Conviction Politics and the Messiness of the Democratic Process

It is incumbent upon the Labour Party-MMM Alliance to convince the voters that they are in the game of “conviction” politics as opposed to opportunism

The expectation is not that balance once achieved will be maintained but that balance once disrupted will be restored in one way or the other.

(Neo Realism)

There is prevalent belief among the armchair, not to say “bourgeois”, analysts that politics ought to be a rather simple and cohesive process where people are offered a rational choice between alternatives. The dominant mode of reasoning behind this approach is premised on the often simplistic notion that there is a rational and generally evident solution to all problems confronting society – accordingly it professes that we only need take a particular set of decisions in a given circumstance and all our problems will be resolved! These same analysts are at pains to understand why the “politicians out there” fail to grasp those solutions.

The next step, which then consists of associating this inability to master these “straightforward” solutions with incompetence or other dubious attributes, is then only a short step away.

This rather naïve but potentially dangerous view of the world is part of a technocratic illusion which holds that there is always an administrative “fix” for solving even the most complex problems of human society and organization. The most potent threat emanating from this school of thought is that, taken to its logical extreme, it tends to promote a belief that the “political class” as a whole are a bunch of particularly obnoxious parasites living off society and that major decisions concerning the future of the country should ideally be isolated from interference by such a lot.

We take a view that this temptation to eliminate “politics” from what is described as “purely administrative” decisions constitutes an attack on representative government and is not politically neutral because it tends to favour the status quo and to constrain change in favour of the dominant elites.

We argue instead that administrative reforms, economic progress and transformative change are highly political. “No significant change occurs in society without destabilizing some status quo, without decoupling some coalition and building another, without challenging some interests and promoting others.”

In fact experience has shown that significant change only occurs when there are BOTH political commitment, skills and capacity, as well as bureaucratic competence, independence and probity. Of course all these do not occur in a socio-political vacuum. In a democratic regime the intervention by the elected representatives to favour a particular set of coalition-building, challenge a particular sector of the existing power structure or favour some type/form of economic activities rather than others, constitute the essence of political choice.

As opposed to the technocratic-managerial view, politics in a democratic setting can be seen as a rather multifaceted process consisting of exchange of ideas and confrontations among a plurality of views and interests. At no other time than during an electoral campaign does this messy nature of the democratic process become more visible. Because democratic politics is necessarily a complex process of constant discussions, negotiations, compromises and accommodation, the role of leadership and communication is becoming increasingly critical to the whole process.

Racial and religious diversity in a country such as Mauritius adds a further layer of complexity which must be handled with the utmost care. This is why it is simply not conceivable to regard politics as merely the relationship between individuals and the State (the Lockean view prevalent in the Anglo-Saxon tradition) because the various “communities” tend to see it also, if not principally, as a process of maintaining an acceptable balance among them in the polity.

The immediate consequence is that political action tends to be dominated by a constant search for balance between satisfying “minorities” while placating the negative reactions of the “majority” and mitigating its anxieties.

It should be obvious that the resistance which is being witnessed in the present electoral campaign regarding the project of a Second Republic and the introduction of Proportional Representation in our electoral system stems mostly from this sort of political dynamics. It is the inability on the part of these various “communities” to assess the real impact of the proposed changes on their standing in the new scheme of things which is the real cause of this resistance.

Confronted with such a situation, the two approaches which we have described above will have different reactions. The “rationalist” school would be more inclined to just dismiss this as a reaction of some “passéistes” who are fearful of change and modernization of our political superstructure. As it is, the leaders of the Labour Party-MMM Alliance seem pretty convinced that these proposals for reform are both necessary and timely. Such situations, which defy consensus, call for leadership of the highest order and a high degree of contextual intelligence. The risk is that the mere fact of packaging the proposition in a discourse of modernity and progress may be insufficient to convince some important factions of the electorate, especially in a context of general elections when the opposition is bound to use every trick of the trade to play up the negative sentiment of those concerned.

Faced with the same predicament the proponents of politics as a lengthy process of negotiations and compromise would for their part tend to give more attention to the evolving environment and to move with rather than against the flow of events thus showing more of a disposition to consider appropriate and timely tactical concessions.

In the present electoral context, however, the stakes are very high and the two competing Alliances are not likely to deviate from the course of their pre-set agenda. It is therefore incumbent upon the Labour Party-MMM Alliance to convince the voters that they mean well and that they are in the game of “conviction” politics as opposed to opportunism.


* Published in print edition on 21 November 2014

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