No Place for Political Dinosaurs

Why do disavowed politicians still cling on to power by every means instead of taking the cue from the people’s vote that it is time for them to go?

In recent weeks, the people have repeatedly made it clear, yet again, that it is they and not political leaders or parties, who decide the outcome of elections at all times. Their vote and verdict at general elections are and remain paramount and unequivocal. Those voted to power remain under the constant scrutiny and appraisal of the people who stand ready to sanction any breach of trust, malpractices and poor governance, at the polls.

This was again evidenced by the electoral backlash of the people against the government of Theresa May whose appointment as Prime Minister did not benefit from the legitimacy of a plebiscite by the people through general elections. Her misguided gamble with the electorate to seek, on the basis of a 20 point poll lead over the Labour Party in April 2017, a larger majority from the people at the snap elections she called on 8 June 2017 backfired ignominiously. The people decided otherwise. It must be said that as a nominated prime minister, Theresa May had no mandate from the people to govern the United Kingdom, let alone embark the country into the perilous unknown of a ‘hard Brexit’ negotiation with the European Union.

Her government programme and her hard Brexit stance have been roundly rejected by the people at the snap general elections. The Tory party lost its majority in the House of Commons and the outcome of her gamble is a hung parliament. Theresa May escaped total defeat by the skin of her teeth. Instead of stepping down after such a costly miscalculation, Theresa May is holding on to power amidst calls for her to go. The survival of her minority government depends tenuously on the deal sugarcoated with a financial support of £1 billion from public funds for Northern Ireland agreed early this week with the little known Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party whose 10 MPs will give the Conservative Party, a slim majority of two in Parliament. The deal to prop up her government has disruptive and divisive consequences on the United Kingdom. It has already been criticized by politicians in Scotland, Wales and parts of England.

Why do disavowed politicians still cling on to power by every means instead of taking the cue from the people’s vote that it is time for them to go? Such condemnable ploys contrived by discredited party leaders to remain in power in the teeth of the people’s verdict and the public interest have been the hallmark of the standard of ethics of a large number of political leaders and the parties which have dominated politics over the past decades. It has been the bane of politics for far too long, hence the electoral backlash of the people across the world to rid the political landscape of such political parties and their disavowed leaders.

The Macron blitzkrieg

The loud clamour for radical change by the people was also evidenced in the crushing victory of the neophyte Emmanuel Macron as the youngest President of France at the presidential elections in May by a landslide 66.1% of the votes and the overwhelming majority of 350 seats in the 577-strong French parliament obtained by his centrist ‘La République en marche’ party and its allies at the 18 June 2017 legislative elections. This success is far beyond the 289 seats required for a majority in the French National Assembly. In the space of slightly more than a year, ‘La République en marche’, the party founded by Emmanuel Macron on 6 April 2016 has connected with the people, sidelined the traditional political parties in France and become a dominant player in the French political landscape.

The mainstream conservative Les Républicains party and the Socialist Party which ruled France before Macron, did not even make the cut to contest the second round of the French Presidential elections. The far-right National Front led by Marine Le Pen who contested the second round of the presidential elections could elect only eight members at the legislative elections and thus failed to reach the 15-seat threshold needed to form a parliamentary group. In fact hundreds of sitting MPs from the mainstream parties decided not to stand for re-election. The political debacle of the political parties which have dominated French politics over decades has been complete. The people fed up with the standard of ethics and governance of the main French political parties and their leaders have cleared the deck and severely sanctioned them.

Anything but the same political leaders and parties

Is the democratic world finally cutting loose from the crippling hegemony of traditional political parties which have ineptly monopolized politics for too long? Are the people so fed up with the poor governance, appalling ethics, un-kept promises, corruption and failures of traditional political parties and their leaders which have alternatively run their country over the past decades that they have finally decided to unceremoniously jettison them?

Across the world, people no longer want to compose with the same discredited political leaders and parties. They want to shake things up as there is a pervasive feeling among the multitude that anything is better than the current political establishment or a rehash of the same model of economic liberalism which has deepened inequalities, eroded standards of living, repeatedly undermined public interest and generally failed to meet the aspirational needs of the people. The democratic world is going through the throes of game changing events.

Mauritius cannot lag behind. The onus is therefore on all of us to bring about a new socio-economic and political order cut off from the present discredited political establishment. All the ingredients including a pervasive exasperation and ire against the whole political class are ripe in the country for cleaning up the local political Augean stables once and for all. The people have realized that the endless cycle of having to choose a government between the lesser of two evils at each general election is untenable.

Let there be no ambiguity. The present government established by a dynastic change of prime minister does not have the legitimacy conferred solely by the people through general elections nor a mandate from the people. It is on a tenuous lifeline so long as it does not call for general elections. The present concentration of power within the government is such that for example the role of various ministries such as the ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade seems straightjacketed. The opposition is no better. The leaders of both the MMM and the Labour Party should have stepped down after their scathing defeat at the December 2014 elections. The more so as the people have not forgotten nor forgiven the dangerous constitutional amendments so alien to the fundamental ethos of our independence they wanted to impose on the country, simply to satisfy their power sharing arrangements.

Is futile and endless politicking distracting attention from the more important issues relating to the vital interests of key sectors of the economy? For example, is the government giving focused attention to the OECD multilateral framework to ensure with other developing countries that the interests of their financial services sector and their sovereign rights to decide their tax rates and regimes are comprehensively safeguarded? The OECD multilateral framework which aims at roping in some 100 countries to implement the Base Erosion And Profit Shifting (BEPS) to prevent tax avoidance strategies that exploit differentials in tax rates principally serves the interests of the G20 countries in a globalized world rather than those of the financial services sector of developing countries. We have to deftly and urgently fight for our corner.

There is no place for amateurism or the dilettante if the country is to judiciously meet the challenges of a tougher, more competitive and more sophisticated world market environment as well as devise innovative strategies for inclusive and sustainable growth. We need the best brains and talent of the country to do so.

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Costly bungling and largesse

The award of damages of US$ 130 million or more than Rs 4.5 billion against the Mauritian government by the Singapore International Arbitration Centre earlier this month in the case lodged by Betamax, raises some basic questions. Did the government take expert legal advice to understand the elementary terms of commercial contracts and law such as the governing law, notice of termination or arbitration before unilaterally terminating existing contracts? Was this decision taken allegedly despite the advice of the Solicitor General? The onus is now on government to transparently show, beyond the palaver, that the savings purportedly made by the termination of the contract in 2015 far exceeds the damages imposed on Mauritius and that no damages will be paid from public funds. Otherwise, all those rashly responsible for this costly blunder must be made accountable. What is the status of the diverse other cases of litigation lodged against the government?

The glib government claim that it rigorously obtains value for public money is repeatedly belied by the generous largesse of government towards the coterie, political appointees and cohorts of advisors at the expense of the public Exchequer as well as the wanton dilapidation of public funds flagged in audit reports. It is flabbergasting that the Interim Report on racing in Mauritius, its damning findings and its recommendations to set things right commissioned at great cost had vanished in thin air. Now that the interim report has been tabled by the leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, allowing the public to take cognizance of its crying findings, has the government taken the necessary urgent steps to obtain a copy from those commissioned to prepare the report and implement its recommendations?

Similarly, the various interceptions of drugs by the authorities presently only bring to light the scale and ramification of this scourge in the country. Is there a real will to rid the country of drug traffickers and the more and more evident nexus between drug trafficking, money laundering, the racing world and some elements of the legal profession?

The prospect of a by-election in Quatre Bornes has got all the political class in a buzz and rearing to dispute one seat, oblivious of the pervasive ire against politicians because too many things are amiss in our country because of them. The political class will not change. As has been the case in France, it is the people who must rid the political landscape clean of all those leaders and politicians they have repeatedly sanctioned but who still hang on. Mauritius is no place for political dinosaurs.

Mrinal Roy

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