— S. Modeliar
Mauritius is endowed with a Western type of democracy. Amongst other matters that are prescribed in the Constitution, a post of Leader of the Opposition is established. Under the unwritten but well-entrenched convention that derives from the British constitutional system it is the role of the opposition led by its leader to oppose the policies of the government of the day and propose alternative measures both in Parliament and outside.
In Great Britain the Conservative Party is doing precisely that by putting across to the people in view of the impending general election there. Since the last general election it is the general feeling that there has not been a viable opposition in Mauritius. To start with, the leader of one of the components of the outgoing government, Pravind Jugnauth was defeated. Since the outgoing government led by Paul Bérenger was back in the opposition, the defeat of the leader of the MSM caused some disarray in the opposition. After the MMM became numerically weaker than the MSM, the leadership of the opposition went to the MSM and Mr Bodha was chosen much to the chagrin of Ashock Jugnauth.
From then on, in spite of that love statements made to Pravind Jugnauth by Paul Bérenger when he was Prime Minister — “la solidarité consolidée avec le temps grâce au leadership de l’alliance avec Paul Bérenger et Pravind Jugnauth. Nous koz ène langaz de vérité à la population, nou assume nous responsabilité et nous énan à coeur l’intérêt de la population et assure zotte l’avenir. Nous fine faire sacrifices comme ène gouvernement responsable, nous prêt pou relève les défis. Nous éna le leadership et la compétence pour relève les défis” — the rot was already in the rank and file of the opposition. The MMM played on the disappointment of Ashock Jugnauth who expressed his view that he should have been the legitimate choice for the leadership of the opposition. The MMM started a subtle campaign to undermine the leadership of the MSM by favouring Ashock Jugnauth.
In that kind of environment it would have been very difficult for the opposition to act as a united body as it consisted of the MMM and the MSM. The split between the MMM and the MSM with Ashock Jugnauth having left the MSM made matters worse. Paul Bérenger became the Leader of the Opposition in view of the newly acquired numerical strength of the MMM. Then the fatal blow was delivered to Ashock Jugnauth with the judgment of the Supreme Court that declared his seat vacant on the ground of electoral corruption. That judgment was confirmed by the Privy Council. The judicial process resulted in an official fight between Pravind Jugnauth and Ashock Jugnauth at the by-election in constituency number 8. Vitriolic words were exchanged between the two and Paul Bérenger did not mince his words to launch scathing attacks against Pravind Jugnauth. The victory of Pravind Jugnauth secured with the vital help of the Labour Party literally sealed the fate of Ashock Jugnauth as far as his seat in constituency no. 8 is concerned.
By then the rift in the opposition was consummated. Pravind Jugnauth could not afford to openly criticise the government and his chosen target was Rama Sithanen for the way in which he was handling the economy. As for Paul Bérenger making exception for his weekly press conferences where he used to make general and vague statements on the economy, law and order, drug issues coupled with attacks against his favourite political adversaries or rather foes like Rama valayden, Xavier Duval, Ramesh Jeetah, he had not much to offer as solid alternative policies. The Labour Party and its allies were just watching while running the affairs of the State in a very difficult economic environment brought about by the international financial crisis. This sequence of events resulted in a Labour Party more popular than ever. This fact could not have escaped Paul Bérenger though he usually plays down the popularity of his adversaries and extols his own. He has been doing that since the seventies and has known more defeats than any other political leader in the history of politics in Mauritius.
All eyes are now turned towards the Labour Party and Navin Ramgoolam. Pravind Jugnauth has recently stated that his adversary for the time being is not the Labour Party (“Le PTr n’est pas un adversaire pour le moment”) and that his only adversary is the MMM (Weekend, 24 Jan 10). Jean Claude de l’Estrac, who with Cassam Uteem, opposed an alliance with the Labour Party in 1990 has expressed the idea that the Labour Party and the MMM should forge an alliance. This is what he stated: “Je ne dois pas être le seul à penser qu’une alliance Parti travailliste-MMM pourrait effectivement contribuer à faire avancer le pays plus rapidement et plus efficacement” (Mauritius Times, 11 December 2009).
Cassam Uteem made a statement on similar lines: “Je vous l’ai dit il a y a plus de six mois et j’ai toujours ce point de vue: une alliance PT-MMM est souhaitable. Si nous voulons réellement combattre le communalisme, c’est le moment ou jamais avec un Navin Ramgoolam qui, d’après moi, n’a aucun adversaire comme Premier ministre. Ramgoolam et Bérenger n’ont que tout juste 60 ans” (Weekend 3 Jan 10).
Eric Guimbeau, who has ferociously railed against Navin Ramgoolam and the Labour Party more especially since Maurice Allet left the opposition ranks, is now rallying around the idea of Labour Party-MMM alliance. Yet he is the one who stated that the year 2009 has been catastrophic under the Labour Party and its allies – “2009 a été chaotique sous le régime de l’Alliance sociale” (Weekend, 3 Jan 10). He also stated that it is not wise to have an electoral alliance (“Li pa bon fer enn akor elektoral apre ena diverzans e lalians kase apre” (Weekend, 3 Jan 10). But now he is for such an alliance. This is what he is reported to have said: “Le leader du Mouvement Mauricien Social Démocrate (MMSD), Eric Guimbeau, lors d’un point de presse, vendredi, s’est prononcé pour une alliance PTr-MMM, qui, selon lui, épurera le pays du phénomène alarmant de la drogue et de la prolifération des maisons de jeux. Toutefois, l’idéal, dit-il, demeure une lutte à trois ‘mais il y a l’idéal et réalité en politique’. Selon Eric Guimbeau, une alliance entre les deux grands partis politiques (PTr-MMM), ‘nettoiera le pays de fond en comble de la drogue et de la prolifération des maisons de jeux’ (Weekend, 31 Jan 10).
The statements made by Jean Claude de l’Estrac, Cassam Uteem and Eric Guimbeau convey the impression that without the MMM the country will go to the dogs and the presence of the MMM in a future government would be vital for the survival of the country. Eric Guimbeau minced no words when he said that Paul Bérenger should have his rightful place in such an alliance – “Toutefois, argue-t-il, Paul Bérenger doit tenir la place qui lui revient, car c’est un homme qui, durant sa carrière politique, a démontré ses capacities” (Weekend, 31 Jan 10). All these three gentlemen and all those who are clamouring for an alliance between the Labour Party and the MMM along with Paul Bérenger know fully well that without the MSM or the Labour Party the MMM does not stand a chance of coming back to power.
The massive defeats of the MMM with its allies at the last general election, the municipal elections and the village elections in 2005 left the MMM and the MSM in tatters. As Paul Bérenger is obsessed with power and cannot digest the harsh reality of his electoral defeat, he wants to come back to power very quickly. He is banking on a three-cornered fight in the hope that the MSM will take votes from the Labour Party in some vital rural constituencies thus paving the way for a victory of the MMM. The argument is very ingenious but must stand the test propounded by Arvin Boolell, Arrete réver camarade.
By its action since 2005 the opposition has not played its rightful constitutional role. By its actions now, it is trying at any cost to join the bandwagon of the government in order to avoid a defeat that it sees looming ahead. And it is the same people of the opposition that would accuse others of flouting the law of the land.