One overarching lesson
There are many lessons which will have to be drawn from the results of the recent elections. Commentators and practitioners will view this from different angles and reach sometimes contradictory conclusions. There remains one overarching lesson however which has again transpired through these results. The people of Mauritius hold dearly to their Constitution and the existing electoral system. They have again emphatically demonstrated that even in the face of the greatest mathematical odds they will not tolerate any attempt to change these unless they have been utterly convinced of the benefits of doing so. The attempt of the Labour-MMM Alliance to impose such change through a top-down approach has backfired heavily against them.
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A Protest Vote
Xavier Luc Duval has been a Minister of the different governments formed by Navin Ramgoolam over the past nine years or so with responsibility for a variety of portfolios including that of Finance and Economic Development until as recently as a few months ago. Paul Bérenger has been the most virulent and vocal opponent of the same Navin Ramgoolam’s governments all through this period until he joined hands with him just a few months ago. Nothing captures the depth, complexity and real nature of the electoral battle that we have just gone through better than the fate of these two protagonists during the recent electoral exercise. Whereas Duval got himself elected top of the list with around 65% of the votes, Bérenger was nearly beaten in his “fief” by a newcomer and only escaped in third position with a margin of about three hundred votes.
Just as in 82, 95 and 2000 in the final days of the campaign we have witnessed the formation of yet another classic Protest Vote with an electorate expressing its exasperation with a “state of affairs” prevailing in the country and attributable to the incumbent government while ignoring the finer details of programmes and personalities. One commentator had warned, in a paper published by both the Mauritius Times and l’express, of the formation of a “perfect storm.” He could not have been more inspired. As for this paper it is on record that it has consistently warned the powers that be of the dangers with which this whole campaign was fraught. The results, although way beyond what one could expect, has proved us right.
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Enough is enough
As after every general election since 1976 some commentators have been quick to point out that voters from what is now more and more referred to as the “Hindi belt” (which is actually more appropriate than the Hindu belt), that is, Constituencies numbers 5 to 13 have again been principally motivated by a racist anti-Berenger-Prime Minister sentiment in their voting behaviour.
This is rather appalling. Given the outcome of these elections, one is inclined to ask whether it is not high time to reconsider such knee-jerk reactions and whether the prejudice does not actually lie in the minds of these commentators rather than the voters. Breaking away from an over 40-year tradition, voters from Constituencies numbers 1, 19 and 20 have all voted in favour of candidates of the Alliance Lepep and thus against Paul Berenger’s purported prime ministership. Why is it then being assumed that these voters have been somehow more “eclairés” in their choice while those mentioned earlier have all been “racially” motivated?
In truth it can be reasonably argued that the fault regarding the inability for Paul Berenger to get himself elected as Prime Minister of Mauritius in a general election does not lie with the electorate but with the candidate himself. As suggested rather tongue in cheek by some commentators in the past, after similar repeated failure of a candidate to get elected, may be it was high time to envisage changing the people themselves!
The electorate, whether from the “Hindi belt” or not have simply not been convinced that the project of a Second Republic and the proposed changes to our electoral system, including abolition of the Best Loser System is in the best interest of the country.
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Abiding by the rules
Protest vote or not, these elections have now given the country a new government. In line with the fundamental practices of parliamentary democracy, every right thinking citizen and political parties of the new opposition should allow this new government the space and opportunity to perform and implement its manifesto and meet its commitments to the electorate.
The government on its part would be expected to observe the same respect for principles by keeping in mind that in a parliamentary democracy there is no place for a “winner takes all” attitude and that process and rule of law remain essential components of governance. As time goes by, however the Opposition would become less complacent and start taking the government to task over how efficiently it runs its day to day operations as well as its policy orientations. Parliamentary and extra parliamentary opposition will certainly grow in line with the increasing load of decisions which will be taken.
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At the start of this electoral campaign one could really count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who thought that the Alliance Lepep was going to win the elections, let alone win by such an extraordinary margin. The heavy argument against such odds was the kind of swing which would be needed in the electoral behaviour of the voters as compared to the past general elections — the now infamous electoral maths. The progress of popular support for the Alliance Lepep, although palpable throughout the campaign, was not enough to get the incumbents to take the threat seriously at any point in time.
The vicious circle of overconfidence and its accompanying arrogance finally took the toll of the purportedly “unbeatable electoral maths.” Let all future electoral contestants beware!
* Published in print edition on 19 December 2014