In 5 days on 10th December 2014, the date of the general elections, the people and the electorate of Mauritius have a game-changing tryst with destiny. Some 936,900 registered electors will have to exercise their unalienable right to vote which is the most important democratic right bestowed on the people and the nation in a democracy. The paramount right of the people to freely choose at the time of mandatory elections held after a finite term of office of every five years in the case of Mauritius enshrined in the Constitution, which candidate and party/alliance they decide to trust and to entrust with a people’s mandate for the next five years epitomises the people’s power in a democracy. The mandatory holding of elections ensures that the people’s power entrusted to an elected government, returns at the end of the mandate back to the people, the ultimate repository of all power in a democracy.
In standard general elections, the track record, bilan and performance including any breach of trust of the incumbent government as well as its future electoral programme and its ability to deliver are assessed by the voters and either endorsed by a new mandate or sanctioned at the polls by a defeat and a changeover of political power. The maturity of the Mauritian electorate has been aptly and abundantly demonstrated in past elections such as those in 1982, 1995, 2000 or 2005 when the electorate in their collective wisdom decided, sometimes against formidable odds, time and time again on a change of political power to sanction incumbent Prime Ministers and the party in power at the polls.
As a consequence, all Prime Ministers of the country have in turn tasted defeat. It is hoped that they as well as all political leaders and the political class in general humbly recognise that the people of Mauritius cannot be taken for granted as they have repeatedly shown that they will roundly sanction any excesses of power or erring in good governance or transgressions or errant policies of the elected government whilst running the affairs of the country. This attests to the vigorous health and vibrant functioning of our parliamentary democracy which allows the electorate, if circumstances warrant it, to serenely vote for a changeover of political power in the confidence that it remains the final arbiter of who to trust and entrust with power at the polls. It also attests that the electorate fully masters the ins and outs of our electoral system and sees through the insidious stratagems devised to keep or wrest power as it has demonstrated uncanny insight to repeatedly foil them in past elections.
However, the 10th December general elections are no ordinary elections. The electorate will have to unravel the unique scenario of these elections when for the first time a political alliance has been forged by the leaders of the ruling party and the main opposition party, on a sharing of fundamental elements of our Constitution when it is outside their authority to do so and make a carefully thought out choice as regards who to entrust with a people’s mandate to safeguard our democracy threatened by such transgressions. The stakes are high, yet simple to understand.
Following a bilateral agreement between their leaders, the Labour-MMM (LM) alliance is seeking to impose, in the eventuality they obtain a three quarters majority at the forthcoming polls, an electoral reform based on the disputed system of proportional representation and a 2nd Republic where political power codified in the Constitution has been shared between them causing a potentially unstable bicephalous and indecisive power structure at the head of the State, without having first obtained legitimacy to propose these reforms by having them approved by the people in dedicated referendums.
Furthermore, there has intentionally been no national debate on these radical changes to the time tested parliamentary electoral system in place which has served the country so well since Independence nor a detailed draft document on those far reaching reforms nor an intent to explain or engage the electorate and the people on such fundamental changes, before the forthcoming elections. As some new born political Messiahs convinced that they hold the true word and blue print as to what’s best for our democracy against our collective intelligence, the leaders of the Labour-MMM alliance blindly refuse to see the deep malaise and discomfort of the electorate and the young at the tenor of the proposed electoral and constitutional reforms, the absence of due process and the kangaroo court tactics used to impose these widely contested reforms. They speak of a scaremongering campaign to downplay the growing clamour and plethora of legitimate questions being more loudly aired about the reform proposals by their own traditional supporters and the people at large at this sea change in the fundamental anchors of our democracy. Any genuine intent to, as avowed, strengthen our democracy should have elicited an honest and open debate on the many pitfalls and drawbacks of the reforms being undemocratically thrust upon us. This essential democratic exercise will not happen. In essence we are being harangued by the proponents of the decried reforms to give them a blank cheque. This is a recipe for a totalitarian regime.
It is clear from the above that the checks and balances of our democracy are not functioning, as those who were entrusted to be its guardians have not assumed their constitutional roles. None of the Members of the National Assembly (MNA) of the LM alliance raised their voices within their parties or in public about the lack of due process of first seeking the people’s approval through referendums before embarking on such radical constitutional reforms nor did they protest when the National Assembly did not sit for most of 2014 to allow the leaders of the two main parties to broker a political alliance. No MNA of the LM alliance asked questions about the hijacking of our democracy when the ruling party and its main opposition party in Parliament decided on contracting a political alliance and a sharing of the powers vested in the constitution. None of them cautioned that there were grounds under the Constitution to contest the legality of the reform proposals. During the lengthy period of protracted negotiations, all the elected MNAs enjoyed a prolonged holiday at public expense. There has been breach of trust with the electorate. All those MNAs who implicitly colluded to impede and hobble our democracy are guilty.
The choice of the electorate is therefore simple and clear cut. Under these circumstances, the only valid and rational choice for the people is to fight through the power of their collective vote to robustly thwart the contested and unauthorized reforms being proposed by the Labour-MMM alliance in order to safeguard the rights we fought for as a nascent nation and secured for the current and future generations at the time of Independence. Such an emphatic vote will also act as a potent warning to deter any future similar transgressions of our democracy.
To do otherwise would be to shackle ourselves when freedom had broken them and to undermine our future and that of future generations. We will not be condoned by history if we do not make the right choice, especially as once voted it will be quasi impossible to assemble the required majority in an enlarged National Assembly to undo the constitutional changes. Our parliamentary democracy which is a centuries’ old and time-tested political system has provided serenity, stability and quietude for social harmony and acted as a crucible for nationhood, unity and legitimate pride in our national ethos. It would be foolhardy and dangerous to let constitutional shamans jeopardise a political system which has served us so well and convert it into an authoritarian regime marked by intolerance. There are already signs of intolerance and coercion towards all those rocking the boat by challenging the LM alliance and disputing its reform agenda.
Déjà vu will-do list
Apart from measuring the potent threats posed to our democracy by the electoral and constitutional reforms proposed by the LM alliance, the voters, before casting their vote must also assess the performance and track record (bilan) of the incumbent government during its mandate bearing in mind that it has been in power for nine years since 2005. The people also have to assess whether as promised their lives and livelihoods have improved during the incumbent government’s term of office.
The recently presented electoral manifesto of the LM alliance says it all. It basically promises to do what the incumbent government undertook and was mandated to do and could not do. Its will-do list which very often smacks of déjà vu relates inter alia to addressing the inadequacy of water supply, the serious problem of unemployment and skills mismatch of an increasing number of qualified young people, the elimination of poverty or the democratisation of the economy or the rigorous application of the rule of meritocracy in both public and private sector employment. The track record of achievements of the incumbent government on all these issues has not been very bright.
Furthermore there is growing evidence of a rising distress affecting families owing to the increasing number of people finding it difficult to make both ends meet owing to the erosion of their purchasing power which requires the introduction of the safety net of a minimum salary. Inequalities have also risen sharply in our society during the mandate with the rich becoming much richer. Growth rates have continuously fallen since 2010 and the policy responses and strategies adopted have been unable to reverse the trend.
The uncanny similitude of the LM alliance electoral manifesto issued a week later, with that of L’Alliance Lepep has raised eyebrows and questions and triggered scathing innuendos of copy-paste. They seem to be variations of the same themes which raise doubts about the ability and acumen of the think tank to brainstorm innovative and imaginative ideas for transformational change.
It is widely recognised that the opening commitment of L’Alliance Lepep to raise old age pension to Rs 5,000 has set the cat among the pigeons. The catchy Viré Mam slogan has caught on like bush fire and is now an intrinsic part of everyday parlance. In spite of almost daily clamouring that it will obtain a landslide 60-0 victory, the LM alliance is multiplying its actions with the full weight of the state machinery to woo and influence the electorate.
Last week Government approved a series of measures having significant financial implications for both the State and the private sector such as a salary compensation which is higher than the inflation rate or putting an end to the protracted conflict in the public transport sector by deciding to apply the NRB salary scale as requested by the Trade Unions. The electoral manifesto contains a series of early harvest goodies such as wiping the sheet clean re penalty points slapped on the driving licence. It’s Christmas! This obviously raises questions about the timing of these announcements and the red line dividing social justice and political ethics and propriety in the sensitive pre-electoral campaigning period.
When republican values require that religion and politics remain separate, religious organisations are parading on national TV to give support to political parties. Is the intent of the daily aired ‘Journal de campagne’ purely informative? The virulence of personal attacks is heightened and has reached unprecedented levels of sordidness rarely seen during past campaigns. The contrasting style of presentation and content in terms of arguments fielded of the political broadcasts of the two main political alliances is telling. Does all this razzmatazz hide growing cracks in the fortress and mask certain disquiet at the growing alienation of a swelling multitude and revolt of traditional supporters against the reforms canvassed by the LM alliance?
Razzmatazz versus the people’s vote
The forthcoming elections are certainly the most important ones since Independence. It is therefore capital that the electorate fully mobilise to exercise with the least abstention its sacrosanct right to vote in a democracy. The vote is secret. It should be exercised fearlessly as a voter is answerable to no one but himself. This is time to stand up to defend our democracy though a disciplined vote. The voter must fully fathom the importance of his vote as the simple act of voting at these crucial elections can be a momentous game changer. We should remember that it is not the razzmatazz or the volume of banners nor the bandwagons of people brought to attend meetings which win elections. It is vox populi that decides the outcome of elections.
For all the above reasons, let the people’s choice prevail to enable the country, after the digression of the past year, to regain its sense of priorities, its quietude and democratic normality to focus on overcoming the daunting challenges ahead to construct a fairer society and a quantum jump in the quality of life of all.
* Published in print edition on 5 December 2014