Why do people become politicians? Is politics about obtaining and wielding power? Or is it about ideals, about a commitment of altruistic service to the people?
By Mrinal Roy
More than two thousand years ago Aristotle said that the two noblest professions are teaching and politics. Most people would agree that teaching generally remains a noble profession today. However, this is far from being the case for politics. We just have to survey the world today to be appalled at the deplorable state of affairs in the world due to politics.
The Brexit mess, President Trump’s contested declaration of a national emergency last week to mobilize funds to build a wall on the border with Mexico and circumvent robust opposition from the US Congress or the gilets jaunes movement for economic justice by grassroots citizens in its 15th week of protests against the French government reflect part of the current disarray caused by politicians and governments incapable of gauging and competently addressing the real problems of their countries and the people.
Whether it is South America or the United States, France, United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East, Asia or Africa, politics continue to spawn scandals, corruption, conflicts, wars, wide inequalities, people’s protests, recession, trade wars and an endless superpower tug of war over geopolitical interests. Instead of improving the quality of life of people, such developments hobble progress and cause tremendous hardships to the common man.
Does the cynical verdict of Niccolo Machiavelli ‘Politics have no relation to morals’ aptly describe the current situation?
However politics was not always so abysmal. The founding fathers and freedom fighters of the major democracies of the world were driven by lofty ideals, a commitment of selfless service to the people and the unswerving battle for their rights and the continuous improvement of their well being. It is values such as the equality of all men and their unalienable rights enshrined in the United States Declaration of Independence or the core principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity of the French Revolution which underpinned the battle for freedom and independence of countries across the world from colonial rule as from principally the beginning of the 20th century.
When did it all go wrong? In a democracy which means ‘rule by the people’, politics was never intended to be a profession. It was meant to be a noble calling. Democracy is a political system where every member has an equal weight in decision making. The seminal idea was to assemble and elect the best talents and brains of the country with a proven track record in their respective field of expertise to serve the country and contribute to its advancement for a term of office before going back to their profession. However, the heady exercise and trappings of power and its rewards enticed too many to stay on and on.
In too many instances ideals were supplanted by the thirst for power, its creature comforts and handsome perks. The upshot is that in too many cases the relentless pursuit of power by every means and shenanigans of every kind by politicians to remain or wrest power have systematically short-changed the interests of the people and the country.
Why do people become politicians? Is politics about obtaining and wielding power? Or is it about ideals, about a commitment of altruistic service to the people and modestly contributing in establishing a more just, inclusive, equal and significantly better society for the benefit of all? This means that the politician must first and foremost have the intellect, competence in his field of expertise and the necessary qualifications to be able to bring about the required sea changes and policies to usher such a society.
Not a profession
Politics cannot be a profession. The country and the interests of the people must prevail over those of politicians at all times. This primarily means that the government of the country must always be entrusted to a team of talented men and women who by virtue of their track record in their respective fields of expertise and proven skills can contribute meaningful to the advancement of the country and the well-being of the people.
In a highly competitive world market environment in constant flux, the challenges faced by countries are constantly evolving and more and more daunting. The economy is facing various red lights. The qualifications, skills and expertise required to successfully conjure these challenges must also be more and more pointed. The management of the affairs of a ministry or the country is not learnt on the job by trial and error. An MP and a Minister or a Prime Minister must be able through his/her own professional expertise and qualifications to bring potent synergies and a cogent contribution in the competent management of the affairs of the State. Those incapable of doing so must quit politics.
Time to clean up
The political class in Mauritius does not measure up to these fundamental gold standards. How many of our political leaders and politicians have a generally acknowledged track record of achievements in their respective field of activity before joining politics? The majority of the present political leaders and politicians have been in politics for decades. Without the competence, qualifications and intellect required, how can they hold on to their posts and claim to be able to grapple with the many daunting challenges faced by the country and satisfactorily address the real concerns of the people? The poor performance of the country over the past decade is patent evidence that the political leadership is obviously out of its depths. This is certainly not a job for the dilettante.
Tom-tomming daily about the achievements of the government with the help of citizens shamefully press-ganged for the purpose is far from being commendable. It cannot mask the reality of the real problems faced by the people and the country. The havoc wreaked by flash floods this week, the continued interceptions of hauls of hard drugs, the substantial losses registered by Air Mauritius and the fragility of the economy are jolting reminders of some of the real unresolved problems facing the country. Governments and politicians who cannot address the real problems of the country and deliver on the aspirational needs of the people must be replaced by those who have the competence and abilities to do so.
It is also patently evident that the people no longer identify themselves with the current political class and their leaders. This is not the time to rehash the same policies and the model of development which have failed the country for too long. As a nation we must realize that we will not be able to become a high income economy, bridge the yawning inequality gap in the country or frame the policy framework for a more inclusive society if the same inept politicians who have monopolized the political scene for decades and failed the people are allowed to stay on.
Politicians must make the cut
Politics is not about assuring a handsome pension to politicians at public expense. It is not about dynasts. It should be the preserve of only those with the expert ability and intellect to meaningfully contribute to the advancement of the country and the continued prosperity of the people during a finite period. The corollary is that those who are incapable of doing so should step aside or be jettisoned by the people at the polls. It is the country and the people’s interests as opposed to those of politicians which should prevail at all times. The onus is therefore on the people to be the uncompromising arbiter of this fundamental and crucial choice.
For too long politicians hobbled by the straight jacket of their own limitations have been calling the shots to the detriment the country and the interests of the people. This cannot go on.
Politics has to be a noble calling. There cannot be any place for any other form of politics. This means sweeping the Augean stables of local politics clean of all those who have no place in it as they do not make the cut in terms of altruism, abilities and intellect to contribute competently to the continued prosperity of the country and the people in an inclusive and fair manner. It is therefore high time for the people to entrust the future of the country only to those who have the proven abilities, competence and standards of ethics to empirically validate through their cogent actions and innovative initiatives that politics is and should only be a noble calling.
* Published in print edition on 22 February 2019