Labour Party Leadership Transition: One Party One Leader

The last thing that the Party needs in the present circumstances is leadership by Committee

“The Labour Party has been there before and it would as surely make its comeback just as it has done before. Remember 1982.” This was the standard sort of remark that we heard from Labour supporters immediately after the shock defeat in the general elections of 10th December last.

Whether this was self-delusion, or some other form of psychological defence against what was a totally unexpected turn of events among the vast majority of Labour Party supporters, we shall probably never come to know.

The whole context has rapidly changed and their party is now suddenly faced with the “mother of all crises” in the aftermath of the events which have unfolded during the last week-end. It is no over-dramatization to suggest that it could actually be engaged in a fight for its very survival as a leading player on the local political landscape. Under the circumstances, one would expect the highest level of statesmanship and integrity from those who are in a position to influence the course of events during the coming days and weeks.

Before proceeding further, it may be useful to sound a word of caution. There is a need to be most careful when commenting on these events to avoid any suggestion of foregone conclusions in spite of what seems to be overwhelming damning “evidence” as conveyed by the media. Justice must be seen to be done and all due process must be strictly observed especially given the high profile nature of this case. Here it might be useful to make two observations before proceeding further.

First, let it be clear that the suggestion that we make regarding the urgent need for the present leader of the Party to resign from his position in no way purports to be a reflection on the eventual outcome of the legal proceedings that have been brought against him. It is in fact meant to be a political statement about what needs to be done under the present circumstances if the leaders of the Party want to make sure that it survives to fight the next battle.

Second, given its long history and especially going back to its heroic origins, the Labour Party in Mauritius has acquired the status of a venerable institution (a Grand Old Party) in our democratic and parliamentary set-up. Although its reputation has all too often been dented by the irresponsible and sometimes even callous actions of some of its dignitaries, and even though it seems to have all too often been led astray by some of its putative leaders, it would still be a great loss for the country if this “institution” were somehow allowed to sink in these turbulent seas. Such seems to be a notable consensus emanating from among the presently disillusioned followers of the Party and even among those who have never had any strong sympathy for it.

Having said that it is now abundantly clear that, confronted by this momentous crisis, the leaders of the Party cannot escape taking some drastic action as a first emergency response if they want to save the day. A view is clearly emerging that, under the circumstances, the only response that would measure up to the expectations of the public and contribute to mitigate the damage already done, would be an immediate resignation of Navin Ramgoolam from his position of Party leader.

Such a response coming quickly and effectively still needs to be properly programmed to take into consideration the prevailing extremely complicated legal, psychological and political climate, for maximum effectiveness.

If this happens it would probably be the first time that a leader of a major political party in Mauritius has to give up his leadership position under such circumstances. It would hopefully for the Party take some of the sting out of the criticisms and scepticism which are the direct fallout from recent developments.

Given the inevitable dramatic turn of events it would be incumbent on the Party to ensure a seamless transition to the next leader if it wishes to provide some level of respite to its supporters and its potential electors. Here again things do not seem to be shaping up under the best of circumstances. What one can make out from the noises coming from those who claim their legitimacy from their membership of the party “executive”, a hitherto pretty non-existent structure, is presently a move to set up a “collegiate” form of leadership. Or, if one cares to listen more attentively, a call for a “triumvirate” purportedly reflecting the rainbow nation.

This is a rather grotesque attempt at political opportunism and in less tragic circumstances would qualify in no small measure as farcical. The last thing that the Labour Party needs in the present circumstances is leadership by Committee.

Even before the events of the last weekend, following in the wake of the disastrous results of the last general elections, it had become clear that the Labour Party badly needed a total overhaul of its structures and culture for a probable turnaround of its fortunes to materialize.

Now the deepening crisis resulting from a forced and albeit painful change in leadership must be leveraged as an additional opportunity to accelerate this process.

Experience from different domains of activities whether in business or other organizations has proven now and again that there is nothing more effective that a unified leadership and clearly defined chain of command to ensure the success of such a difficult transition.

Arvind Boolell has not made any secret of his “legitimate ambition” to succeed Navin Ramgoolam as leader of the Labour Party. He would probably be the first one to regret that this may be taking place in these most painful circumstances.

No other member of the Labour Party has publicly staked their claim to contest for the leadership position. In the absence of a Constitution, it is difficult to comment on the process which would be applied should such a new candidate emerge but one would surmise that a form of election should do the trick.

Be that as it may Arvind Boolell cannot be faulted either for having openly expressed his ambition to be the next leader of the Labour Party or for his firm position about the need for “One Party One Leader”.


Rajiv Servansingh

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