Damn Politics

Democratic rules are being undermined by endless politicking and gambits by politicians to hold on to or wrest power by any means and in some cases by stamping the opposition. In all cases the collateral damage is borne essentially by the common man

The biggest challenges faced by the world are socio-economic, especially in an international context of enduring financial crisis. Yet politics seem to be clutching the world in a stifling stranglehold. Politics is becoming overbearing and is basically the root cause of so much distress, strife and conflict in the world.

Is politics becoming more and more the scourge of the world? This is the growing impression when listening to the news every day. Across the world, from Gabon to Turkey, South Africa, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Brazil, democratic rules are being undermined by endless politicking and gambits by politicians to hold on to or wrest power by any means and in some cases by stamping the opposition or waging war. In all cases the collateral damage is borne essentially by the common man.

In war torn countries, where opposing factions are battling for political supremacy, the situation is worse. Ordinary citizens are forced to flee their countries to find refuge in makeshift camps for years or brave the dangers of seeking asylum abroad. The arrival of more than a million refugees in Europe in 2015 has caused political turmoil leading to the rise of anti-immigration parties across Europe.

According to a UNICEF report released last week, new and on-going global conflicts over the last five years have caused a 75% jump in child refugees to 8 million. Half of these children have been forced out by the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan. They live in precarious and vulnerable conditions exposed to multiple risks and in most cases are denied such fundamental rights as education, healthcare or recreation.

In the wake of the mid July 2016 aborted coup, President Recep Erdogan has initiated a massive purge corralling some 80,000 persons. The purge, which includes arrests and sackings, has targeted academics, independent journalists, judges, 149 generals, soldiers, the police and civil servants. 130 media outlets have been closed. He seems hell-bent to assure his absolute authority over Turkey and eliminate opponents to consolidate his power.

President Erdogan’s pervasive crackdown is already undermining the civil service and the security services and crippling institutions. The repression has significantly shrunk the democratic space and is a major setback for the modern Turkey built by its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923. Realpolitik oblige, condemnation by the US and the EU towards Turkey, a NATO member who plays a key support role in the US-EU war and air attacks on terror, has not been strongly worded nor commensurate with the blatant violations.

Deep divide

In Brazil, the impeachment and destitution of President Dilma Rousseff on 31 August 2016 on charges of criminal responsibility in the execution of her duties when the independent view by scholars and constitutional experts is that her alleged lapses did not amount to criminal responsibility is an abuse of the Brazilian Constitution and a perversion of the democratic process. The Constitution has been used as a potent weapon to destitute a legitimately elected President. The decision ended 13 years of the leftist Workers Party rule. However, the senators rejected by 42 to 36 the motion to bar Rousseff from public office for eight years, which allows her to run for office again in the near future.

In the continent the divide between the conservative right which has dominated politics in South America and the emerging left in an increasing number of counties is deep seated and acrimonious. The repression of the Pinochet regime in Chile during 1974-90 and the lost children of Argentina under the 1976-1983 military junta have left painful scars. President Dilma Rousseff’s replacement by the Vice President Michel Temer amid the turmoil without returning the country back to the polls makes a mockery of the paramount right of the people of Brazil to arbiter who they want to trust and endorse to run the country during a new political mandate.

Politics has become invasive and is extending its tentacular reach over all activities of society and even dictating social behaviour. Thus amidst rising intolerance, former French President Nicholas Sarkozy made the ludicrous claim that he would change France’s Constitution (based on the cardinal principles of Egalité, Fraternité and Liberté) to ban full-body burkini swimsuits if he is re-elected as President at the April 2017 presidential polls in France.

In a ridiculous turn of political events, the burkini dominated the French political debate throughout August. A ban on burkini was decreed by mayors in Corsica and some 30 French coastal cities. The ban was subsequently suspended by France’s highest administrative court on the grounds that it “seriously and clearly illegally breached fundamental freedoms.”

Even the Socialists are having difficulties to find their bearings in secular France amidst rising xenophobia and intolerance after the carnage caused by the Bastille Day terrorist attacks carried out on 14 July 2016 by a Tunisian resident of France. In a startling development, French Prime Minister Manuel Walls backed the French mayors who banned the burkini adding with the jaw-dropping statement that ‘Marianne (the national symbol of the French republic) has bare breasts because she feeds the people… and is free. That’s the Republic’.

Surely, the values of the Republic cannot be about the amount of skin which is exposed or not. Cultural diversity and specificity as well as fundamental freedom must allow people to enjoy the sea and the beach in a wet suit like burkini or a bikini.

Equality and individuality

In his book ‘Sapiens: A brief history of humankind’, Yuval Noah Harari argues that there exists an intrinsic human contradiction between equality and individuality. By virtue of cultural diversity and specificity we are necessarily different individuals. However, a migrant seeking and obtaining refuge in say Europe or the United States, countries which provide him with a safe haven, democratic rights, freedom and opportunities for him and his family to work, educate his children and prosper cannot shut himself in a cultural ghetto. He has to integrate his country of adoption and adhere to certain common values of his new country. In such a context, the Boston Marathon or the Paris or Brussels terrorist attacks have caused legitimate anger and provides a fertile ground for mistrust and backlash.

Democratic principles and process

Politics also took centre stage in Mauritius this week. As everywhere else it is a mixed bag of disconcerting decisions which defy simple logic nor meet the test of objective scrutiny. The accumulation of botched decisions in the context of the outbreak of the foot and mouth disease was crowned by the disconcerting decision to allow people to buy cattle without a health certificate on their own responsibility and at their own risk and peril. Despite the wisdom and imperative in a secular democracy to keep politics separate from religion, this continues de plus belle as some thrive on this unholy meddling.

The Prime Minister’s comments regarding the possibility that he may not complete his mandate and on the principles drawn from the Constitution which should determine who should replace him was akin to stoking a hornets’ nest. The political class is in battle mode. As expected, there have been differing views on this sensitive issue as well as prescriptive pronouncements from the same self-appointed high priests of our Constitution.

Mauritius is not the United Kingdom. There are two fundamental questions on this issue. Is the scenario of a sitting Prime Minister voluntarily stepping down before the end of his term of office and his replacement specifically dealt with in our Constitution, the supreme law of the land? There is also the question of legitimacy and fundamental democratic principles. As has traditionally been the case in the country, shouldn’t the people choose the Prime Minister whom they wish to lead the country, at the polls?

Politics messes so many things up. The world would be such a better place without political meddling of every kind. More than ever, ultimate power must rest with the people and returned to them every time there is a need to determine issues of importance and germane to their interests and paramount rights. Across the world, people must say so and ensure that this is so.

Mrinal Roy

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