Where the world has not been broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls,
Into that heaven of freedom, O father, let my country awake.
— Rabindranath Tagore
Chaos unlikely to end soon
More than a month ago in this column we had argued that the instability in the governing alliance was bound to increase dramatically because problems of style of leadership and personality clashes were compounded by structural flaws. Unfortunately we have been proven right as the chaos within the rank of government has amplified over the days and weeks, with every other day opening up a new battle front.
Basically we had argued that the separation of party leadership and prime ministership is a tough contradiction to manage because of the inevitable split of loyalties which it entails. The detached style of leadership adopted by SAJ, who seems to be the least concerned about the mood in the MSM party when it comes to taking decisions as leader of the government, has made matters even worse.
It is persistently rumoured that SAJ’s decision regarding the appointment of a new Minister of Finance after the shift of Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo was hotly contested by other prominent party members. Although intuitively one may think that a Prime Minister should indeed not bother about party politicking when it comes to decisions concerning the nation, it is nevertheless profoundly incompatible with the Westminster system of government which we have inherited from the UK.
In Australia, in September 2014, the incumbent Prime Minister Tony Abbott was ousted when he lost a Liberal Party (the ruling party) leadership contest to his Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who thus became Australia’s fourth Prime Minister within a period of just over two years. What ignited the challenge and eventually resulted in the ouster of the Prime Minister was the fact that the two-year old Liberal Party government was struggling in opinion polls. On his accession to the post, the new Prime Minister declared that “ultimately the Prime Minister had not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs. He has not been capable of providing the economic confidence that business needs.”
Sacrosanct as these may have been for the Liberal Party of Australia, it remains that the real reason for the defeat of Prime Minister Abbott by a majority of members of the party and his overthrow was the poor showing in the polls and the threat posed to the future electoral prospects of the members of the party.
In the UK a similar system of challenge of party leadership during the annual party conferences may result in the ejection of the ruling Prime Minister.
The point we are driving at is that Prime Ministers as leaders of the party which commands a majority in Parliament cannot escape keeping an eye on the party rank and file when governing. The fact that regrettably it is well-nigh unthinkable to change an incumbent Prime Minister in Mauritius during an on-going mandate only contributes to make matters more complicated. The rumblings and frustrations of the unsatisfied elected members manifest themselves in the most unexpected ways and tend to morph into the kind of fractious inter-party and intra-party confrontations which we are witnessing with the present government.
This is precisely what happened to the first 60-0 government of the MMM-PSM of 1982 with the result that we know. That experience has shown that political dynamics can sometimes take the most strange and unexpected turns. Now as then the question of leadership is a permanent cause of renewed tension because every time that a new leader takes over in any organisation, power will inevitably shift among people. The apprehension of those who fear that they may lose their privileged positions or be cut down to size coupled with the ambitions of others to garner favour and gain from the new leadership are bound to have eminently destabilizing effects on the organisation.
When it concerns a political party in which the objectives, structures and ideological boundaries are much more fluid than say a business entity, the complexity of relations in the context of a change in leadership is even more pronounced and unpredictable. The sad conclusion what we draw from the above is that things are likely to get worse before they get any better with the resolution of the leadership issue within the MSM and the government.
Party Leaders become Prime Ministers
Incidentally this leads us to an interesting point about an eventual accession of Pravind Jugnauth to the post of Prime Minister. In some quarters it is being suggested that this would not be totally legitimate, essentially it is argued, because the electorate was never called upon to vote for such an eventuality.
Notwithstanding the fact that this is a rather spurious argument (most MSM voters, one would think, knew that such a development was always on the cards), the examples which we have quoted above clearly illustrate the point that in parliamentary systems of government based on the Westminster model, the Prime Minister is the Member of Parliament who “commands a majority in the House” and the only test of the legitimacy of a Prime Minister within the system remains the “motion of no confidence.”
Accordingly, in the true spirit of our parliamentary democracy, should the opposition feel aggrieved by the eventual accession of Pravind Jugnauth to the post of Prime Minister, their only recourse would be to ask for a motion of no confidence whose outcome should settle the matter once and for all by establishing whether he does “command a majority in the House”.
The end note
This week has proven to be very tumultuous in further igniting political speculations. The Nandanee Soornack case in Italy regarding her eventual return to Mauritius as an accused in an alleged case of money laundering came up on Wednesday. Persistent news from the grapevine indicates that the appeal case of Pravind Jugnauth is also likely to be decided. And finally ICAC is to determine whether or not to formally charge the former Minister of the Environment in the case of “bal la poudre”. No wonder that Mauritians are on a political speculation spree.
* Published in print edition on 29 April 2016