Politics, Morality and Leadership

The worst case scenario for a Pravind Jugnauth prime ministership would be a rejuvenated
opposition in the form of a New Labour or MMM configuration, with the present leaders
at best in a new role as mentors?


Everyone is entitled to his own views and the right to comment critically on the views expressed by political analysts in the press. Healthy debates opposing contradictory viewpoints are one of the essential elements of democracy. Neither should one be offended by criticism as long as it is done without malicious intention.

Unsurprisingly the strong position we have taken regarding the eventual appointment of Pravind Jugnauth as the next Prime Minister has caused us to be labelled as an ardent defender of the “Jugnauth dynasty” in certain quarters. Unsurprising because in Mauritius what matters most as soon as one gets into a serious debate are the personalities and immediate political fallouts rather than the ideas or principles which are being discussed.

In this particular case we have consistently and since months now taken a view that it was an established convention in parliamentary democracies based on the Westminster model that any Member of Parliament who can prove to the satisfaction of the President that he or she commands a majority in the House is eligible to become the Prime Minister. If this is true by convention in the mother of Parliaments, in Mauritius the supreme law of country also supports such a practice.

Today even the Leader of the Opposition has agreed that an eventual appointment of Pravind Jugnauth would be perfectly constitutional/legal although like many others he has also expressed strong reservations on the “moral” aspect of the move. In this regard, regrettably, the popular perception is that politicians of all hues need to be very careful when using the “morality” argument to qualify the actions and decisions of their opponents. This should not, however, preclude the issue of the centrality of morality in the political process and in the running of the affairs of the country.

It might be opportune here, before proceeding any further, to distinguish morality in politics from any form of religiosity. Although there need not be any fundamental clash between one and the other with respect to individuals, it must be remembered that the essence of morality in a political (secular and liberal) sense is founded on the principle of the ongoing collective search for constructing a fraternal, fair and egalitarian society without the need to have recourse to the common fatherhood of God or in our more materialistic world to a God-like figure in the form of a seemingly infallible leader.

Having thus laid some of the definitional parameters of the debate, the answer to the question about whether it is morally right or wrong for Pravind Jugnauth to succeed SAJ as Prime Minister cannot be divorced from the political context. This column has often quoted French philosopher Lucien Goldman’s precept on objectivity in the social sciences. He basically states that the closest one can get to it is to openly state one’s biases and convictions at the outset. Indeed it could be construed as intellectually dishonest not to disclose them because that would deprive the reader of an essential element for him to reach a balanced judgement.

Here are therefore the reasons for which we believe that the accession of Pravind Jugnauth as the next Prime Minister is morally justifiable.

There is probably no sense in refuting the outrageous suggestions that we are anywhere close to the North Korean Kim Il Sungian succession pattern simply because here as there the son is succeeding the father. There remains however the truly serious issue of “dynastic” politics in independent Mauritius. Basically a situation in which the scions of a handful of families claim “filial right” if not ”divine right” (to meme nou bondie, ene tigite pli tipti ki bondie) to political leadership through manipulative control of the apparatus of the main parties in the country. This constitutes a definite ignominy weighing heavily on the democratic credentials of our country.

However if the problem is really about “dynastic politics”, then general elections or not we are unfortunately confronted with exactly the same dilemma. Apart from Paul Berenger, all the main contenders for prime ministership and even deputy prime ministership would in any case hail from the same lot of “descendants.” Since it can be irrefutably argued that given a choice in the present juncture the people of Mauritius would definitely opt for an “outsider”, we therefore contend that the moral case for having general elections is considerably weakened. Except of course if in a bout of statesmanship and patriotism the “usual suspects” were to resign from their party leadership positions…

Apart from the “dynasty” factor, the sheer longevity of the “political leadership” in this country has become another serious cause of embarrassment. The only possible comparisons worldwide put the country in the most shameful of categories in terms of political choice or rather absence of it. Even before the last elections it was becoming clear that the “formulaic” politics which has dominated our landscape for so long was not going to work. The ethno-casteist-communal mathematics and subsequent political arrangements between political leaders for either preserving or accessing to power had become the conventional wisdom.

In the process party programmes and ideologies were reduced to mere rhetoric while sharing of the bounties of power became the main determinant of the “marriage” proposals. After “marriage à l’essai” (Remake), pre-nuptial divorce agreements were presumably the next advanced stage on the agenda. As a result politics as the confrontation of ideas and devising ways and means of constantly improving socio-economic welfare of the largest numbers was relegated to the end of the queue on the list of preoccupations of our “leaders”. While this is assuredly a reductionist description, it nevertheless captures the essence of the increasing degradation of the polity over many years, culminating in the present “disorganized chaos”.

It is posited therefore that the erstwhile leaders – SAJ, Paul Berenger and Navin Ramgoolam – who have no doubt contributed immensely to the progress of the country since independence each in his own way, should now honourably leave the scene and allow a new generation to take up the challenge. We need not here elaborate on the arguments that justify such reasoning as it is abundantly clear that given a choice voters are most likely to opt for a new generation of leaders. The proposed appointment of Pravind Jugnauth as the next Prime Minister is therefore a step in that direction and should therefore be welcome.

For those who would jump to the conclusion that here we go again batting for the “Jugnauth dynasty” we would simply have this to say. Actually the worst case scenario for a Pravind Jugnauth prime ministership would be a rejuvenated opposition in the form of a New Labour or MMM configuration, with the present leaders at best in a new role as mentors?

Pravind Jugnauth on the other hand will have a very steep hill to climb. The way we see it, he has a window of opportunity which always arises for a new incumbent. Whether he actually seizes the opportunity or not is what we shall all witness in the coming months. What is sure is that the best thing for the country would be to see him have to fight it out with new kids on the block at the next election and hopefully in the process witness a blooming new political scenario for our country.

Rajiv Servansingh

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