Citoyens, it is time to stand up and be counted

“The supreme leaders of the main political parties have systemically devalued and corrupted political ethics by their frequent zigzags and shenanigans as they constantly swap political alliances to suit their relentless pursuit of power. They have made a virtue of the shameful adage ‘Everything is possible in politics’ so irrevocably distanced from the ideals and altruistic sense of service to the people of Emmanuel Anquetil. Is it not time for the people to sweep these Augean stables clean?”

Mauritius is not Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s (whose recent loss we mourn) banana republic described in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ nor George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ nor Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Yet, the Prime Minister (PM) and the leader of the Opposition are converting our country into Absurdistan, an authoritarian republic, and are bent on imposing a bilaterally agreed constitutional and electoral reform blueprint on the people.

Last week, as part of a convoluted game plan, the PM proposed with the complicit accord of the Opposition that the National Assembly, which had just resumed its sittings a week before after more than three months holidays, be suspended for a month to allow consultations on the electoral reform proposals contained in the White Paper to take place. The scheduled programme of legislative work, debates and Parliamentary Questions on burning issues have arbitrarily been put on hold in order to prevent any mishap of acrimony and bad blood (after nearly four years of constant bickering) which could put at risk the building consensus of the main political parties around the reform proposals and the cosy ‘chemistry’ bonding the two main Party leaders.

The proclaimed consultations are selective and have effectively been hijacked by the PM and the Leader of the Opposition who are multiplying their tête-à-tête to agree on the final shape of the electoral reform to be imposed and are rearing to have the related amendments to our Constitution, the supreme law of the country, expeditiously drafted and rushed for first reading at the resumption of the Assembly on 13 May. In essence, the objectionable electoral reform proposals aim at introducing an untested hybrid electoral system which authorises the leaders of the main political parties to appoint according to their own arbitrary and subjective criteria, between 16 and some 20 PR (Proportional Representative) nominees as Members of the National Assembly (MNAs), representing up to a third of the elected MNAs, from candidates rejected by the electorate or persons from a PR list, who do not contest the elections.

Worse, without any consultative process, the two leaders have in common accord decided to include the project of a 2nd Republic in the bilateral discussions. This obviously begs the question of whether they really want to strengthen our democracy and serve the interests of the people or simply tailor the sharing of power between the President and the Prime Minister at the head of the State to suit their end of career ambitions. Should they not first face the electorate to obtain legitimacy over the content of the 2nd Republic proposal through a mandate from the people? It must be said that a system of government modelled on the French Fifth Republic format constitutes a fundamental departure from our well-anchored Westminster parliamentary system and our general national mindset. The scenario of two potentially conflicting poles of power in the format of the 2nd Republic being aired carries attendant risks of instability.

In the two largest democracies of the world, India and the United States, the Constitution prevailing at the time of Independence was overhauled by consensus in a holistic manner (the US Constitutional Convention specifically instructed that there should be no piecemeal alterations or new laws) and drafted by the most eminent constitutional jurists of the respective countries in a manner that reflects their ethos and is inspired by the noblest democratic philosophy and principles. The elaborate process of widespread consultation, drafting, approval and ratification of the new US Constitution which started in May 1787 was completed by ratification in May 1790.

Similarly, the task of preparing a new Indian Constitution was entrusted to the Constituent Assembly representing India in all its diversity. In August 1947, a drafting Committee chaired by Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the internationally renowned constitutional jurist widely considered as the architect of the Indian Constitution, was appointed. A draft Constitution was submitted in November 1947. After nearly three years of due process, debates and more than 2000 amendments to the draft, the new Constitution of India, the longest written Constitution of any sovereign country in the world, came into force on 26 January 1950, and India became a sovereign democratic Republic.

These comprehensive, democratic and transparent exercises are a far cry from the ongoing bilateral horse trading and tinkering with our Constitution.

In a democracy the power of a Nation rests with the people and with its electorate at the time of general elections. The elected Members are answerable to the electorate during their tenure of office. There is a pact of trust between the people and the elected Members and the Government voted to power by the electorate for a finite period, anchored on the tacit understanding that no fundamental and un-mandated change, the more so in the case of amending the Constitution, can be effected without obtaining a clear and specific mandate from the people through a related referendum. The current deal being brokered between the PM and the Leader of the Opposition on such fundamental changes clearly exceeds the brief given by the people and breaches the pact of trust.

There is already a pungent smell of revolt in the country at the whole undemocratic process, the arbitrary and opaque modus operandi of the proposed reform proposals and the cynic motivation of the main political leaders to assure, at all costs, their self interest rather than that of the people or that of the country. In spite of well-orchestrated denials by the Leader of the Opposition and his apparatchiks, in the best traditions of the autocratic Napoleon in ‘Animal Farm’, there is mounting criticism in the press and open disagreement within the Party.

For decades now, aided and abetted by their cohort of sycophants, the supreme leaders of the main political parties have systemically devalued and corrupted political ethics by their frequent zigzags and shenanigans as they constantly swap political alliances to suit their relentless pursuit of power. They have made a virtue of the shameful adage ‘Everything is possible in politics’ so irrevocably distanced from the ideals and altruistic sense of service to the people of Emmanuel Anquetil. Is it not time for the people to sweep these Augean stables clean?

Democracy is about fundamental and solid core values such as liberty, equality, justice, solidarity towards the vulnerable, secularism and a clearly defined separation of powers to ensure transparency, good governance and checks and balances. It is grounded on the principle that the people’s power is sovereign and paramount. The rigorous extension of democratic principles and values throughout society should ensure that meritocracy, transparency and a professional sense of service to the nation prevail in all walks of life including political parties and their financing.

Democracy has no place for covert design and power driven calculations or sordid gambits. The track record of all political parties at the helm of government over the last decades is far from meeting these essential benchmarks. There is a deep seated alienation towards the political class among the people and especially among the young at this culture of endless politicking to wrest power which distracts focus and perpetuates detrimental inaction on the numerous problems afflicting the real economy such as stagnant growth, employment of the young, the standard of good governance and sound management in public sector institutions/companies or the many mismatches between policy and implementation.

The serious implications of the ongoing political bargaining are a loud wake-up call for all and in particular the young who want a paradigm shift in political ethics and democratic values in our country.

Citoyens, it is time to stand up and be counted.


* Published in print edition on 25 April 2014

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