Some Facets of Our Democracy

By Rattan Khushiram

After years of dominance by patronage-driven political parties that work only to enrich a connected elite, our democracy urgently needs a strong alternative. Unfortunately, we may be in for a long and gruelling wait

The phases of the campaign: The political campaign is gathering steam. It will start with the high pitch, high level discourses and narratives giving a first impression of a mature democracy with a rich historical tradition of debates and discussions. The incumbent government will try to impose its hegemony on the economic narrative, showcasing its prestige projects and drawing comparison to the myopic vision of the former regime as it lists down a whole series of policies and projects that are not likely to bring any substantial changes and will be mere dilatory platitudes.

The opposition, on the other hand, will tend to pinpoint at the promises made but are yet to be fulfilled, the lack of employment opportunities for our graduates and youth, the soaring public sector debt, state capture, cronyism and economic irresponsibility. It will also trade in some nice sound bites; but overall, the political imagination, not to mention the economic imagination, will remain a scarce commodity. We will be served more of the same.

As the political cauldrons heat up, behind this veneer of a sophisticated democracy, another game will be played, covertly and insidiously, more divisive and devastating than all the mud-slinging and excoriations from public platforms – a legacy of our economic, social and identity phobias that reproduce year after year the fracture of communalism and casteism. It is a decisive phase of the campaign when people that matter come into play – the schemers, the socio-cultural groups from all sections of the population, the so-called local political scientists with prolific expertise at dissecting a constituency’s components by community and caste.

This is a crucial stage in the political campaign when the election is being shaped not by economics or ideology or the policies and programmes of political parties but “more decisively by the aims and ambitions of deeply flawed men” and their influence on an already “divided” and undermined electorate. These aims and ambitions are not about the future of Mauritius or the growth story, nor will they be about ideologies, commitment or lofty ideals but more a question of the means and the how, however wretched and scheming, to grab or stay in power. With the exception of some marginal or leftist parties, these phases will be unfolding in the run-up to the elections and the latter will ultimately be fought on casteist and communal grounds once again. Can we hope for a change? Yes we can when we succeed in preventing the schemers from calling the shots by being, each and every one of us, part of a new revolutionary social power dynamics that empowers the people and civil society to make change happen.

Dynasties: If we care to have a cursory look at the tentative lists of candidates from different parties for the next elections, we will be surprised that these very parties which have had a crucial role in framing the social and political discourse in recent times seems, for quite some time now, to be caught in a time warp.

After years of being bored by the “Papa-Pitior “Mo Papa Inn Fersa confessions-cum-stories, we thought that our political parties would have, in the manner of a giant wrecking ball, altered the country’s political matrix by demolishing the shibboleths of dynasty politics. But old habits die hard. On the contrary we see that it has extended to “cousin, cousine”, son-in-laws and nephews, you name it. And these are the very people who are telling you that they want to do politics differently.

The same old guard: How can you do politics differently or have a politics of “rupture” if you stick to the same cohort of old guards who, for the good of our country, should have been pensioned off a long time ago. Their previous stint in power or in the ranks of the opposition has not impressed us at all. But like the moth persistently flapping towards incandescent light, the old guards are rooted to power and are reluctant to hand over the baton to the next generation of politicians. Refusing to see the writing on the wall, they continue to cling to power and privilege, insisting on imposing their outdated and divisive ways of doing things, the same old practice where secrecy, patronization and shoddy governance standards are the norms.

As long as they are not prepared to loosen their grip on the levers of power and keep on resisting with their full might the infusion of new blood in the creaking axle of their political bureaus and central committees, the change that we want to see will have to be postponed for many more years.

Where are the young Turks? Go through the long list of potential candidates of all mainstream parties, you will find very few of them. They have been elbowed out by the old guard. But this is the march of history; the young Turks are unstoppable, ready to take on the responsibility both at the helm and the rank and file of the political parties, and reconnect with an increasingly dismissive and disgruntled public.

As I pointed out in an earlier article – ‘Bringing the change that Mauritius needs’, there comes a time in the life of a nation when it needs some spark, a vision… for change to happen. Now younger entrants are rising everywhere, bringing with them energy and new ideas. A new generation is ready to take over, bringing with it fresh ideas and a vision for Mauritius.

They are here to stay; they are not looking for greener pastures elsewhere or joining our diaspora that regime after regime is trying to win back at their expense. They are ready to acquire the skills and capabilities necessary to drive innovation and the nation forward on new terms and on new pathways of development.

The gender equation: We need more women leaders. Out of 69 MPs in Mauritius, only eight, including three ministers, are women. A number of countries, including Angola, Mozambique, NamibiaSouth Africa and Tanzania, have on average more than 30% women’s representation in the upper and lower houses of their parliaments. In Lesotho, 58% of local government positions are filled by women. A number of countries have legislated in favour of minimum quotas for women’s representation in parliaments. 

We are still far from the 50% of women in parliament as advocated by SADC. Mauritius is ranked at a low of 109th, out of 149 countries worldwide with regard to 2018 Global Gender Gap Index (GGI) of the World Economic Forum. Why does this gap persist? Because our traditional political parties only pay lip service to the gender issue though they may be aware that women empowerment is a game changer for the continuous development of the country and in boosting the country’s growth rate. They have a big women-centric voter focus but very few women on their list of candidates. Is there really a dearth of women leaders around?

The turncoats take the stage: What a show! As the country gets ready to go to vote soon, the political parties have started playing their cards. Amongst all the plotting and planning though, once again the opportunists and turncoats are taking the limelight as they mushroom all around to revive their sagging fortunes. These chameleons wearing their coats of many colours, on this fence today and on the other tomorrow, according to the prevailing political climate, usually carry one script in public and another in private.

The public script, drafted with a sleight of hand acquired over years of horse trading and without moral scruple, is always about their allegiance and loyalty to their political ideology and the lofty realms of idealism which have motivated their switching of sides with such ease. But a glimpse at the private script will reveal that it is rather the realpolitik that the opportunists and turncoats swear by. It is the wheeling and dealing of the marketplace, the horse trading, the bargaining process in search of privilege or office that plays havoc with all known political landmarks of idealism, commitment, loyalty and ideology.

Our political acrobat will enjoy his new place in the sun where he will be reaping the benefits of office or privilege for some time, until the time comes once more to change allegiance, or colour, or political position. In this game of opportunism, there are no principles.

After years of dominance by patronage-driven political parties that work only to enrich a connected elite, our democracy urgently needs a strong alternative. Unfortunately, by the nature of things depicted above, we may be in for a long and gruelling wait. What else can you expect when politics gets dominated by caste, communalism and money?

* Published in print edition on 23 August 2019

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