobody wants to leave voluntarily whilst so many are jockeying to get in!
Isn’t it time for a paradigm shift in the manner and criteria for the choice of candidates? Before joining politics, would-be candidates should be imbued with an altruistic sense of service to the nation with a proven track record of competence and achievements in their field of expertise or qualification and a capacity for innovative thinking in a team as well as a charismatic connect with people. They should also be able to write and put pen to paper or now fingers to a keyboard. How many match up to these basic benchmarks? Such a new approach is vital if we are to give ourselves the competent brainstorming and managerial acumen to chalk out innovative policies to verily dig the economy from its current low growth quagmire against a backdrop when only a gradual recovery is forecast for the coming years in our main markets. Against such a background, how are essentially the same politicians of the last decades to deliver on the promise made to the young to create some 60-70,000 jobs in the next five years? Saying so does not make it happen.
In the same vein, how on earth are 16 year olds being promised the right to vote in municipal elections without seeking the people’s views and having a national debate on it? Is that a priority in the context of the dire economic situation of the country, the rampant distress caused by unemployment, underemployment and low wages earned by a significant percentage of the work force in particular in the private sector and the deepening inequalities in terms of salary, opportunities or entrepreneurial space?
In spite of high sounding slogans such as ‘democratisation of the economy’ or the setting up of institutions to ensure a level playing field in respect of employment opportunities or trade competition and the dismantlement of monopolies, very little has been achieved. Despite paying lip service to meritocracy, we are still a far cry from establishing this essential norm in the recruitment policy directives applicable to both the public and private sectors. The continued mess regarding water supply and the inability to address the core issues of water loss, the replacement of leaking pipes and efficient water management is another sore point for the population in this period of penury.
It is equally clear that inequalities in the country have been exacerbated and that the purchasing power of the low-income earners has eroded whilst the haves have become richer. A policy framework which should include substantive land reform, to address inequalities is an urgent imperative. It is also obvious that the immense funds generated by the corporate social responsibility are not being optimally and efficiently used. In the context of the persistent international crisis, the policy responses to address the many difficulties faced by the various pillars of the economy have been largely inadequate. These sectors especially those that thrived on the rent of preferential market access need in the post world trade liberalisation context to inter alia reinvent their business model and substantially improve their competitiveness. In the sugar sector, the sugar planters are abandoning their lands as the annually decreasing sugar prices are uneconomical. The only way to shore their dwindling revenue and paltry molasses income is to urgently harness capital or canvass the EU for an accompanying measure to fund their participation as stakeholders in the sugar industry cluster ventures using their bagasse, cane biomass and molasses so that they obtain as shareholders par revenue as obtained by the corporate sector for their cane by-products.
The public perception is that the fight against corruption is another failure. It is pointless to trumpet another change in appellation and structure of the anti fraud agency to combat corruption if the agency is not truly independent and does not have the investigative clout and legal teeth to carry out its mission whilst adhering to the sacrosanct human rights principle of presumption of innocence.
It is equally distressing to daily witness the partisan MBC TV broadcasts of a publicly financed institution holding the monopoly on local TV in the context of the general elections. This abject situation remains unchecked by those who unfairly benefit from it whilst gargling with the mantra of strengthening our democracy.
We can do better
The power of the vote exercised at general elections enables the people to recast the political landscape, sanction those responsible for these systemic failures and the dangerous transgressions into the people’s prerogatives. It also enables the people to usher the necessary change to devise and provide fresh impetus to the economy and the livelihoods of people. For all the above reasons, it is time, as in football, to show and brandish the Red card, the supreme sanction, at the forthcoming elections with the confidence that we can do better.
The iconic lines from Rabindranath Tagore are so fitting in this crucial moment for our democracy:
“Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high,
where knowledge is free…
In to that heaven of freedom, my father,
LET MY COUNTRY AWAKE!”
* Published in print edition on 21 November 2014