By Mrinal Roy
The enemy is within the castle gates. As has been the case in so many instances in the chequered history of Mauritius, the people are keyed to yet again save the country from all those who threaten the ethos, principles and values on which the independence and the foundations of the country was fought
Mauritius is at a crucial crossroads. The general elections on 7 November are certainly one of the most important since independence. The electoral contest is far from being a democratic clash of ideology or a battle of ideas and a healthy debate about alternative pathways to realize innovative visions of a more prosperous and inclusive Mauritius. It is instead a dogged no holds barred battle for supremacy and political power at any cost by the leaders of the main alliances and parties. In fact, many of the proposals made in their respective manifestos and glibly parroted in the TV political broadcasts do not even hold water.
The political leaders of the main parties who have monopolized the local political scene for decades are thus prepared to go to any lengths and accept any compromises in their relentless pursuit of power at all costs. They have already outbid each other in terms of costly promises made at public expense to all and sundry to lure the electorate to their cause.
For patent reasons they are desperate to win power at the forthcoming polls as defeat would be disastrous for the main political leaders as well as their parties. The electorate has the key role of arbitrating the elections with intelligence and judicious reasoning.
The electoral campaign has yet again brought to light the appalling state of our democracy, 51 years after independence. In the mano a mano opposing the leaders of the main political parties, personal and below-the-belt attacks have been the order of the day. Related video clips have been disseminated through social media. Such condemnable shenanigans reminiscent of a banana republic are unbecoming of party leaders in a democracy.
The political broadcasts on TV by the various parties participating in the elections have been a mixed bag. Some of the proposals made by a crop of new parties geared up to challenge the established political order have been such a welcome breath of fresh air and provided a glimpse of the latent talent and intellect of qualified Mauritians and the innovative initiatives they are capable of proposing to transform the country for the benefit of the multitude. It is a pity that the rules of fair play governing the broadcasts did not allow a more adequate allocation of TV air time to each party to enable them to expose their core proposals viva voce to the nation. The left party Lalit ably demonstrated that it fathoms the core issues currently afflicting the sugar cane industry far better than the main political parties.
Lack of depth
In contrast, many of the proposals of the main political parties lack depth and careful thought. We cannot glibly talk of the serious threats of climate change and remain silent on the elimination of highly polluting coal as a feedstock to produce electricity in the country. The proposal to create a land bank made up of the abandoned lands of small sugar cane planters is not only questionable but also fundamentally flawed. These planters who have contributed immensely over generations to the national economy are one of the most entrepreneurial economic actors of the country. Give them the support, training and facilities required and they would soon be producing a plethora of agricultural produce or decorative plants under green house conditions or fruits in open fields.
Their lands up to a maximum of 75 acres (30.35 hectares) should be exempted from the payment of land conversion and other taxes, akin to the corporate sugar sector already benefitting since 2015 from a wide range of exemptions of taxes, fees and duties on their prime land assets used for their Smart City and other property development projects. This would enable them to also develop their land assets and tap market opportunities for investment in diverse new projects.
The televised broadcasts of some parties also revealed the angst, grievances and sense of alienation of some sections of society in the teeth of the government rhetoric. These must be taken on board and addressed through focused policies and actions. Some broadcasts were however patently sectarian. It is hoped that they will receive the treatment they deserve at the polls from the nation.
The stakes regarding the outcome of the general elections are particularly high for the leader of the MSM/L’Alliance Morisien and the cohort of political nominees appointed to key posts by the government. Despite the daily partisan propaganda and spin doctoring blitzkrieg on national TV at public expense to extol the litany of government achievements, the government does not seem confident enough to be judged on its performance, track record and its governance. Instead, in a bid to enhance his chances of winning the general elections, the leader of the MSM has contracted an alliance with a mixed bag of dissenters and defectors from three opposition parties.
Despite the promises made during the 2014 general elections campaign, there has been no economic miracle in the country. The elected Prime Minister stepped down from office in January 2017 and in an unprecedented development in the political history of the country nominated his son to replace him without the legitimacy of a formal plebiscite by the people at the polls. The government which started its term of office by opposing the Metro project despite its immense benefits in terms of cutting congestion costs, reduced pollution, commuting time, man-hours lost daily, etc., changed tack after two years and kickstarted the project in July 2017 with the support of a substantial Indian grant. It ended its tenure extolling its implementation as one of its prime achievements.
Despite the government rhetoric about the economic performance of the country and the country’s ranking on the Ease of Doing Business league table, growth has been stunted at 3.6%-3.8% during the 2015-19 period with the IMF recently cutting down the 2019 growth forecast to 3.7%. The main sectors of the economy have also registered a faltering performance.
The stakes for L’Alliance Morisien are so high that we must also take it for granted that in the eventuality of a hung parliament, a tacit Plan B for a post-electoral coalition between L’Alliance Morisien and the MMM will presumably be activated in the name of realpolitik. Both parties know that a pre-electoral alliance would have spelled doom for the coalition.
Learning from past defeats
At the general elections in December 2014 the voters and citizens of all walks of life fully understood the serious threats posed by the power sharing arrangements and the tenor of the contested Constitutional reform proposals of the Labour Party-MMM alliance to the ethos, basic rights and democratic values the people fought for and obtained through independence. They therefore single-mindedly decided to sanction the alliance at the polls. It is flabbergasting that even five years after, the lessons of the electoral debacle have not been learnt by the main protagonists. In an interview over the weekend, the leader of the Labour Party still thinks that the decried reforms proposed by him and the leader of the MMM were misunderstood by the electorate. It is pointless to conjure unfounded causes of the scathing 2014 defeat when the thrust of the voters’ single-minded vote is potently and patently explicit.
The present electoral reform proposal of Alliance Nationale in its manifesto is therefore disconcerting and cut from the same cloth. A true electoral reform should in priority urgently address the unfairness of the disproportionate size of the 21 constituencies through the establishment of 60 single-member constituencies with approximately the same number of electors in mainland Mauritius and limit the terms of office of the Prime Minister to two terms only. It is grossly unfair and totally unacceptable that candidates have to canvass some three times more electors in the larger constituencies than in the smaller ones?
Despite the razzmatazz of campaigning, it is clear that voters and the silent majority have understood the stakes of the 2019 general elections and the dangers posed by a decried form of governance on the prospects of the country.
Some of the key questions which determine which Alliance or party we want to vote for are the following:
– Do we want another five years of a government which feudalizes the national TV into an abject instrument of daily partisan propaganda and personality cult around the leader of the MSM at public expense?
– Do we want another five years of poor governance, nepotism, government hegemony over key institutions of the State through a cohort of political appointees which have spawned ineptitude and costly botched decisions?
– Do we want to support a government plagued by scandals involving various allegations of wrongdoing by Ministers and MPs who have been forced to step down? Some of these still continue to play an active part in the electoral campaign and have been promised key roles in a future government.
The MMM will not play a significant role in the forthcoming elections despite the usual tall claims of victory. Trust in the leader of a party or alliance in the light of the tenor of actions and policies taken to uphold public interest as opposed to vested interests and to promote inclusive development when in power is also a key element of the vote of the electorate in favour of a party or Alliance. In a bid to clean up the Augean stables of local politics, our vote must also sanction all those who have crossed the floor. There should be no quarter. They have no place in the democracy the multitude wants to build in the country.
The people therefore already know which alliance or party and candidates they are not going to vote for. The thrust of the people’s vote must also eliminate any risk of a hung parliament or a post-electoral coalition, behind the back of the electorate.
The electorate is still faced with a dilemma. The enemy is within the castle gates. The alternative choices also have unexplained skeletons in their cupboard. However, as has been the case at the 2014 general elections and in so many instances in the chequered history of Mauritius, the people are keyed to yet again save the country through their single-minded vote from all those who threaten the ethos, principles and values on which the independence and the foundations of the country was fought and built on. Those in doubt are invited to vote for the candidates of the credible new parties proposing a real cut-off from a political system which has failed and been so detrimental to the prospects of the country.
The people’s vote will not mean an endorsement of policies and leadership. It will be a reasoned vote to help save the day in difficult circumstances created by a contested political class. The performance of the government will therefore remain under vigilant scrutiny. It would also be our collective responsibility post elections to start finishing the job of cleaning up the Augean stables of local politics and rallying the multitude towards a game-changing new dawn for people and country.
* Published in print edition on 6 November 2019