Electoral Results : Damn The Number Crunchers

The Electoral Supervisory Commission and the people of Mauritius have once again demonstrated their attachment to the democratic traditions of our country by organizing and participating in yet another well-organized general election. At some later stage we could come back over the level of abstention of around 25% which to our mind is more conjectural in nature rather than being a worrying trend.

The results of the elections are so pregnant with lessons that it will take some time for the losers as well as the winners to understand all its implications and reconsider their political strategies accordingly.

The Labour Party-MMM Alliance has suffered the most shocking defeat in the electoral history of our country. The previous 60-0s, including the 1982’s were, if not predictable at least understandable post-election. It was initially thought that issues like the Second Republic, Paul Berenger’s eventual prime ministership or electoral reform would have been the major obstacles which they would have to overcome to reach their expected result. It must be recognized today that the motivation of those who have massively voted against the Labour Party-MMM Alliance has, in the end, gone way beyond these issues. It seems to have had more to do with the accumulation of a variety of dissatisfactions inevitably associated with a government which has been in power for the past nine years.

It must be admitted on the other hand that the innovative and creative campaigning by the opposition has also successfully managed in crystallizing all the pent-up frustrations of the electorate. The defeat of candidates such as Arvind Boolell and Anil Bachoo among a few others cannot be explained without reference to this paradigm.

On the 14th of November we had written an article entitled ‘Beware the Number Crunchers’ and cited the famous example of Robert McNamara who as Secretary of Defence in the John Kennedy administration had infamously thought he would resolve the challenge of the Vietcong uprising in Vietnam through strategies based essentially on mathematical models. Many years later, he was the first one to confess that he had thus contributed to the huge human tragedy.

It will take some time before analysts carry out a thorough “post-mortem” of this defeat of the Labour-MMM Alliance. All things considered, however one would inescapably reach the conclusion that the principal cause of the defeat is that some of the close advisers of the leaders of the Alliance have been convinced from the very start that the electoral arithmetics were such that the outcome could only be a huge victory for their Alliance. This conviction seems to have been a real toxic one which has tainted the whole process of campaigning and the communications exercise often leading to unresponsiveness in the micro management of the campaign and failure to appreciate the true dynamics of the electoral process.

In the above cited article we had also written: “Basically the underlying statistical advantage can be either reinforced and sustained or be damaged by the interplay of a number of electoral variables including the profiles of the candidates being proposed, the appropriateness of the campaigns being promoted by the contesting parties as well as the ability to strike the right chord with the electorate.”

We shall come back to more detailed analysis in the near future but it does seem pretty obvious that over confidence embedded in mathematical modelling has unduly influenced the whole political stand of the Labour-MMM Alliance which has subsequently failed to “strike the right chord with the electorate.”

We take the risk of being accused of being wise after the event by stating that such things as the movement of candidates between constituencies and even the choice of new candidates in several constituencies are glaring examples of such incoherence.

Another illustration of this weakness has been the failure of the Alliance to develop a coherent language as regards what was meant to be the central planks of its manifesto, namely the project of 2nd Republic and the proposition to reform the electoral system with the introduction of Proportional Representation alongside the First Past The Post system.

The situation created by the election results for the Labour Party, which is now represented in Parliament by a majority of Members representing the urban constituencies, and shorn of the presence of all its frontbench members is unprecedented. The real issue though remains how the party will approach the need to review its extra parliamentary structures, modernize its internal processes, consolidate its leadership and give itself a new sense of mission for the coming months and years.

As Machiavelli once stated, one should never let the opportunities created by a crisis go to waste. One can only hope that the leadership of the Party will take steps to realize the above objectives promptly.

* Published in print edition on 12 December 2014

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