Two Months of Assiduous Talks Ended: What Next?

A few weeks ago in the midst of the euphoria about the nearly completed Labour Party-MMM Alliance we wrote that anything was still possible since there were still some unresolved matters which could weigh heavily on the outcome of the unfinished negotiations. The leaders of the two parties, although well aware of this predicament, were so enthused by the prospects of concluding this long awaited alliance that they thought any eventual problem would necessarily take care of itself because they were both so thoroughly committed to a positive outcome.

Unfortunately, as it has so often happened in similar situations throughout history, all the best intentions in the world will not be sufficient to reach a desired outcome if the objective and subjective conditions are not in place to produce it. It may sometimes happen that a particular set of circumstances come together leading to a “breakthrough” in spite of the odds being stacked against it. Unfortunately such opportunistic results are more often than not almost bound to result in tears for the protagonists or at least one of them in the rather short term.

Going back over what the whole of Mauritius has witnessed during these long weeks of negotiations between the leaders of the two most important parties (and yes we are always wiser after the event!) it would seem that the whole process was tainted by such a level of emotional content (a special chemistry, ‘je suis ému’, ‘trop beau pour être vrai’, etc) and a genuine will to reach an agreement, that the protagonists would have lost sight of the reality of the political game in which they were engaged.

It would seem that it all dawned upon them at the eleventh hour. In the end it all boils down to a question of who would hold the seat of power, because as the astute political practitioner and observer Dev Virahsawmy has rightly stated there is no such thing as sharing of power. One of the two had to come out of those negotiations as the designated power holder in the subsequent political configuration and the other would have to acquiesce to it. Without such a clear understanding there is bound to be either a deadlock or, in spite of whatever niceties may be exchanged between the two contenders, an unsustainable compromise carrying within it the seeds of its own destruction.

In this case there has been a deadlock. Yet there was no apparent animosity between the two leaders as they made a joint statement after the unsuccessful and now infamous Clarisse House talks. This is indeed testimony to the fact that they both seem to have internalized the fact that this failure was due to circumstances or differences which could not be resolved within the framework of the negotiation process in which they had been engaged for weeks on end.

Although we are not privy to the conversations which took place between the two principal actors — come to think of it very little has actually transpired regarding the real points of divergence — we suspect that the ill-founded and undefined premise of the engagement was bound to lead to such deadlock.

The failure to reach a positive accord between the two parties to those negotiations has also been heavily influenced by the hugely volatile political environment in which they were taking place. The Stop-Go, not to say On-and-Off, nature of what was starting to look like endless conversations has largely contributed to a growing scepticism among the supporters of both parties, especially the MMM. In the event, the MSM which had itself been in an earlier alliance with the MMM, seized the opportunity to gather some wind in its sails and to widen its support base. As for the media, they had a field day and missed no opportunity to add their own special flavour to the whole drama.

Although the expression ‘back to square one’ is generally a very convenient one, it would be a mistake to describe the present situation as going back to square one. If the much vaunted alliance between the Labour Party and the MMM has failed to materialize, at least for the time being as most Mauritians seem to believe, the events of the past weeks cannot simply just be ignored as we go back to the proverbial clean sheet.

There have been some not inconsequential effects which are bound to condition the future political scenario. The departure of the PMSD from government is definitely one such effect and it would be foolish to dismiss it as being of no consequence. As for the MSM, its present attitude reminds one of Shakespeare’s “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. The leader of the party purports to have been profoundly hurt by the behaviour of his erstwhile partner although one is tempted to ask for how long and to what extent this would be a barrier to a warming up to the possibility of a Re-remake…

Over the past week every single opposition party and NGO or Union declined an invitation to join the MMM in its proposed rally to protest against the prolonged prorogation of Parliament. That was obviously a body blow to the MMM and its leader who is definitely not used to this kind of treatment. It was so reminiscent of this now famous metaphor when the Tokyo stock market went into a free fall in 1995 and Cathy Mitsui, an analyst with Goldman Sachs, said: “It seems everybody is afraid to catch a falling knife.”

That being said, however, to our mind any political player who would chose to dismiss Paul Berenger so precipitously would be doing so at his own risk. The man has knowingly taken a huge risk when engaging in a mission to do what he obviously thought was the right thing. Some tactical blunders during the negotiations and the failure to conclude have certainly dented his reputation and given a stick to all those, especially among his own followers, who contested his judgement in the event. Paul Berenger has demonstrated great resilience in the past and his grip on the party machinery has remained ever strong as decisions in the Political Bureau and the various Assemblies of the party have recently shown.

Every political party, including now the PMSD, is claiming that it is getting ready to go it alone for the next general elections. Our stand has consistently been that this is sheer drum-beating and, at the end of the day, there will be a straight contest between two major blocks. Objectively these can be any one of three combinations: Labour Party-MMM, MSM-MMM or Labour Party-MSM — with the smaller parties finding some accommodation one way or the other. Our money is still on the Labour Party-MMM combine, and the leaders will surely have to reappraise their respective approaches and add substance which will change this reductionist perception that it is all simply about the respective interests of the two protagonists.

* Published in print edition on 27 June 2014

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