The Labour Party-MMM Alliance: Time to Take a Bet

What was meant to be an open-and-shut case regarding the adoption of an electoral reform agenda followed by an alliance between the Labour Party and the MMM, or vice versa, has finally proved to be a long, protracted process of bargaining.

As we write there seems to be no obvious outcome in view although it is possible at this point in time to indulge in an informed guess of what is most likely to happen. But first it might be more interesting to try and make some sense of where we are or more honestly just where we seem to be right now, since at least one of the participants is playing with his cards very close to his chest.

The one thing which will suffer no contest at this point is that Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Berenger are already in alliance at least in their hearts if not totally in their heads. However, although the two opponents, who have in the recent past engaged in no-holds barred political skirmishes, say they are now overwhelmed by a new compelling chemistry, there are still a number of obstacles on their way to achieving their cherished goal.

One serious flaw which could lead to a collapse of the whole ’koze koze’ process is precisely its mode of operation which leaves no space for getting eventually influential participants in the process on board. There has already been some serious opposition to Berenger’s handling of the situation within the MMM. His latest comments, to the effect that an eventual Bill for reform of the electoral system supported by both parties may still face defections from within the Labour Party parliamentarians, has added an additional layer of complexity to the whole issue. It may be remembered that the Prime Minister has indicated that there would be a free vote (no whip) on the issue.

Apart from this restricted process involving only the two leaders, the other hurdle which looks almost insurmountable is the yet undefined sequencing of events between now and the next general elections. It is still unclear whether the MMM will insist on the electoral reform bill actually being voted into law as a precondition of an alliance, or whether they would go along with a promise from the Prime Minister that the drafted Bill would be brought to Parliament first thing after new elections. This is presuming that their alliance will have obtained the three quarters of seats required.

While it is still not clear what the stand of the MSM and PMSD would be, any eventual defection from Labour or from the MMM for that matter would surely spell the end of the electoral reform process in this legislature. In this imbroglio, however, nothing is as simple as it appears. The MSM and the PMSD may yet change the whole scenario by declaring that they could vote for the Reform proposals. Their decision will depend on the following factors:

•       What they estimate are the risks of a next 60-0 win for a LP-MMM alliance if the present electoral mode is maintained.

•       Their chances of obtaining the required percentage of votes if the Reform is adopted and in case of materialization of the above projections.

•       Their view about the nuisance value to the emerging LP-MMM alliance as well as the next LP-MMM government of maintaining the present electoral mode to the extent that this will thwart their power-sharing plans.

On the basis of their views on each of the above, the MSM and the PMSD may decide that voting or declaring that they are willing to vote for the Reform is their best bet for at least ruining the party for an eventual LP-MMM alliance.

As if the above were not complicated enough, an even tougher nut to crack between now and the next general elections remains the issues associated with the proclamation of the 2nd Republic. Here it would appear that, in spite of their best efforts, the two prospective allies are finding it more difficult to find common grounds on some critical issues. A Catch 22 situation seems to be developing regarding the eventual role and powers of the future President of the Republic and the mode of election of the latter. In what is a striking contrast to the circumspection of Navin Ramgoolam on these matters, Paul Berenger is rather more voluble in offering possible solutions as a way out of the dilemma. The Malawi and Zambian models of presidential election by universal suffrage seem to be the favourite of the leader of the MMM although we have not heard Navin Ramgoolam’s views yet.

Presidential powers under any regime are concomitant to the process for appointment or election to the post. Clearly one who has the backing of universal suffrage also has the legitimacy for exercising powers defined in the Constitution. Berenger is determined to see a 2nd Republic in which the President wields executive powers and he is therefore the first one to suggest that the next Prime Minister should be shorn of some of the existing powers attributed to the post. Given that he may be the likely next Prime Minister in case of such a change, this is a point which needs to be underlined. It does not mean however that the actual sharing of power is a done deal. There is a fine balance which would need to be worked out so that the institutions of President and Prime Minister are allowed to function in harmony and in the best interest of democracy.

In light of all the above and given the volatility which we have observed on the political front over the past weeks, it would be quite daring to try and make a forecast about how all this will pan out in the end. The latest statement made by Navin Ramgoolam regarding his willingness to grab the whole cake if given an opportunity and the most recent utterances of Paul Berenger concerning the prorogation of Parliament promise yet another round of re-posturing of the two protagonists.

In spite the preceding remarks and with due regard to the inherent risks in such a forecasting exercise, one can take a view that the most likely scenario for the coming general elections is the repeat of a ’classic’ Labour-MMM alliance headed by Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Berenger on a platform seeking a mandate for electoral reforms and eventually a 2nd Republic. The opposition will be made up of a Front comprising the MSM, dissidents of the MMM and the PMSD.


* Published in print edition on 23 May 2014

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