Rule by populism or democratic norms?


The stage had been set for what was seen in the streets of Port Louis on Saturday 29th August. It had been in the making since many months with the coming to power of the current government and its doings that are reflective of the political culture of the parties that constitute it. This is certainly not that of its electoral base, which some attempted to equate its morals to.

It looked like the virus of favouritism and corruption has so infiltrated our polity that it appears as the new normal way of proceeding in running the affairs of the country. This perception began with the transactions relating to the procurement of pharmaceutical and other products prior to and during the pandemic confinement, costing the Exchequer some Rs 1.5 billion during a three-month period, and involving in some cases business houses unregistered with the Registrar of Companies, hardware stores, and protégés known for their closeness to the political heavyweights. Next came the St Louis Gate which led to the revocation of a Deputy Prime Minister, and which is now under investigation by ICAC (notorious for its inability to unravel the big cases especially those involving members and supporters of the regime). Furthermore, speculations and rumours about the handling/mishandling of the Wakashio shipwreck and the resulting oil spill which have a direct impact on the region, which looks more like a ghetto, have contributed to the growing mistrust of the government and the indignation of citizens.

The base was therefore gradually being laid, given the inability of the opposition to counter the government, for some form of populist movement to surf on that wave of indignation that has been unfurling across the country – with support from backers who have an axe to grind with the government for its stand regarding the reopening of our frontiers and the conditions for the disbursements of assistance from the Mauritius Investment Company.

This brings us to the citizen movement of Bruneau Laurette, the backings of which movement remain unknown to the public. Notwithstanding, on the basis of its successful mobilization, it can claim to its credit that it has forced government to take note of the frustration and wrath of large swathes of the population, which felt they were not being heard by the people in power.

The focus of the citizen movement has been on the Wakashio shipwreck and the oil spill and a number of issues flagged by Mr Laurette and which appeal to popular sentiments. However, should it morph into a political movement, it will only be taken seriously when it takes up issues which have a direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people across all social and ethnic groups – growing inequality, access to and housing for the upcoming generation, equal opportunity possibilities in the public and private sectors, the ‘betonising’ of the lands of this country with the proliferation of so-called ‘smart cities’ all over the place amongst others.

At some point, as a class movement, it will have to reckon with the reality that a fundamental cause of the inequalities in the country is the hand-in-glove relationship between the monopolies and oligopolies that control the economy and the holders of political power who act as the new elite. Will it then be selective in order not to disrupt the established order maintained by these forces to lord it over the people? If so, it will sooner rather than later be hoisted by its own petard, for those same sections of Mauritian society will not for long countenance any such challenge to their status quo.

The crux of the issue from a national perspective is whether as a nation we will accept that a populist movement should rule our lives, like a permanent vigilante movement of the Haitian tonton macoutes type, or whether in line with our political evolution as a parliamentary democracy, we will stick to the formula of effecting change through the party system within the democratic paradigm and in respect of our Constitution.

This is what our so-called traditional parties must seriously ponder. For the fact is that despite their dwindling support down the years – rising abstention at elections being a pointer to their loss of credibility – they have on balance served the country well enough. They have gone through the democratic process and respected the will of the people and the electoral process itself which – barring a few challenges – has been acknowledged as fair, just and transparent. The onus is on the Labour Party and the MMM to review their functioning, political programme – and leadership, if they deem it necessary – if they do not want to be overtaken by events and be reduced to insignificance on the political scene.

Enormous damage has been done to their national standing. The leadership which was once respected for sticking to the highest principles is totally unrecognizable by those standards today. Looking at the kaleidoscope of political parties occupying the front stage of Mauritian politics currently, it should be clear that their leaders have devalued their parties, thinking that voters have no choice but to stick to them no matter how much the damage they have wrought.

We said of the Labour Party before that its future will forcibly depend on whether it can democratize itself and live up to the collective responsibility for which its original leaders set it up. It requires courage to arrest the harm the party has brought upon itself in past years. If this turnaround towards a greater democratisation of the party is convincingly achieved, Labour will then deserve to be given an honest chance to inspire the people to come together behind it, for rekindling hope in them of better days to come, through an infusion of a degree of Fabian socialism that helped to take the country forward at a time when things were much worse from an economic and social point of view.

* Published in print edition on 4 September 2020

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