For the next general elections

Since we are all back to square one, we better start to think ahead right now

 While some are still and ever hopeful of government meeting a miracle on the way, the bulk of the electorate finds no other way out than to look for alternatives and will thus necessarily turn towards the opposition parties to lift the country and the people out of the current mess.

Remember the words of the Financial Secretary on 12th May 2016 during his pre-budget consultation with representatives of the agro industry sector as reported in the local press: “We don’t have to survive on DTA (Double Taxation Agreements) and begging (…) with other countries, give me your tax money, when we can produce our own wealth. This is what we want you to do.”

Announcing that the forthcoming budget will be a good one and the government will be able to invest and transform several sectors thanks to the injection of Rs 12.7 billion from India, he concluded: “This year will help us to stand on our own feet and be able to export to Africa and to other countries in a big way.”

We haven’t attained any of these objectives. We have instead been reduced to asking India to support us with some amount of financing. Surely Britain and the US, the strategic partners of India in their new Indian Ocean strategy, must be having a good laugh at our expense as we seek to fight to establish our sovereignty on Diego Garcia which they occupy. Given the current scale of our indignities, the budget which usually causes a stir for at least a week or two in advance in the public, appears to have already been dismissed as a non-event.

Having exhausted in the last budget all measures which usually make headlines in the media and, with an albatross around its neck, the Government will be hard put to come up with new path-breaking measures in the forthcoming budget. Finally, the budget is likely to be reduced to a mere accounting exercise. Recouping some excess finance here and there from public companies and using the unspent balance earmarked for some projects, which have hardly got off the ground, together with some recently-borrowed loan funds from India, the public will be served with a set of fairy tale items. Rebranding would, in such a context, take the form of a string of measures with Commissions set up to make further recommendations for an unknown future.

Every week, or almost every day, we wake up to fresh recitals of abuse in the management of public affairs. A lot of what is happening in this regard is due to incompetence. So, what exactly will take us any closer to a reversal of the current unacceptable situation? On the face of it, the amount of accumulated inefficiencies so far seems to be beyond redemption.

This explains why opposition parties and trade unions and the wider public state that they do not expect anything much from the forthcoming budget. There will be no immediate implementation of the minimum wage or even the portable pension proposal. Such promises, it seems, are made only when in opposition; once in power, it’s a different story: delaying tactics – instead of action — become the hallmark of governments and of institutions operating under their control. Mostly, it is measures against the working class that are implemented and that too, with a sense of urgency such as withholding of certificates from HSC students or implementing 5 credits for promotion to Lower VI. Given this atmosphere, employers will maximize their benefits at the expense of the workers for they never had it so good with a weak government not having the means to strike the balance.

With business as usual at the level of government, opposition parties prefer to devote their time and energies refining their electoral strategies for the next general elections whether these are held next year or the year after. They seem to believe that the government will not go up to the end of its legal mandate, if it wants to be in control, at least, of the election timing. By the end of this year, Government will have completed three years in power with too little to show now and with too little too late as far as the future is concerned. In the eyes of many, it has already become toxic for any opposition party to contemplate an alliance with it. This has created, unexpectedly, the objective conditions for all parties to contemplate seriously to go it separately for the next elections without any alliance whatsoever.

Between now and the next elections, there will be no Macron or Trump emerging on the political scene in Mauritius. As in 2014, the electorate will continue to vote for existing opposition parties as there is no credible alternative on stage. Parties have already made their tentative lists of candidates and their postings. Any party willing to boost its chances of success in the elections will be expected to field a crop of young and highly efficient people with an established high sense of ethics and morality. Any future candidate not meeting these high standards will not pass the test of the electorate. The guillotine will cut away sharply those who don’t qualify. It is in the interest of all parties interested in their own survival and in the general interest of the country to pay heed to the changing mood of voters in the present circumstances.

It is perhaps too early to know what the mood of the electorate will be in during the years ahead. Predicting the electorate’s mood at any given time has become a perilous exercise, particularly since the 2014 elections. Even in Britain, the Conservatives are presently in a state of panic when confronted with a radical programme from Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader. As the British Labour Party forges ahead with gains in the polls, Theresa May has been forced to bring changes to her programme which has already been made public.

In Mauritius, the trend in our local politics may suggest some lines for reflection. We have seen in the last elections the emergence of ‘small’ parties whose candidates secured a significant proportion of the votes. Although these candidates were not elected, they have had an impact on the election results. For example Vikram Hurdoyal got 9775 votes in Constituency No. 10, Georges Ah Yan obtained 4431 in No. 12, Sheila Bunwaree got 2320 and Jack Bizlall obtained 3479 in No. 20. This trend is likely to continue and possibly one or two candidates of the ‘small’ parties may get elected in the future provided they keep to the ideals and refuse to dilute their programmes. Moreover, an intense campaigning one year or two before the elections will bring them closer to their objectives.

On the other hand, the mainstream parties, which decide to go it alone without seeking the comfort of an electoral alliance of whatever kind for purely opportunistic gains, will be seen to be more credible. Finally, it must be borne in mind that even if the 2014 elections led to a crushing defeat for a Labour-MMM alliance, yet a swing of just 5% of the votes in favour of that alliance would have brought it to power with a very small majority.

For those politicians who expect the budget to be one damned thing after another, issues about the future should occupy their minds. They should not forget however that the sine qua non for a better future is that the electorate should at all times be taken very seriously and on board and that its real aspirations should be reflected in the election programme.

Since we are all back to square one, we better start to think ahead right now.

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