By Murli Dhar
There are three levels of government in Mauritius. At the very base of the system, we have 130 village councils. The second layer consists of 5 municipal councils. At the national level, we have the central government. All elections are organized by the Electoral Commission of Mauritius. Choices that voters make in these different respects reflect the amount of democratic space in the country. Ordinarily, what happens at the level of village council and municipal administrations does not relate very clearly with the general election for the National Assembly.
Nevertheless, major political parties like to use municipal elections in particular as a test of their national appeal, even though voting in rural constituencies is usually the determining factor in the final outcome of general elections defining the seat of political power.
The dates for village council elections have been fixed for 2nd December 2012. Municipal elections will be held on 9th December. The opposition parties, the MMM in particular, had been asking vehemently that municipal elections should not be delayed any more. This is supposed to be the prelude to creating the mood for general elections which are three years away. In view of the fact that the MMM had been seeking to form an alliance with Labour behind the scene for quite some time now, under the guise of “electoral reform”, the decision given out to hold municipal elections will force the MMM to make a choice of political partner for the present. It can no longer keep shifting between Labour and the MSM alternately. We understand that the MMM has decided to go into alliance with the MSM for the municipals.
The playout of political forces is such that even in the context of the municipal elections, the MMM could seek to “minoritize” the MSM in the municipals by allocating to it a relatively small enough number of municipal tickets. The objective behind this kind of allocation of tickets would be to guarantee that the MMM would still have the majority in the town councils (in the event the opposition were to win the elections) even if the MSM were made to leave the ship in mid-course, in whole or in parts. That would suit the MMM nicely just in case it veered course again to re-discover the virtues of Labour before the next general elections!
The MMM appears to be confident that it can ride to victory in the municipal elections relying solely on anti-incumbency votes. So, it is taking up the MSM along with it as a backup in marginal wards in which the profile of sectional distribution of voters may not quite play in its favour. Besides, towns like Quatre Bornes and Vacoas-Phoenix would need a reassurance of the MSM type for winning at the polls. In any event, it is clear that the MMM will be at the driving wheel and the MSM will be given a ride on the sides. As in the case of its former ally, the MMSD of Eric Guimbeau, the MMM will allocate tickets to the MSM mindless of the damage that would do in terms of causing permanent disaffection within the ranks of the MSM. It is the price a dominant coalition partner, claiming to be the locomotive, demands of its temporary ally in coalition politics.
It is not unlikely that the treatment the MSM will receive for the local council elections will reflect on the party’s credibility at the national level. If the MMM were to maintain the MSM as a mere option pending a decision it will take as to which party it will partner with eventually when the general elections are called, it will have succeeded to devalue the MSM in the eyes of the public. This will show up in the numerical representation it will give to the party in the coming local council elections. The image of the MSM will then take a serious knock and this will disable the MSM as a convincing partner of the MMM in the rural constituencies at the time of the general elections. However, the general elections are far away: this truth will be out even before, that is, with the decision to allocate tickets for municipal elections between the two parties very soon.
* Published in print edition on 16 November 2012