By S. Callikan
Chagos: Mauritius has to brace itself and continue planning for the long-haul of diplomatic and international pressures against a stubborn former colonial ruler
2019 Elections: A handsome parliamentary majority for the MSM with 37% of popular votes, followed by LP-PMSD contained at some 33% and MMM reduced to a lacklustre 22%
There is little dispute that the year 2019 has witnessed major and determining events both at national and international levels and all of us will retain our own marquees. Two of them on our shores might indeed stand out and remain etched in our short-term memories and in imaginary history text-books.
The decisive stand of the ICJ over the Chagos Archipelago, despite the diplomatic pressures aligned by leading Western powers, and the subsequent UN Resolution regarding complete decolonization by the former colonial power, UK, through restitution of Mauritian sovereignty, is certainly one of them. The arguments that this was a purely bilateral dispute between two sovereign states, Mauritius and the UK, or that Chagos would be retroceded at some point in the unfathomable future, were properly condemned as fig-leaves of the colonial spirit. The line “when no longer necessary” for defense, unhindered energy supplies and maritime security purposes looked like a feeble ploy when the Mauritian authorities of different persuasions have consistently offered a long-term direct lease of the Chagos to the USA to guarantee such an important if not vital necessity.
While the UK stood its ground of ignoring the joint international condemnations of 2019, it was always suspected that this would indeed be the consistent stand of both the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the deep-state clubby British establishment, even at the risk of a considerable wear of any moral high ground it so loftily claims when commenting global affairs. We need only recall the sly if not pathetic attempt by David Miliband, reportedly the “Brains” of the Blair Labour Party, to create a pseudo-Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Chagos. A brazen attempt in which the FCO hoped it might be relatively easy to corral in that devious scheme some willing, naïve and well-intentioned environmental crusaders that abound in international circles. But, challenged by the then PM, Navin Ramgoolam, that scheme was properly dismissed by the International Maritime Tribunal in Hamburg.
The devious motive for the MPA became too apparent when corroborated by an FCO cable of May 2009, which reported the FCO official Colin Roberts as saying that “a marine park would, in effect, put paid to the resettlement claims of the Archipelago’s former residents”. Only a few would have been surprised that the FCO continued to weigh decisively on the Chagos and other international issues whatever the UK government of the day. The path for the next major challenge of UK obstinacy – Tory or Labour (under Tony Blair & Gordon Brown) – at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the UN General Assembly was the only alternative for Mauritian authorities. It must be recorded that it was handled with the professionalism and dedication of our specialist diplomats in New York backed up by the government’s special cell in Mauritius and the proactive sympathy of the African Union.
The international condemnations of perfidious Albion at both the ICJ and the UN-General Assembly was a significant moment in the long-drawn out battle for Mauritian sovereignty. Unfortunately, but consistent with a track-record of deceit, attempted division of the Chagos community and lies (as admitted by David Miliband in February 2008, when questioned in the House of Commons on the use of Chagos for extra-judicial torture of hijacked prisoners), neither the UK government nor the FCO, are likely to move inches from their respective but coordinated stands.
We have doubts whether the Corbyn assurance would have weighed much against the deeper UK establishment. As matters stand, with a flamboyant Boris Johnson and decisive Tory win, with the details of Brexit on their plates, Mauritius has to brace itself and continue planning for the long-haul of diplomatic and international pressures against a stubborn former colonial ruler that is continuously eroding any moral stature it claims in international affairs and disputes.
Among the avenues open to us, it could be fair game to cultivate a rapprochement with the Scots, perhaps even probe Scottish Parliament’s approval for an upgraded Consulate north of the Hadrian wall, as the latter press for reunification with the EU, disentanglement from English dominance and demand another post-Brexit referendum on Scottish independence. Under Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish National party has won a commanding election victory in Scotland, with 47 of the country’s 59 Westminster seats and 1.2m votes. She will undoubtedly and has already started intensive lobbying and pressures on the UK Prime Minister not to ignore the “democratic rights” of the Scots to demand a vote on their own independence from England. We too can sympathize with that demand, raise a Scottish flag, sing Flower of Scotland and hold a ceremony or two here and there to salute Scottish entrepreneurship overseas and express support for an oppressed entity within the Kingdom. In effect, despite our traditional ties, all coordinated diplomatic options for a more sustained pummeling of the pommies should now be on the table.
Stir and controversies
The second major event at national level was without doubt the organization, conduct and outcome of the 2019 general elections, held for the first time under conditions that have caused considerable stir and controversies. The numerous petitions we hope might be heard by the Supreme Court at the earliest so as to dispel all doubts in people’s minds. The governing team of MSM and its associates have crept to handsome parliamentary majority with a narrow margin of the popular votes (37%) in a triangular contest which officially saw the Labour Party-PMSD contained at some 33% and the MMM reduced to a lacklustre 22%.
The most surprising element, beyond any alleged mischief with the electoral processes, was the fact that none of the Opposition parties had seemed prepared, either in terms of strategy and messaging or in the operational and constituency aspects, for elections that everybody knew had to be held by end 2019 or dragged out to early 2020 at latest. Opposition forces and the population at large will have time to reflect on that quagmire and the political divisions that have overshadowed the social and economic forces that should have been confluent to their respective electoral bases, standing collectively at almost two-thirds of the population. And whether with the natural leadership cycles and their successive defeats, even if secured by tainted means, party elders who have ruled both the MMM and the LP should not evolve their party structures for any future electoral horizon.
It has been said that the Indian National Congress owes its massive 2019 electoral drubbing in large part by failing to grasp the aspirations of new Indian generations towards more assertive nationalism and greater economic drive The Congress manifesto, built around dole-outs and financial hand-outs looked impoverished after five years in Opposition and even their stalwarts did not push that agenda. It did not help that its leadership was seen as a family heirloom, a matter hammered by the BJP, which successfully posited itself as the party of opportunities for young talents and voices. Yet, if PM Modi has an overarching leadership and charismatic appeal at national levels, socio-economic forces at local and state levels can be harnessed by Opposition forces as illustrated in recent state elections.
Opposition forces in and outside Parliament will be reflecting hard, we suspect, on the set of factors that have left some 64% of the population feeling frustrated. The Labour Party, having reached a honourable 33% of popular vote after the 2014 defeat, has failed to move and attract the 5-10% it required to be in the driving seat. The MMM has been battered to 22% mostly through an aging leadership battered by defections. As for the PMSD it remains ensconced as a family affair.
Leadership squabbles, particularly in the aftermath of a defeat, are not something the population and the party sympathizers want to experience. Yet, without some major rethinking, there may be unwanted drifts in party loyalties gifting the MSM another electoral win in 2024. Which leaves Opposition leaders to cope with the solitary wisdom required to understand, guide and provide the dynamics of change to meet future challenges.
As for the governing MSM team, with its junior associates, it will have to prove its mettle very soon, once the incoming Finance Minister has taken full stock of the morose economic pillars, the mountainous debts and the necessity to satisfy constituents in a particularly furious electoral campaign of financial bonuses. Its messaging looks as yet uncertain, calling on wider population support while embarking on the business of rewarding party henchmen and loyalists at various postings.
There have been other signal events in 2019 and it would not be right not to mention at least the painstaking mise-en-opération of the Metro-Express or the formidable performances of our athletes as they caracoled into a historic crop of medals at the latest Jeux des Iles de l’Ocean Indien. Or the dismissal of the last of the eleven or so judicial cases brought against the former PM, Navin Ramgoolam, a court decision which is under appeal. Or the horrific cases of brutality, fatal road accidents, rape, domestic violence, theft and murder, but these have become so dramatically familiar, that a National Assises of delinquency and criminality look as urgently mandatory as the one on Environment launched this week.
Our socio-cultural organisations, so prompt to dally with politicians and feather their nests, might have a far more useful contribution to make on these fronts. But this piece being a personal round-up of local 2019 key events it obviously cannot dwell on any at some length.
* Published in print edition on 20 December 2019
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