Strengthening our democratic set-up


The ruling MSM-ML government alliance must be chuckling with amusement at what’s being played out in the opposition camp these days, especially the latter’s inability to work out a common stand towards the Government Programme that will be read out by the President of the Republic on January 24.

From what has been reported in the press, it was the leader of the Labour Party who had canvassed the idea of a common boycott of the Presidential Address, which will be about the Government Programme, by the opposition parties in Parliament, namely the MMM, the PMSD and the Labour Party. Furthermore, with a view to remaining “consistent” with the LP-PMSD-MMM opposition’s challenge of the November 2019 general elections, he would also have suggested that the Opposition should refrain from participating in the parliamentary debates on the Government Programme.

A common stand has to date not been reached given the dilly-dallying of the MMM and the PMSD. As for the non-participation in the parliamentary debates, the PMSD leader has ruled out the LP leader’s suggestion, but the PMSD will instead go along with a “symbolic boycott” of the Presidential Address. So much for consistency! Would there be more behind the words of the PMSD leader? It would not be advisable to jump the gun at this stage. But from what we hear it is possible that the new dynamics operating at the level of the electorate, coupled with its own electoral weight and the uncertainties prevailing within the other opposition parties, might prompt the PMSD to rethink its positioning on the political spectrum in the months ahead.

Rumours are also doing the rounds in political circles about a proposal to bring together the LP, the PMSD and the MMM into a political alliance. Should it materialize in the weeks ahead it would see the MMM leader stepping into the shoes of Arvin Boolell as Leader of the Opposition. Press comments have argued that the real intention behind this proposal would be to move Arvin Boolell out of the way, thereby neutralizing any eventual stake on his part on the leadership of the Labour Party. That remains to be seen.

Arvin Boolell has yet to make known whether or not he is comfortable with his present equation with the Labour Party leadership, and whether he would be happy to go along with that equation. This would be akin to the situation of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vis-à-vis the then Congress President Sonia Gandhi during the Congress Party’s last tenure in India – in spite of the Indian media’s persistent assertions of a “spiralling trust deficit” between the two Congress Party leaders.

We do not know if there is any substance in these rumours, but a Labour Party insider, Dharam Gokhool – never mind the comments of Yatin Varma and Rama Valayden following the LP’s debacle in Nov 2019 – had himself stated to this paper a few weeks back that “the Labour Party has yet to clarify its leadership position, and the recent statements of Navin Ramgoolam have not clarified the situation within Labour as yet. Neither in terms of Labour’s leadership nor its future electoral strategies. The electoral petitions may also become a convenient excuse for business as usual whereas there is a legitimate expectation within the Labour ranks (and even beyond) for some in-depth introspection and innovative initiatives for repositioning the Labour Party in the political landscape. The longer the uncertainty is maintained, the greater the risk of internal conflicts (italics added). This situation will be to the detriment of the Labour Party and may be to the advantage of the MSM”.

It is not known at this stage what will come out of the electoral petitions, but the fact remains that both the Labour Party and the MMM didn’t carry conviction with their own traditional bases which, for lack of a better alternative, voted back the MSM-ML to power as a result. Those who still believe in the fundamental values for which these parties stood are frustrated at their incapacity, post their electoral rout, to assert themselves credibly on the political stage. Enormous damage has been done to the national standing of both the Labour Party and MMM. The question is whether the Phoenix will rise from its ashes in both cases.

As we have argued before in this paper, a vibrant democracy requires a credible opposition, which is currently lacking. And yet the opportunity exists, and the circumstances demand that this lacuna be filled promptly. The focus of the opposition parties should consequently be on rebuilding and reinventing themselves through internal reordering and democratization, and not sterile conflicts with regard to leadership. Only if they are prepared to take such a call will they be ensured of their future relevance on the political landscape. A week is a long time in politics, as the saying goes, and it’s over two months that the general elections have been over. That’s already way too long…

* Published in print edition on 17 January 2020

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