PJ’s First Year in Office

The circumstances surrounding his nomination as PM had been widely criticised as it was not mandated by a plebiscite at the polls — By M.K.

It has been a year now that Pravind Jugnauth has taken over from the leader of the 2014 ‘Alliance Lepep’ and assumed office as Prime Minister. The circumstances surrounding his nomination as PM had been widely criticised as constituting an unwarranted change of Prime Minister as it was not mandated by a plebiscite at the polls. However, another current of thought maintained that from a constitutional point of view, it could be viewed as being perfectly in order.

Pravind Jugnauth took office on 21 Jan 2017, some 11 months before the holding of the by-election in Constituency No. 18, following the resignation of former minister of Good Governance Roshi Bhadain on account of the Metro Express project. As it turned out, this matter appeared to be the least concern of the electorate of Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes, a constituency which, by virtue of its composition in terms of ethnic groups and social classes, is considered to reflect an electoral representation of the country at large. The electors instead were called upon by the opposition to express their opinion on the performance of the MSM-led government and on the controverted change at the helm of government. The MSM, being absent from the by-election, missed an opportunity to seek the stamp of popular approval that would have given weight if not legitimacy for the nomination of Pravind Jugnauth as PM.

The MSM might have had good reasons for keeping away from the poll, and that is largely understandable given the baggage that he has inherited in terms of poor governance, the sway of party cronies and a coterie over key institutions and state companies, the mishandling of the BAI affair and the STC-Betamax litigation both of which are likely to cause embarrassment to the State with the risk of it incurring billions of rupees in terms of liability.

Unfortunately, there have been more instances of such dysfunctions to sully the government’s image. The new Prime Minister has had to deal with a succession of embarrassments and scandals all through his first year in office: a former Attorney-General caught up in a public denunciation that he would allegedly have used his position to favour certain persons involved in money laundering; yet another minister, a ‘serial gaffer’ who raised a public outcry following his threat of physical violence against the leader of the PMSD, and who ultimately had to resign after a video was circulated on social media showing him as willing to discriminate among communities when awarding NHDC flats. These incidents have had the effect of wasting both the Prime Minister’s and his government’s time and efforts that were, instead, used up to effect damage control.

What differentiates Pravind Jugnauth from the former Prime Minister is the marked departure from Sir Anerood Jugnauth’s style in running the affairs of the State. He doesn’t display the abrasive handling of men and issues that had come to be associated with his father’s. He seems to be doing whatever is necessary to project a softer though equally firm image as he tries to carve his own space and ensure that he is taken seriously in his own right, not as the son of Anerood Jugnauth. Time is also on his side given his young age relative to his current political challengers. With the enormous resources which the Sun Trust puts at his disposal, he would reckon, we presume, that his current term as Prime Minister marks the beginning of a political career he is likely to believe he is destined for. This could be the more so since his current challengers, if any, inside his own party can be taken care of, and a few of those outside are, in his view, past their sell-by dates – although they could point to Sir Anerood Jugnauth’s political longevity and claim that they too need not lay down arms yet. For all we know, his manifest optimism about his political future may well be premised on an anticipated favourable outcome of the one serious threat that looms – the MedPoint case before the Privy Council.

Be that as it may, he seems to have been making at least some right moves since he took over. For example, whatever be the secret of the gods within the MSM, as far as the public is concerned he did not hesitate to let go of some of his trusted ministers and lieutenants in the wake of their déboires with political opponents or with the law: Soodhun, Yerrigadoo, Gulbul, Tarolah. That some of them are surfacing elsewhere in his company during his field visits is another matter. On the other hand, his visits to various constituencies and groups during cyclone Berguitta have displayed the image of a leader who wants to engage at first hand with those in need. The same adroitness was visible during the press conference that he held once the cyclone warning was removed, both in his summary of the events and the government actions undertaken as well as in his replies to the questions asked by the media – including the controversy raised around Etienne Sinatambou’s remarks about biscuits and water supplied to those who had gone to the shelters.

Pravind Jugnauth has repeatedly stressed that there is no question of early elections and has pledged to complete his remaining mandate of two years. This of course should not be surprising: for a start which leader will say that he is not capable of fulfilling his assigned role; and then he has the numbers in Parliament to justify his stand. There is the issue of the Metro Express that can derail calculations, as once the construction gets underway in earnest the disturbance that the public is fearing will happen may seriously undermine credibility. Furthermore, the apparent abdication of the government’s role and responsibility in the socioeconomic development of the country by allowing a predominance of private sector interests in its membership and the threat of a consequential ‘policy capture’ as feared by Rama Sithanen is something that will not go down well.

It could well be that the Prime Minister would wish to match his political ambition of a second mandate with a firm reassurance to the country that the moves he is making on the social and economic fronts would not jeopardise the fundamental interests and concerns of the people and do not constitute an abdication of government’s responsibility towards them. The future will show.

 

* Published in print edition on 26 January 2018

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