Being elected to represent the people does not mean that an MP, Minister, Prime Minister or President has been given a licence to do whatever he or she likes. It is not a blank check for adventurism of every kind
By Mrinal Roy
An estimated 700,000 people turned out in central London on 20 October to voice their protests against Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal. The June 2016 referendum in favour of Brexit without defining its core elements and modalities does not mean that the British are prepared to accept any deal cobbled at the last minute through political horse trading and compromises which are contrary to what Brexiteers really want. The protesters in London argued that the voters should therefore have the final say on the terms and conditions of the final Brexit deal through a referendum.
The protests yet again highlight the essence of democracy, namely that it is the people who should have the ultimate say on every important matter which would impact on their lives, the future socio-economic prospects of their country and their livelihoods, such as an eventual Brexit agreement with the EU. As the final arbiter, the people must assess and validate it through their vote. On such important matters politicians cannot arrogate themselves the right to act as a proxy for the people and usurp the people’s sovereign prerogative to pronounce themselves on any important proposed changes through their vote. London’s Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan who addressed the rally together with prominent celebrities, business people and well known personalities from civil society said that ‘It’s time for this vital issue to be taken out of the hands of the politicians and returned to the British people.’
The cardinal lesson to be derived by voters across the world from the Brexit vote is that the people must always exercise their right to vote in any election or referendum to express their choice as they cannot honestly expect to have a second shot.
Not a blank cheque
However, being elected to represent the people does not mean that an MP, Minister, Prime Minister or President has been given a licence to do whatever he or she likes. It is not a blank check for adventurism of every kind which is contrary to the seminal values, ideals and principles which underpinned the battle for rights, freedom and the foundations of independent Mauritius. Whatever major changes which are proposed to fundamental anchors and foundations of our democracy such as the Constitution, the electoral system or the separation of powers between the Judiciary and the Executive must first pass the test of approval through a formal vote by the people and the consent of the collective wisdom of the multitude. Politicians transgressing their finite role and the red lines of what they cannot cross with impunity have been repeatedly reminded of this truism through the sanctions meted out by the people’s vote at general elections.
The outcome of the December 2014 general elections is a crying example of the people’s ire against the adventurism of the power sharing and electoral reform deal concocted behind their back by the leaders of the ill-fated Labour Party-MMM (LP-MMM) alliance. The scathing sanction of the people was such that the LP-MMM alliance which boasted of a possible landslide victory on polling day were roundly defeated at the polls despite a ragtag group of candidates fielded by the makeshift L’Alliance Lepep cobbled before the general elections. The voters had single-mindedly decided which alliance they did not want to vote for.
The crying lesson is loud and clear: it is not the conjured mirage of purported bank vote arithmetic which determined the outcome of the elections but the opposition and backlash vote of the electorate against decried constitutional amendments which are alien to the ethos of the multitude.
Absence of legitimacy
However, the election of a mixed bag of MPs was fraught with risks. The upshot is that the government has been plagued by various scandals and flawed decision making. Various government Ministers have had to step down owing to various wrong doings while others who have been named in the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking are being investigated. To make matters worse, the current nominated Prime Minister does not have the legitimacy and mandate required which can only be conferred by a formal plebiscite and vote by the people at the polls. It is the sole prerogative of the people to choose a Prime Minister of their choice through their vote on the basis of such criteria as intellect, innovative vision for the country, track record of achievements in their profession, altruism, a high code ethics, an ability to couch ideas on paper and a charismatic rapport with the people. So often in the political history of the country, the people have denied past Prime Ministers the vote for a new mandate. In deference to this unprecedented situation, akin to a lame duck situation, the Prime Minister must humbly realize that he has no mandate to propose any game changing electoral reform or laws which would impact on the foundations of our democracy.
This is the more so as the Prime Minister persists in arguing that his own electoral reform proposal should be endorsed by the MMM as it is similar to that proposed by the LP-MMM alliance at the last elections. Why then rehash and propose an electoral reform which has already been rejected by the people at the last polls and been the main cause of the LP alliance ignominious defeat meted out by the people at the last general elections. To crown it all, the MMM and the Labour Party are disconcertingly still doggedly defending their decried electoral reform proposals despite this being the main cause of their humiliating defeat in 2014. Too often, the syllogism and flawed logic of politicians bemuses and baffles the people. In any case, it is the sole prerogative of the people to decide on such important issues such as the electoral reform and not that of government or MPs, the more so as they cannot be judge and party. They would do so at their own risk and peril.
An air of desperation
Despite this unwarranted situation, there is a growing air of desperation about the government bid to canvass the support of the people by every means through the same rhetoric tediously rehashed daily on prime time MBC-TV news. The national TV has been shamelessly converted into an abject government propaganda machine devoid of credibility at the expense of the public Exchequer. Every event including celebrations organized by socio cultural organisations of every hue and colour as well as patently sectarian ones seems to be fair game in our lay republic to be converted into a political platform. In the light of the many ills sapping our society, is it not time for socio-cultural organizations to focus on their true social calling instead of ingratiatingly meddling in politics?
Upholding national ethos
Those entrusted by the people to run the country cannot do so in violation of the cardinal values, principles and ethos which define their country’s identity and standing as a nation. Lucrative trade contracts and geopolitical interests or financial grants cannot supplant moral standards.
The admission of the gruesome murder of dissident journalist Jamaal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by the Saudi authorities, reminiscent of medieval intolerance, has raised serious moral questions. The Khashoggi case seems to be callously used as a pawn in an international chess game involving Saudi Arabia, the US and Turkey who obviously holds all the trump cards, evidence and audio records of the ‘planned murder’. Will the UK, France, Europe or the US exact credible answers and justice for Jamaal Khashoggi? Will they take, as was the case against Russia in the wake of the alleged assassination attempts on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England in March retaliatory actions and impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia? Mauritius seems to have blithely opted to bury its head in the sand.
Slavery and the indenture system: The imperative of knowing our past
Without knowing the past, we cannot as a nation fathom the present. We all need to know our roots and the objective history of the country to better understand and assume our real identity as Mauritians. We have all leant from each other despite the vicissitudes of history and been shaped and fashioned accordingly. We are all a bit of everyone in this unique crucible of multicultural humanity and microcosm of the world.
The descendants of slaves and indentured immigrants who form the large majority of the population have to learn and know the story and history of their forebears. It is a story of hardships, of toil, exploitation and oppression but also a story of transforming the economy and the country through their hard work as well as bonds of kinship and solidarity despite the difficult context. It is also the story of their revolts and fight for their rights and freedom, their many unsung heroes or the preservation of culture etc… All this history needs to be narrated and known by all.
This poignant and rich history cannot be narrowly limited to the events organized in the context of the abolition of slavery on 1 February 1835 or the arrival of indentured immigrants on 2 November 1834. As stated before, it is high time that the history of slavery and the Indian indenture system in the country, their social organization as well as the battle for their rights be taught in schools as part of the teaching of the history of Mauritius from the start of colonization at the earliest through objective textbooks validated by well-known scholars and the support of multimedia and other pedagogical tools. Now that large swathes of colonial records have been released, it is also necessary to encourage and support research to be carried out at the University on different aspects of our rich history for the benefit of all.
For crassly unavowed reasons the teaching of an objective history of the country has been systematically scuttled. Objective history means that we above all need to eliminate the history books penned by obsequious court scribes or pandering to selective amnesia. A truly objective and scholarly history of the country should help further cement nationhood and promote inclusiveness at all levels. It would also help the people assess the role of the main protagonists of some 420 years of chequered history and objectively discover and honour the true heroes of the country.
* Published in print edition on 1 November 2018