The choice is clear. Good luck Mauritius!
The elections are a few days away. By the close of the polls on 5 May Mauritius will have an indication who, between Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Bérenger, will govern the country for the next five years. The choice is certainly between the two men. Colour of skin on which there have been so many irrational observations including those of the leader of the MMM are totally irrelevant in this crucial choice. The appeal to sectarian feelings like the one broadcast on private radios are to be rejected along with their authors. The choice is more between the kinds of society that the people want.
Empty slogans Qurbani, etc., that came from the mouth of Said Baichoo, an MMM candidate in constituency number 2, will not serve the country. And worse still is the fatwa cast on Mireille Martin by Pradeep Jeeha — that she should assume her Creole identity and not attempt to speak Hindi: such stupid and irresponsible statements should be should be severely condemned. Pradeep Jeeha never uttered such a fatwa on Paul Bérenger at the time he used to wear the turban or the Indian attire at different religious celebrations. Equally all the irrational statements made that only a Hindu must be Prime Minister according to Prem Koonjoo or the surrendering of power to the Whites as stated by Lormesh Bundhoo must be rejected.
Who between the two leaders deserve the trust of the voters? In this age of past or looming economic crisis, the voters should normally consider who is better equipped to deliver. It is the economy stupid, as the former President of the United States Bill Clinton stated. But in Mauritius the majority of voters are more inclined to vote according to whether they or a family member obtained any advantage from the government. If the elected members have not been present in a constituency, this is held to be fatal for the re-election of the incumbent. Voters do not seem to realise that candidates once elected do have responsibilities that transcend the constituencies that returned them as elected members.
Many voters are still influenced by ethnic and caste considerations. The same voters who are so minded will not look at ethnicity or caste when they would need the best teacher for their kids or the best doctor if they have a serious ailment. Ethnicity and caste come in the foreground only at election time or when statistics are computed for the purposes of evaluating how many persons of a particular ethnicity or caste are employed in the civil service, parastatal bodies and the like.
Politicians are complicit to that strategy. We see Paul Bérenger has announced that Jayen Cuttaree will be president and Santokee will be vice president. These persons may be qualified but we should not kid ourselves in not believing that there is not a well calculated dose of ethnic and caste considerations in that choice. Yet the same Paul Bérenger will attack in a most violent manner his opponents of practising ethnic politics.
By and large the choice of candidates and the constituencies where they are standing is guided by the paramount consideration of ethnicity and caste. We cannot escape that conclusion. Our democratic process is permeated and vitiated by this consideration. The MMM has officially pretented to eradicate this scourge whilst practising it in private. This consideration will be at the forefront of the voters’ mind when they are fumbling with their ballot papers in the polling booth. A minority of diehards will be swayed by the magic symbol of their respective parties.
Against this unpalatable but realistic background the democratic process has to go on and the people will have to make their choice. Who then should be the next Prime Minister? On the one hand they have Navin Ramgoolam and on the other Paul Bérenger.
Paul Bérenger is the kind person who, since the MMM was born in 1969, has been struggling to change or clean the country. Paul Bérenger is the person who has cast all kinds of aspersions on his political opponents. Paul Bérenger is the person who has always attacked the MBC when he is the Opposition. Paul Bérenger is the person who has always shown contempt for institutions. The latest examples are his comments on the Privy Council judgment on the case of Ashock Jugnauth and the decision of the IBA on a complaint filed by the MMM against the MBC. His mantra has not changed since the seventies. His attitude is one of defiance and arrogance towards people who oppose him or do not espouse his views.
The adversary that Ramjuttun was yesterday has become the bosom angel of today because he can be used to topple Navin Ramgoolam. The pagla mamou that Madun Dulloo was yesterday has overnight been given a clean bill of health because he has joined the MMM. The allegations of corruption against Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo made in the eighties have been washed by the milk of human kindness of Paul Bérenger following a return of the man to the MMM. This chameleon type of politics that has been the hallmark of Paul Bérenger cannot be allowed to perpetuate itself.
During the campaign Paul Bérenger has invoked the example of Barack Obama who is the first Afro American to be elected President of the United States. Barack Obama fought and won the presidency without a single reference to his ethnicity. Paul Bérenger has been invoking the colour of his skin, the fact that he in not anti Hindu, the fact that Hindus need not be scared of him. He has emphasised that Navin Ramgoolam is the one who sacked Jyoti Jeetun and Soorya Gayan thereby trying to prove that Navin Ramgoolam is the scarecrow of the Hindus. But Paul Bérenger conveniently avoids to mention the number of Hindus sacked by the MMM in 1982 and 1991. Permanent secretaries like Parmessur and Seewoonarain; Datta Ramyead, Bhoomitar Ayrga, Trilok Dwarka and Mrs Manda Boolell from the MBC were all sacked by the MMM government. And more recently Mrs Indira Manrakhan was sacked as director of ECO to avoid the pursuit of an investigation in a case of alleged corruption against the future MMM President of the Republic, Jayen Cuttaree. Who was anti Hindu then? Ironically in 1982 Mr Anil Gayan was an elected member of the MMM for Curepipe.
Paul Bérenger should not limit history to Mrs Jeetun and Mrs Gayan. The culture of sacking people (lève paké aller) was started by the MMM in 1982 and continued in 1991. In Flacq Paul Bérenger shouted Ton Polo zamai line met éne haut fonkssioner hindou déhor kan li ti Prémié minis! Agreed but in both in 1982 and in 1991 he never lifted a finger, at least publicly to prevent the sacking of top Hindu officials and in 1991 he was deputy prime minister. In 2003 the Chief Executive of Airports of Mauritius Ltd, a Hindu, was sacked – no fault was alleged against him for the sacking. Let not historical facts be distorted.
On the other side we have Navin Ramgoolam who has taken everybody by surprise with his alliance with the MSM, the party of the Jugnauth family and by his extreme generosity in the number of tickets allocated to that party. In 1983 the MSM allocated only twelve seats to the Labour Party and yet we know that without the Labour Party the newly born MSM would have bitten the dust in the August 1983 elections. He has got rid of Rama Sithanen who is still considered to be the architect of the management of the economic crisis over the past two years without giving any reasons and now has to face the wrath of the Tamils as the events on the occasion of Virashu Pirrapu have proved.
To his credit he has got rid of some ministers who were allegedly associated with improper practices or those whose performance was not that satisfactory or who were involved in controversy unlike the MMM that has retained Ashock Jugnauth whose election was declared null and void and who has been catapulted as the shadow Deputy Prime Minister. He is also somebody that does not trust many people and is very wary and obsessed by what his own entourage may do to him. In short he is not very open. But he will rarely pour insults on his adversaries in the manner of Paul Bérenger.
His feat in 2005 has been to break the myth that a MMM-MSM alliance was unbeatable. In that process he reformed the Labour Party and rid it at least to a large extent the impression that it is a party of the Hindus, a tag put on that party since the August 1967 elections for independence. That was the time when all the Creoles deserted the Labour Party and voted out of fear for the PMSD that was militating against Independence and campaigned on the platform of Hindu hegemony.
The ethnic divide that resulted from the elections is still with us. When the PMSD joined the government of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam in 1969, the Creoles who felt orphaned abandoned the PMSD and Sir Gaetan Duval and rallied behind the MMM and they are still behind that party along with many segments of other minorities including the non Hindi speaking sections.
Navin Ramgoolam changed that paradigm in 2005 but the task appears to be more arduous now because the minorities are always complaining that they have been taken for a ride. The different castes of the Hindu community are doing the same. But the greatest achievement of Navin Ramgoolam as a party leader has been to unite all sections of the population under the Labour umbrella. A lot remains to be done but he has made a good start. It will up to him in the remaining days of the campaign to make sure that the perception that he will be leading a predominantly “Vaish government”, as suggested by Harish Boodhoo, is dispelled.
The two parties have published their respective manifestoes. Labour has promised to carry on with the policies initiated since 2005 except that we have been told that the NRPT and interest on a defined limit of savings will be abolished. Abolishing the NRPT also appears in the MMM manifesto. That would mean that those in the rural areas will still enjoy their big mansions free of any local tax whereas those in urban areas will pay such a tax. Is that a case of discrimination?
Both parties have enumerated a list of what they consider as top priorities. The Labour manifesto goes very far in a number of sectors like law and order and the fight against crime and the establishment of a national crime control commission; a new cadastre for property evaluations; the rights of victims of crime; the free port; lack of discipline in schools; women’s rights; enhancement of the quality of education; revamping of sports.
The MMM will provide free internet to the youth; create a land bank; advertise for positions in parastatal bodies; strict control on the lease of State Lands; waiver of registration fees for first buyers of property; improvement of water supply; private TV channels and a more independent MBC; restoration of rice and flour subsidies; education reforms; revision of labour and employment laws; code of conduct for elections; law and order.
On a quick comparison the manifesto of Labour is more beefed up and is more in tune with the pragmatic aspirations of the people. The items in the MMM manifesto seem to be more a cosmetic exercise rather than the result of deep thinking to radically change Mauritius as they are shouting on the rooftop. On balance when the people will choose their next government they will have to choose between Navin Ramgoolam who has delivered on the economy in dire circumstances and Paul Bérenger who in spite of heavy criticisms against the economic policies of Labour has not told us what he would have done to spare us the effects of the financial crisis. The choice is clear. Good luck Mauritius.