Prime Minister vs President

Pravind Jugnauth should by now have learnt that politeness and civilities in the conduct of politics do not always pay. This is what may have landed him in the mess his government and himself now find themselves in

In a communique posted on the website of the State House on Wednesday 14th March, Mrs Ameenah Gurib-Fakim has signified her intention of staying put and her determination to clear her name, presumably before our courts of law. This is in the wake of the “slanderous accusations” which she says have been levelled against her since the publication in the press of the relevant bank statements in relation to her purchases, made through “inadvertence” in using the Platinum Card issued to her by the Planet Earth Institute (PEI).

In his press conference yesterday afternoon, the Prime Minister gave the chronology of the events that took place since his visit to the President accompanied by DPM Ivan Collendavelloo on 6th March. They clearly indicated to her that because of the media exposure related to her association with Alvaro Sobrinho and the PEI, as well as information which the government possessed, it would be better for her to step down, but the President had a different opinion on the matter, which the Prime Minister alluded to during a press point following his launching of the Independence Day celebrations.

In the special Cabinet meeting held on 8th March, the PM informed the Cabinet about the discussions at the meeting with the President. In the afternoon, he receives a call from the President who wishes to meet him; accordingly he cancels all his other engagements and goes to the State House. The President informs him that she has thought things out, and will step down, and they agreed to meet again the next morning at 9.30 am to discuss the date of doing so and certain other matters. In that meeting, on 9th March, they agree that she will resign on the 15th March so as not to perturb the Independence Day celebrations and as a mark of respect to the honoured guests who would be coming.

However, on the 14th March, i.e. one day before the agreed date for her departure from Reduit, the President issues a communiqué wherein she rejects any prospect of resignation, thereby reneging on the commitment she undertook vis-à-vis the Prime Minister. He said that he was shocked by this sudden turnaround by the President, qualifying it as a deplorable attitude which is ‘indigne’ of the Presidency, and a behaviour on the part of the President which shows a total disrespect to the people and the State. He will let the people judge for themselves, but as Prime Minister he will assume his responsibilities by taking up the matter at the Cabinet Meeting tomorrow (i.e. today), and will take the appropriate measures that the circumstances demand, as he has additional elements of information besides the recent media exposure.

What should also interest us however is the power game that is being played out on the margin of the Prime Minister vs President tussle. Whoever had said that the removal of the President has been strategised for purely political reasons might be exaggerating matters, and that should not distract us from the reputational damage wrought to the country through the continuation in office of a contested Head of State, especially at a time when Mauritius was hosting foreign dignitaries during the 50th Independence anniversary celebrations.

One could sympathise with Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth for his lack of experience and his intent to cut a different image of himself, far different from Sir Anerood Jugnauth’s no-nonsense and at times rash manner of doing things. But he should by now have learnt that politeness and civilities in the conduct of politics do not always pay. This is what may have landed him in the mess his government and himself now find themselves in for having given way for the President’s continuation in office until the end of the Independence celebrations instead of firmly insisting that she step down before the celebrations.

What comes out from this episode – despite his explanations about the chronology of events — is the image of a weak Prime Minister and party leader, unable to stand his ground and to fight it out in the face of a crisis. It is not what followers look up to in their party leader in the local context and according to our system of government: a strong and resolute leader who would not allow himself to be taken for a ride by whomsoever, and capable to stand up for his convictions. And to the likes of Paul Bérenger in Cabinet in the context of an alliance with the MMM eventually — much like the chest-thumping Labour Party leader who never misses an opportunity to demonstrate in political meetings (and apparently within closed Cabinet doors ) his predisposition to rein in any opposition to his authority as party leader or Prime Minister.

The MSM has not much of an option – nor does the MMM either after their poor showing at the last by-election in Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes, than to go into an alliance against the Labour Party (in alliance with the PMSD?) for the next general election, and one would expect that Paul Bérenger’s wish-list would include, besides the Mouvement Liberater’s leader Ivan Collendavelloo, the removal of the latter’s protégé from office as a pre-requisite for serious negotiations in due course.

Pravind Jugnauth has wavered on that count. He should be aware that it might help Paul Bérenger to have a weak MSM leader as ally in a coalition government, but that would not reassure the floating MSM voters who would most likely shift their loyalties towards the Labour Party.

As for the Labour Party’s (and the PMSD’s) attitude towards the President of the Republic — from an earlier outright condemnation of her doings to a now ambivalent one, short of an open defence of Mrs Fakim to date, one can well sense that the LP’s shift has been dictated by purely political considerations. Whether this is premised on the assumption that, in or out of office (eventually), Mrs Fakim would prove an important instrument for bringing down the present MSM-ML government, we will soon enough come to know, in view of the assurance that Pravind Jugnauth has given to the effect that rumours about the members of his government having benefitted by the largesse of Sobrinho do not worry him, nor do the posturings of the Opposition. He knows what he has to do, he said.

So let’s wait and see.


* Published in print edition on 16 March 2018

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