Let the Perfect not be the Enemy of the Good

Between a rock and a hard place – this is where many Labour Party supporters find themselves ever since the terms of the agreement between their party and the MMM has been made public. It certainly did not take a lot of explaining to convince them about all the benefits that could be derived from such an alliance for the country as well as for their party.

What leaves them rather uneasy is the fact that this is intricately linked up with the creation of the 2nd Republic in which there will be a sharing of power between the Prime Minister and the President.

The constitutional changes being envisaged are meant to be a defining moment in the political history of the country. It is therefore incumbent on the promoters to ensure that they create the kind of consensus (not necessarily unanimity) which will make them workable.

As with all major changes in whatever situation which has prevailed for a long time, there is bound to be resistance especially from those who have come to carve out their zones of comfort within the status quo.

In the realm of politics these zones of comfort sometimes form part of the basic mental set-up of communities resulting from their historical and social experiences as well as the political discourses to which they have been exposed for generations.

Consequently in the absence of a clear vision of where they are meant to lead to and how they will positively improve on the status quo, suggestions for radical change can become potentially self-destructive propositions.

The present configuration of the leadership consisting of two party leaders, who arguably are perceived as representing two distinct sections of the electorate, makes it even more challenging for them to carry out such a complex and emotionally charged enterprise and that too in the context of an electoral campaign.

The fact that Paul Berenger had to hold a press conference “to clarify matters”, only days after the joint declaration at the Clarisse House, is in that context an ominous signal and a warning about what these leaders are going to be up against in their coming campaign.

The recent experience with the Committee set up for amending the Constitution in the case of declaration of one’s communal appurtenance is still fresh in our minds. Reaching a conclusion on a change of wording having a limited, symbolic impact on the political process has proven extremely arduous.

In the present case the proposed changes to our governance structures founded on the setting up of a Presidential system within the parameters of our Westminsterial system of government is a first of its kind experiment. It is fraught with terrible risks for the political and social stability of the country. Only careful and thorough examination of all the implications of the proposed amendments will help mitigate some of the most obvious risks of conflicts or even deadlock between the two institutions.

Mauritians would of course remember how even within the present dispositions of the law the country was subjected to an episode of high drama when Mr Cassam Uteem as President of the Republic had refused to give his assent to a piece of legislation.

All the above notwithstanding, it must be admitted that there is still scope for leadership of a higher order. According to this view, the leaders choose to undertake a course of action knowing full well that it is not necessarily consistent with the current preferences of the voters. They presume that the “ill-informed” voter will form a new preference once he has been given all the “appropriate” information.

Being animated by the right motivations is often not enough to achieve one’s ends in politics. Even well-motivated leaders need to create a credible narrative in favour of their proposed change. This is a time-consuming exercise and even more so when the proposal is so radical that it challenges some of the built-in foundations of political behaviour.

All the above arguments lead to two conclusions.

First, the issue of second Republic notwithstanding a Labour Party-MMM Alliance is most likely to enjoy a wide-ranging and cross-cutting support from different sections of the electorate, on the premise that the country needs a decisive government which can deliver the right policies to get us back on the track of sustainable economic growth, employment creation and the structural changes needed to attain the objective of a “high income” economy.

The second conclusion is that the road to instituting the second Republic is bumpy and potentially full of practical as well as political obstacles which can derail the process at any time. Which leads us to the following question: Have the two leaders been well advised to connect these two issues in such a manner that failure to achieve the more complex, challenging one within a limited timeframe would lead to the termination of the other?

It is after protracted negotiations which have lasted for months on end that the leaders of the Labour Party and the MMM have come to agree on the broad terms of a power-sharing agreement. While it is legitimate for political leaders to leverage their strengths in order to secure the best deal for their party, there are times when compromises may have a much higher pay-off especially when they have an eye on the judgement of history.

It would indeed be a shame and a huge blow to the credibility of the two leaders if they allowed themselves to be kept from the most urgent task of economic reform and the challenges of fashioning constructive policy responses to our current circumstances. A rational approach would be to explicitly admit that the transition to the second Republic may take some time and meanwhile adopt some compensating measures.

* Published in print edition on 12 September 2014

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