Government of National “Unity”

When governments feel weakened due to conjectural circumstances, they are tempted to enter into expeditious coalitions. This does not mean they will eventually harvest the fruits of progress across the board

Political observers claim that, all things remaining the same, a Labour-MMM alliance would create an element of stability on the political front. It is also generally believed that such an alliance would be unbeatable at the polls inasmuch as two opposed blocs of votes which back the two parties separately will come together in such an event. What will be left out of the electorate will then not be able to vote any other alternative coalition of political parties to power. An assumption is made that, under the circumstances, such a political arrangement between Labour and the MMM will provide a strong government of national unity.

In the past, an alliance of the sort, just like those that brought the MMM together with the MSM, have been evoked “in the superior interests” of the country. The view was taken that such “strong” political alliances would be able to address firmly the challenges facing the economy in particular by avoiding the element of social instability that would make the implementation of requisite hard “reforms” difficult to achieve. Accordingly, sufficient confidence would be instilled among the followers of each party that their interests were being protected by the government in place. Thus, sufficiently affirmative policies could be initiated which would be commensurate with the challenges posed by the prevailing international economic crisis. That is assumed to give Mauritius a chance to overcome its handicaps and move the stage some notches higher.

The reality however is that Labour and the MMM have traditionally stood for the defence of values and interests that are intrinsically and fundamentally opposed to each other. Labour has a soft socialist core. It is rooted in a constituency which has the emancipation of the lower strata of society as its principal concern. Although the way the political game is played out in Mauritius attempts to place the party in a communal straightjacket opposed to the springhead of the MMM’s communal support, mainly from the minorities, Labour is fundamentally content to produce policies that do not hurt the middle and lower classes irrespective of what communities they belong to.

On the other hand, the MMM uses communal support it draws its power from only to be able to use it to defend the interests of conservative vested economic interests hiding behind thick smokescreens. While keeping to this principal objective of defending such interests, it plays up to its own voter base by bringing in disruptive policies which give a semblance of undoing social and economic advancement achieved by Labour during its long history of association with power. Such policies, such as balkanizing the population by proliferating distinct “cultural centres” for every possible identifiable group in the population, tend to create more fragilities than becoming a constructive force for the nation as a whole. Thus, the two major parties are fundamentally distinct and basically opposed to each other in their approach to “serving the nation”.

This situation puts at odds the argument frequently made by lobbies which, for securing their own private interests, want the two parties to come together “in the superior national interest”. Such lobbies do not have at heart the best interests of the population or the continued harmonized togetherness of the population as a whole. On the contrary, their aim is to make a semblance of unity of the population only to go on their own separate ways once they do not get what they came in for in the formation of such a government of coalition.

This is why historically the MMM, while trying to make its distinct argument to defend hidden economic interests, has often had to break away from “strong” governments of which it formed part. The only exception was the 2000-05 MMM-MSM government. At some stage, its defence of its hidden agenda becomes so overwhelming that it cannot brook any opposition to what it has set out as its real objective. By that time, it is also beset by the concern that, short of being able to make some symbolic favourable gestures to placate its traditional voter base, it would risk losing them. This is where breaking point is reached in the so-called governments of national “unity”.

Since the MMM leader has a dominant role in the party, deputies who have been elected under its banner are forced to toe the line whenever the leader expresses dissatisfaction or discomfort at the way things roll out from the coalition. The exception was, when some of the opinionated followers of the party decided to break away and continue the work of reconstruction as a separate political force, notably the RMM.

Looked at in perspective, the country has hardly made substantive progress when Labour and the MMM, or for that matter when the MMM and the MSM, were joined together in coalition. There were leaps of progress during the post-independence days when Labour was in coalition with the PMSD of Gaetan Duval. Between 1983 and 1999, when the country effectively broke the barrier to economic diversification, the MMM was not part of the game. The MMM was again absent from the scene from 2005 to 2010 when the government was able to insulate the country from the consequences of the international economic crisis. It is only during the 2000-05 MMM-MSM government that the MMM was part of a government that launched the ICT sector but the MMM’s direct contribution thereto cannot be identified.

The question is whether the MMM has been a progressive force in terms of strengthening the national agenda and opening up new fronts of productive economic activity whenever it has operated in coalition in a “strong” government of national unity. There is no evidence that such has been the case. The party has got overtaken by its own conservative agenda to such an extent that it has not been able to show tangible results at the national level. Another question is whether its coming together in coalition has helped to destruct the communal venom that was subtly distilled before the polls for independence were taken. There is no such evidence.

When governments feel weakened due to conjectural circumstances, they are tempted to enter into expeditious coalitions. This does not mean they will eventually harvest the fruits of progress across the board. Far from it.

* Published in print edition on 8 August  2013

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