The recent week has been rather uneventful when compared to the previous ones when suddenly all hell seemed to have broken loose.
The population came to learn about how existing alliances were being unmade while others were simultaneously in the making.
Constitutional amendments were being discussed by the leaders of the two major political parties and the population held its breath waiting for indications, and closely watching for some signals from the body language of the main protagonists. In the end, as suddenly as it had all started, there was the great anti-climax. The two leaders who had indicated that they were on the verge of reaching agreement on all the issues that mattered announced that they had finally failed to reach agreement on some fundamental points.
Rather unsurprisingly, the leader of the MMM was in no mood to make any concessions regarding the issue of the future President of the Republic being elected through universal adult suffrage. Credit should be given to him for having stuck to his principled position regarding this proposal, which amounted to a shift from an Indian model of presidential regime to a French one. Some astute observers may choose to find this rather awkward being given traditional expectations. Be that as it may, it appears that Navin Ramgoolam was not totally insensitive to the arguments of his opponent with whom he admits, in any case, that he shares a good chemistry. Although they failed to agree, one could sense that there was more regret and disappointment between the two leaders as they parted company rather than resentment. A sense that was later confirmed when both leaders restrained from attacking each other.
On a rather peculiar 1st of May, which had seen all parties cancel their traditional Labour Day meetings, the three main political leaders of the country each managed to secure a platform to clarify their respective positions as a consequence of all that had happened during the previous weeks. Sir Anerood Jugnauth (SAJ) had kept a very low profile during the previous set of events leading to the unannounced, but almost inevitable, demise of the Remake. He finally made his coming out at a rally in his “fief” of Riviere du Rempart.
Whilst SAJ’s attacks directed at Navin Ramgoolam were more or less to be expected, the suspense was quite palpable regarding his eventual attitude towards his future-ex ally. His scathing attack on Paul Berenger was surprising given that in the same speech he also “forgave” him principally for the lack of respect that the former had displayed towards him personally by suggesting that the MSM should consider being a junior partner in an eventual renegotiated deal. As matters rested after this new round of exchanges, it looked like the protagonists were all licking their wounds and preparing for the next one.
Meanwhile a very interesting new phenomenon seems to be shaping up which may have serious repercussions on future political developments. An uninvited (?) player has joined the fray through the social media as very strong opinions have been expressed on the web by what one would surmise are the young people of this country. It may not yet be the Mauritian equivalent of the Arab Spring. But it certainly creates a sense of hope after what until only recently looked as a politically lethargic generation started voicing their views — thus giving the lie to what looked like a total disconnect between the youth and political happenings in the country.
It is not unreasonable to assume that political leaders are bound to take account of this new spate of interest and adjust their tactics accordingly. Most importantly all political parties have certainly awakened to the need for reckoning with this new form of manifestation of interest among the youth for the political affairs of the country.
To sum up the situation as at the beginning of this week, it is clear that the ball is now back in the camp of Navin Ramgoolam. He is expected to make the next move which would spark another inevitable bout of hyperactivity. It is not clear that he is in a better position to determine a favourable outcome for himself yet. SAJ, for his part, has stated his position, which is either the Remake or nothing at all as far as the MMM option is concerned. Otherwise his party will presumably lead the charge alone. As for the MMM leader, he has not given up hope for a bill on the electoral reform to be presented to Parliament very soon. Unsaid is the fact that this will open the way at least to another round of serious “koz koze” with the Prime Minister.
As much as Navin Ramgoolam would like to take his own good time to re-engineer this scenario to his advantage, he unfortunately has no such leisure. As we write, two events are most likely to impact on how the situation will pan out in the immediate future. The first one is the Case coming in court on Thursday this week regarding the issue of declaration of communal appurtenance by candidates at election time. The Government of Mauritius will certainly plead that it is more than willing to introduce necessary measures and has already demonstrated its good faith in the matter. Its dilemma is that it has to strictly respect the democratic process with due regard to the importance attached to an amendment to the Constitution.
True to form, the leader of the MMM is piling pressure on the Prime Minister and has already announced the holding of a meeting of the Politburo of his party to be followed by a public statement. The second event is the re-opening of Parliament on Tuesday next. This will create a very volatile situation which would call for a resolution quite rapidly.
Each leader has at one time or the other professed that he is quite willing to fight the next elections alone. Although this may make sense as a posturing, especially in front of their party members, it would be very naïve to think that this would actually happen. This would indeed go against the grain of the whole literature on coalition formation in any situation where there are three contestants for power. One could always take the example of the 1976 general elections when there was a three-cornered fight among the PMSD, the Labour Party and the MMM. However this was a freak event and indeed the post electoral coalition which was quickly ushered between the two “losers” put an end to their irrational positions and its negative outcome.
Within the MMM the fight is on between the “risk takers” led by Paul Berenger and a more “risk averse” wing which feels that the erstwhile alliance with the MSM procures the comfort of recent experience. As for Paul Berenger, he has taken the lead in undoing the Remake in order to explore an alternative configuration in which he obviously expects to have more leeway in achieving his political objectives starting with the introduction electoral reforms.
It is very highly improbable that there will be a three-cornered fight. By implication there will be an alliance between two parties before the next general elections. Which two is, at this point in time, anybody’s guess. Party leaders are playing with their cards very close to their chest.
* Published in print edition on 9 May 2014