More than in the past nine post Independence general elections, a determined majority of voters within the electorate has shown yet again through their collective wisdom that they are the robust and vigilant bulwarks against any threats to or stratagems aimed at undermining our democracy and are its real king makers. The 2014 election was their finest hour
The overwhelming vote of the electorate against the combined might of Labour-MMM (LM) alliance causing their crushing defeat at the 10 December general elections and the resulting national rejoicing among the population across the country should have been a sobering lesson in humility for their leaders. Instead of humbly accepting the people’s scathing verdict and acknowledging that the LM alliance ‘s’est plantée royalement’, the MMM is yet again afflicting the nation with a cock and bull and surreal concoction to justify the debacle of the LM alliance at the polls.
Whilst Navin Ramgoolam humbly accepted the verdict of the electorate, true to form, Paul Berenger, after deliberations within the party on the ignominious defeat, had the disgraceful impudence to claim at his first press conference after the defeat that the electorate’s vote was a vote of censure rather than a massive vote in support of L’Alliance Lepep when the latter polled a crushing 50.8% of the vote. The more so, as he was himself trounced to the third place in his own stronghold constituency of Rose-Hill-Stanley by a hefty margin of more than 3,000 votes by his challenger, the leader of the Muvman Liberater and that the MMM could only elect 9 out of its 30 candidates. Furthermore, not only Anerood Jugnauth polled the highest score of 67.816% but all the three other leaders of the L’Alliance Lepep polled between 56.4% to 62.8% of the votes.
With the same odious aplomb, he heaped the responsibility of the scathing defeat on the ‘arrogance’ of his coalition partner in the elections, Navin Ramgoolam, when until polling day, he was daily extolling their unity, singing the same campaign tunes and harping on the prospect of a landslide victory at the polls. In spite of the overwhelming endorsement of L’Alliance Lepep by the electorate, he had the disconcerting impertinence to express in the wake of the defeat, his deep consequent worry about the country, still grudging the people’s sovereign choice in favour of L’Alliance Lepep. He also confirmed that the prime reason of contracting an alliance with Labour was to pre-empt the eventuality of Labour forming an alliance with the MSM at the last minute, as in 2010!
History will also retain that it was the alluring prospect of his occupying the post of Prime Minister (PM) for a full mandate of five years in case of victory of the LM alliance, that had tipped the MMM’s decision in favour of an alliance with Labour. After clamouring that he had always been Labour at heart during the campaign, he has in the wake of the humiliating defeat at the polls put sine die an abrupt end to the short-lived alliance with Labour.
Le ridicule ne tue pas! With such an abject and untenable stance how on earth can he ever muster popular support to become PM? This attitude is in sharp contrast with Eric Guimbeau’s, the leader of the MMSD party, singular tribute to Anerood Jugnauth’s key role in L’Alliance Lepep’s massive victory. The uncompromising and irate condemnation of Berenger’s tall concoction to explain the defeat, in the social media networks, is symptomatic of the mood in the country.
Learning from failure
Such a humiliating defeat at the polls when the LM alliance was so confident of a victory should have been an occasion for an honest appraisal of the root causes of this debacle, for humbly acquiescing the scathing verdict of vox populi and learn from the many lessons that can be drawn from the people’s vote. It should also have provoked an honest mea culpa and a big bang to rejuvenate party cadres and leadership. Such an exorcising exercise is essential if the parties are to regain any credibility with the people. The indications are that trapped in the leader centric and extremely centralised power structure within the two parties, this essential democratic and salubrious exercise is not likely to happen unless some decide to finally rock the boat and start a palace revolution.
Our vibrant parliamentary democracy requires that there are credible opposition parties to act as constructive watchdogs of government actions and policies. It is therefore incumbent upon them to carry out the necessary exercise of introspection to fathom out where they erred and alienated the people in order to be able to initiate the sea changes necessary to be credible again.
In the best democracies in the world such as India or England, the defeated leaders of parties, especially when it is so clearly an indictment of their questionable leadership, immediately tender their resignation in humble recognition of their responsibility as leaders in the defeat at the polls. Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister as well as both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi immediately tendered their resignations (which were not accepted by the Congress Party) after their defeat at the respective last general elections in the UK and India. From the statements made by the leaders of the Labour and the MMM, this lofty principle of political ethics is clearly not likely to be followed here. Instead, Bérenger is now blithely going to assume the post of the Leader of the Opposition when earlier in the year he thought it legitimate to continue to occupy this important constitutional post in our Westminster parliamentary system and benefit from its trappings, while simultaneously negotiating a political alliance with the ruling Labour Party.
The people’s sanction of the LM alliance is also an indictment of the sordid depths political ethics had sunk to and the tenuous benchmarks of good governance in the country. The people’s message is loud and clear. The level of political ethics and good governance need to be overhauled to the highest benchmarks of transparency, accountability, trust between the electorate and the elected, altruistic service to the nation and honesty of purpose to meet the expectations of the nation and in particular the young of the country.
More than in the past nine post Independence general elections, a determined majority of voters within the electorate has shown yet again through their collective wisdom that they are the robust and vigilant bulwarks against any threats to or stratagems aimed at undermining our democracy and are its real king makers. This election was their finest hour. To rub them the wrong way as was the case with the contested reform proposals of the LM alliance, poor governance and highhandedness is to do so at one’s own peril. Although the enlightened Mauritian electorate has time and time again demonstrated a savvy and intuitive shrewdness to foil past ploys aimed at wresting power against the popular will, the political class has too often failed to humbly learn from the lessons of past disavowals by the electorate.
An examination of the poll results reveals that whilst the electorate for the most voted with single minded discipline to usher victory, there were in specific constituencies rogue and sectarian votes evidenced by the tell-tale results, by some fringes of the electorate who continue to sulk mainstream Mauritius and box themselves into their own apartheid.
Whoever wants to become Prime Minister of Mauritius must apart from his abilities of decisive leadership and his State management acumen, primarily have his heart in the right place and connect with the common man. He must also be a fair and potent arbiter of inclusive growth, social justice, a more equal society with common rules, equal opportunities in employment and the entrepreneurial space in a level playing field with access to land and capital and frame the required policies accordingly. It is only those imbued with such a political ethos who can rally the multitude to their cause and certainly not those whose track record in running the affairs of the state have either been partisan to vested interests or to a chosen coterie.
All these loud and clear messages from the nation better be heeded by those humbled by defeat but also those now trusted with running the affairs of the State. In its electoral programme, L’Alliance Lepep has already codified the 12 commandments and principles underpinning the contract of trust with the people which will anchor their governance. It is vital for our democracy and the uplift of political ethics in the country that these rules and commandments are adhered to rigorously by all those elected by the people to form the government.
Setting the tone
The first decisions of the new government even before taking office, to immediately pay as promised an enhanced old age pension of Rs 5,000 to some 240,000 persons and the appeal made to the sugar industry employers that the workers be paid the eight days they were recently on strike have set the tone and struck the right cord with the population. It is therefore important that all the other stakeholders including the private sector and the sugar industry employers take their cue from the government and stop dithering and dallying with effete gamesmanship to rally to the cause of constructing a more innovatively and intelligently run economy to create a more prosperous but fairer and more inclusive society for the people.
It is hoped that as a matter of priority, the government will also urgently implement its electoral programme commitment to make all sugar planters, at long last after years of delay, become commensurate shareholders and partners of all the enterprises using their cane by-products as feedstock in the sugar cane cluster ventures, for free so that they can as the corporate sector shore their dwindling and uneconomic sugar revenue with the revenue streams generated from the other remunerative activities in the cluster such as energy production.
Whist the price subsidy is a welcome short-term measure this year when prices have registered a quantum fall, shareholding to obtain par revenue is the only sustainable policy response to maintain sugar planters afloat. However, government policy should also allow those sugar planters who want to exit from the sector, after they and their forebears have during decades contributed to the sugar sector and the national economy, to do so and dispose of their land assets exempt of all taxes so as to enable them to pursue other activities of their choice.
It is also high time that toxic political interference in and feudalisation of the civil service be ended forthwith under the new government. The civil service must attract and be manned by the best young talents of the country and be given its erstwhile independence to diligently serve the government in place as professionals of the state apparatus so long as they adhere to the sacrosanct principle of not allowing their personal allegiances to impact on their work. A distinction must therefore clearly be made between political appointees and civil service cadres of the government Establishment and the latter should be protected as they assure the continuity, permanence and smooth functioning of State administration.
In the new political landscape, it is also refreshing to note the emergence of new political parties altruistically aiming to bring a paradigm shift in both political ethics and the ideals which must underpin political action. Two women, Roshni Mooneeram and Sheila Bunwaree, both having had a career as University Professors had joined the fray to inspire the young towards a better political order and ethos and deserve our plaudits. The honourable scores made by some of the parties including new ones manned by professionals as well as individuals augur well for the future and it is hoped that this trend will induct a loftier ethos in politics and truly strengthen our democracy.
Our country is at a momentous juncture. A clear mandate with a solid majority obtained at the polls also carries the high hopes of the people which put a heavy responsibility on the new government to deliver through a rigorous stewardship on its electoral programme for the benefit of the entire nation. As a nation which turned the tide of the electoral campaign to seal an emphatic victory at the polls, the onus is also on us to, in the famous words of John F. Kennedy, ‘ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country’. We can therefore all combine our efforts and collective intellect to assist the government to construct a more inclusive, equal and prosperous society benefiting all fairly and in particular the more vulnerable, anchored on values of solidarity and a potent sense of nationhood to create a better order for all.
There is a synergic confidence in the nation in the wake of the massive win that the country now shorn of insidious agendas and convoluted game plans can grow to attain its loftiest national ambitions and realise a quantum jump in the well being of the people at large.
* Published in print edition on 19 December 2014