Partisan Politics vs The National Interest
Mauritius celebrates this year its 42nd independence anniversary. It is election year. This fact has given rise to a race for alliances with the ruling alliance of which the Labour Party is a major component. An independence anniversary is always an occasion to take stock of a given situation. It is not just an occasion for a public holiday, message reading, banquets or cocktails where one sees the same people being present and making merry. In view of events that took place in that election year certain matters of current interest beckon us on that 42nd anniversary.
On the eve of independence of Ghana, some 53 years ago, Dr Nkrumah the first Leader of that country and a respected African statesman stated “the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up to the total liberation of Africa”. What Dr Nkrumah was referring to was political independence. African countries got rid of their respective colonial masters. But political instability continues to trouble African countries though it must be added that some African countries have been able to build a political system that actually works.
Mauritius has not known the political instability that many African countries have experienced. But it must be recalled that when Albert René staged a coup d’Etat to oust the lawfully elected leader of the Seychelles James Mancham in 1976, one of the first persons who travelled to that country and was photographed with the soldiers that helped to topple James Mancham was Paul Bérenger, the MMM leader. Since the Seychelles is next door to us there was some apprehension in our country that a similar event might take place here. This fact must be linked with the Marxist philosophy being prescribed by the MMM since 1969 with wild cat strikes that were paralyzing the vital sectors of our economy. The bottom line is that the MMM was attempting to secure political power outside the confines of the electoral process.
Thanks to the wisdom and sagacity of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam the country steered on its course of democracy. Though the Labour Party and its coalition partner had postponed the general elections from 1972 to 1976, the blunt fact is that elections were held in 1976 and saw the MMM winning 30 seats. The spirit of wisdom prevailed in the MMM and it diluted its Marxist philosophy but not its dictatorial tendencies. In spite of the revolutionary ideas of the MMM that saw its culmination in 1978 with the Sheikh Hossen episode that sought to paint the late Prime Minister SSR as an assassin and in spite of the strikes in 1979, the government of the day did not flinch and did not succumb to the temptation of suspending the Constitution to combat a gang of anarchists. Elections were duly held in 1982 and saw the total defeat of the SSR government. This would not have been the case necessarily in many African countries where we see leaders wielding power for years and years. And what if the Seychelles episode had repeated itself in Mauritius?
Should we remain content with our form of democracy because we have elections every five years, a free press and an independent judiciary? That was not the view of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). The APRM, which was launched in 2003 as part of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), is a self-monitoring tool voluntarily acceded to by Member States of the African Union. The objective of the APRM is to foster the adoption of policies, standards and practices leading to political stability, high economic growth, sustainable development and accelerated regional and economic integration through sharing of experiences and reinforcement of successful and best practice, including identifying deficiencies, and assessing the needs for capacity building.
The APRM wrote this on Mauritius last year: “The Country Review Mission was informed in its consultations that coalitions were formed before elections, thus predetermining the outcomes of elections. More importantly coalition politics meant that only three main parties were able to dominate the political scene to the exclusion of emergence of parties. The political system is perceived by many as no longer serving the country. There is a feeling that a new dispensation is needed, which enables the opening up of democratic space beyond the long standing coalitions, seen by some as a club, in which any party or individual outside the three parties is left out with no hope to get in.”
When the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arvin Boolell launched the Self-Assessment Report on 20 July 2009, he stated that we should guard against complacency. He added that we should concentrate on “improving in terms of governance, transparency and accountability.” He added: “If we are not constantly vigilant, we may find ourselves confronted with unexpected governance shortcomings. As a self-introspective tool, the APRM exercise should allow us to take appropriate action to address challenges and correct deficiencies that are identified, as we constantly need to be reassessed.”
It is fact that since independence three parties have governed Mauritius in different coalitions: the Labour Party, the PMSD, the MMM and the MSM. These parties have through a shrewd permutation of political calculation managed to forge alliances to remain in power. The Labour Party did it in 1976 with the PMSD. The record breaker is the MSM. Though that party, which is an offshoot of the MMM and the former PSM of Harish Boodhoo, commands a percentage of votes much lower than the MMM or Labour, it managed under Sir Anerood Jugnauth to stay in power between 1983 and 1995 and between 2000 and 2005, in alliances either with Labour or the MMM. That in itself is not that sinister. What is of consequence to democracy is the perception of dynastic rule with sons succeeding their fathers or attempting to reach the post of Prime Minister. This is where the perversion of democracy creeps in. This is the result of the caste system that pervades our electoral process. And we are all complicit to that system after 42 years of independence.
Now we are in the midst of frantic attempts to finalize a pre-electoral alliance between the MMM and Labour. The politicians in favour of such an arrangement justify this on the need to unify the country. Paul Bérenger justifies it on the need to avoid an ethnic divide in the country if a Labour-MSM alliance fights the MMM. This is purely and simply a confession by Paul Bérenger that the MMM will be thrown back into the opposition and that it would be mostly the minority ethnicities that will vote for the MMM and Labour will reap the votes of the majority ethnicity. That may appear to be so but was not reflected in the 2005 elections or even in 1987 where overall there was not much difference in the votes secured by the MSM-Labour-PMSD alliance and the MMM. It can be anticipated that a Labour-MMM alliance will win all the seats. Can we afford such a situation in a democratic State? We have seen that whenever the MMM has been in power with the PSM or the MSM with either 60 seats or 57 seats (1991 elections) or 54 seats (2000 elections) that party has been very prone to a dictatorship in practice though not on paper.
In an interview (Weekend, 3 Jan 10) the former President of the Republic, Cassam Uteem was asked the following question, “Vous savez mieux que moi qu’un gouvernement fort est soumis à la tentation de glisser vers la dictature”. His answer was, “Pas avec le MMM. Nous avons eu 3 fois 60 zéros sans aucune tentation totalitaire… je vous avoue que je ne suis pas très rassuré quand j’entends Navin Ramgoolam déclarer que le Mauricien ne sait pas voter et regrette de ne pas avoir obtenu une majorité de trois-quarts… je n’ai aucune crainte pour un nouveau 60 zéros si le MMM fait partie du gouvernement. Preuve a été faite en 3 occasions que le MMM est une garantie du respect de la démocratie en cas de 60 zéros.”
That is far from correct. In 1982 about ten top civil servants who had served their country since independence and even before as permanent secretaries were brutally sacked without a fair hearing and due process. Mr Uteem should be reminded that this was done under a 60/0 MMM government. The late Edwin Venchard, Solicitor General and the late Jean Roland Delaitre, Director General suffered the same fate. The best losers appointed after the 1982 elections were booed by MMM supporters and thus acted blatantly against the Constitution. The Creole language was imposed at the Mauritius Broadcasting Station. History repeated itself in 1991 when the MMM along with the MSM won 57 seats. A wave of brutal sackings of employees of the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation took place. Let us not pervert history and depict the MMM as the angel and Labour as the devil. What would be wrong with Labour securing three quarters of the seats alone?
This leads to the other important issue and this is whether without the MMM coming of the political scene in 1969 democracy did not exist in Mauritius. This is the image that many proponents of the Labour/MMM alliance are trying to project and Labour should be careful. It is also equally of interest that many are conveying the message that only with the MMM in government will ethnicity issues will be successfully resolved. The argument is as ridiculous as it is specious because we are aware of the methods the MMM uses at elections.
So, on that 42nd anniversary of independence let us think of how best we can best serve a true democratic concept that would rid us of those seeking to join the bandwagon of power not for the sake of the country but to have their share of the spoils of power. Whatever political leaders will decide is a matter at the level of their respective parties. Whatever we the electors do at our level is what matters in the end to safeguard democracy and send a warning to those politicians who do not know the meaning of graceful retirement from the political scene either because they are keen to perpetuate their political reign through their offsprings or because they still feel they have the magic solutions to our problems when they have lamentably failed in the past by being blinded by partisan politics to the detriment of the national interest.