Dynastic Politics

On Sunday 22nd, when PM Sir Anerood Jugnauth announced his resignation as Prime Minister on television and spoke about his long commitment to politics, the first impression was that he was withdrawing from politics altogether. It is only the day after that we were informed about his role as mentor and at the head of the Ministry of Defence and Rodrigues.

With such a long political career, SAJ stands out as the oldest remaining politician from the first batch of politicians associated with Independence. Indeed, a most seasoned politician ever since, he banded with the charismatic and influential Bissoondoyal Brothers in the Independent Forward Block; he was in every debate concerning the political future of Mauritius. He made his way to Parliament, became minister in the 80s as a member of the MMM, founded his own party, the MSM, took the reins of the country’s affairs as Prime Minister, and got nominated as President by a Labour-led government.

With the creation of the MSM in the late 80s, members of the Hindu electorate, who mostly identified themselves with the pro-Independence Labour Party, found in it an alternative party to switch to. Even when party affiliation started cutting across ethnic lines, adherence to the MSM was largely due to the personality of SAJ inasmuch as the party appealed to those who were disgruntled with the laxity, nepotism, and cronyism associated, rightly or wrongly, with the Labour-led government. Despite the musical chair of party alliances and good economic performance under the Ramgoolam prime ministership as from 2005, the public perception of the two parties has not changed much.

In the collective memory of the public, SAJ is seen as the architect of the economic take-off, industrialization and prosperity of Mauritius, which he admitted was inspired by the economic plan laid out by the MMM. Prior to the take-off, the same plan advocated a few years of austerity to repay national debt by 1986. Years of groping along the dark tunnel hoping to get out of the economic quagmire of earlier years, the public had been through it all and could still put up with more sacrifices. A key external factor which played in SAJ-led government favour was the massive inflow of investment by Hong-Kong businessmen apprehending economic uncertainties in the island’s forthcoming attachment to mainland China.

How did it impact on the life of the public in the second half of the 1980s after the repayment of the national debt? The youths of Mauritius stepped on the threshold of opportunities open to them, they could learn new skills, set themselves to work, and even change jobs. Job seekers and their parents no longer had to queue up in front of MPs’ houses in the early morning with a begging bowl. And that was a big change! Many people were just surprised they could do things in the right and legal way, that they could apply for a job without fearing selection based on political backing, caste and ethnicity. The more ambitious borrowed and invested in key burgeoning sectors. The sky was the limit.

The Mauritian dream became a reality and flew higher beyond expectations. The economy boomed, industries flourished, educational facilities and healthcare extended their reachout. Common folks started improving their general living conditions, could afford better housing, consume and spend on leisure. Clearly, a new era opened up and the future looked bright.

There was a general feeling that the team of forward-looking politicians under the leadership of SAJ was imbibed with a sense of responsibility and commitment, and definitely communicated better with the people. The complaints and needs of ordinary citizens were listened to. Law and regulations were seen to be respected. Economic development enhanced the international image of the country, people over here started to take pride in the country. Mauritians abroad were thankful and felt relieved that the country was set to move forward on the road of progress. Lest we forget.

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January 22nd, 2017. A pall of defeatism descended upon those who strongly oppose dynastic politics when SAJ forced the status quo into the households of the people on television. An extension of some sort of a never-ending Ramgoolam-Jugnauth musical chair at PMO since 1968!

In a typical feudal tradition, leaders end up believing that the people are their subjects and the country their private property. No one is really fooled by the well-engineered constitutionally compliant aspect of handing over the prime ministerial post to the party leader who has a majority of MPs in Parliament.

Upon resigning as Prime Minister, Cameron declared his post vacant and did not single-mindedly choose UK’s next PM. At least, SSR harboured no desire of seeing his son join politics. Could Xavier Duval, if he was still in government, Nando Bodha or another minister come forward and propose to serve as PM if SAJ had resigned?

In December 2014, SAJ was voted back to lead the government thanks to the Alliance Lepep with PMSD and ML. No one in his right mind believed an ageing SAJ would assume PM responsibility for five years. The likeliest candidate with a long political career, competence and charisma would have been Xavier Duval, (his father was not PM) and Bodha next. Now, were they given the opportunity to claim the prime ministerial seat? The question that arises is: how can the public go about claiming an end to dynastic politics when inner-party functioning passively perpetuates the system and elect a PM’s son leader of a party as a most natural thing on earth?

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Since Monday last the MBC TV news appears to play it at a very low level, paying tribute to the merits of the Great Helmsman. A whole family singing its own praises on the national TV station is inappropriate. It is not the most objective thing to do to cast family members in the role of passing judgements on the merits of father, son and husband. For example, it is inappropriate to come forward and lecture the public on what is constitutional, legal and common practice in political leadership. An argument to support dynastic succession might apply to North Korea, Middle-Eastern monarchies, the Emirates and African authoritarian régimes with a past tradition of tribal chieftains, but surely not to modern Mauritius.

Quite a number of Americans did not want another Clinton in the White House in the recent elections, partly because they were wary of politicians who overstay in the corridors of power. Politics is different from architecture, medicine and other professions where young adults follow in the footsteps of their parents. Politics gives tremendous power to leaders to take decisions which impact the lives of all the citizens of a country. And perpetuation of power tends to corrupt when politicians cling to power for too long… It’s a different matter if somebody obtains power by being explicitly getting so mandated by the people.

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Right now, public opinion relies on the integrity and honesty of former Judge Lam Shang Leen’s Commission on drugs not to spare any well-connected lawyers who are allegedly involved in drug dealing and politicians who would have protected them for financial benefits. Issues like these are real news, not the private opinions of those who either eulogize too much or those who are given opportunities to sully the reputation of political opponents.

Nita Chicooree-Mercier

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