The “battle for the soul” of the electorate may continue to be intense and intriguing

Post 2019

By S. Callikan

Elections are over, the results are out, the elected and Best Loser MPs are known. The revamped Pravind Kumar Jugnauth-led team, having secured a comfortable majority of National Assembly seats, has turbo-charged forward with the business of forming his cabinet and getting the gears of government going again. The dust or emotions raised by a very divisive and ugly campaign have to settle down before all parties, particularly those in the Opposition, undertake what should be their level-headed post-mortems for internal purposes and for public consumption.

Many will have been surprised or shocked by the unusual features that marred the electoral process, even under the supervision of a traditionally respected Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC). Whatever the explanations offered by the latter, the number of unregistered or de-registered electors, at an average of some 300-400 per constituency, was unexpected and disturbing when several last constituency seats were won or lost by less than 200 votes. Many questions remain about such other things as the canvassing process, about whether expatriate contractual workers had as alleged voted in our general elections and why OAP cards or driving licenses, easily falsified, were allowed as elector ID.

When there have been at least ten previous general elections overseen by the ESC, all with sparse or minimal hiccups, there are many grounds for national unease and for opponents to feel aggrieved by the controversies surrounding the 2019 elections. Although there may be little reason to expect an effective judicial challenge to the voting exercise and its overall outcome, the ESC should not give the impression of washing its hands, passing the buck to the electorate or draping itself rather haughtily in our laws. To restore the above-board level of respect and credibility it always enjoyed, the ESC owes it to itself and to the country to initiate an independent inquiry of some sort and come up with proposals to shake up what looks like rather antiquated processes for our cyber-age and prevent future recurrences of such malaise with our Republic’s democratic processes.

That aside, 2019 has brought to the fore a number of distinct questions or messages from the electorate, some reinforcing previous unattended rumblings, others of a distinctly novel flavour. First, undoubtedly, Hon P.K. Jugnauth has emerged from the long shadow of Anerood and has, with his team of political advisers, exhibited a remarkable mastery of strategy and tactics in the Mauritian sociological setting and in the particular context of being pitted in a triangular battle against the MMM and the Alliance Nationale of LP-PMSD.

Having done away, with some finesse it must be said, with the rear-guard of SAJ loyalists and the sometimes unsavory lot of 2014, backbenchers and ministers alike, he launched a three-pronged onslaught: the first, to “presidentialise” a blitzkrieg campaign, pushed no end by media resources and the national broadcaster; the second, to bring over to his personal fealty the “meat” of the MMM at whatever cost and the third, to target ruthlessly the foibles of his principal challenger and former PM, Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam.

With a returned MP distribution of 38-14-8 for the MSM-led Alliance Morisien, the LP-PMSD Alliance Nationale and the MMM respectively, to which must be added the 4-3-1 corrective Best Loser seats, the strategy paid off handsomely in our First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system, whereas the respective voter percentages are closer to 37% – 34% – 22% for the three main alliances or parties. In particular, the 3% vote difference between the MSM alliance and its LP-PMSD rivals translates into a massive 35% seat difference in the National Assembly of 70 members. Skewed results of FPTP but no winner has ever changed the rules of that playing field.

Admittedly, the PM, Pravind Kumar Jugnauth will now have a stable governing majority in the House and the undoubted loyalty of his hand-picked MPs and Ministers. He has a political party he is in sole control, a formidable war-chest according to most observers, a presence in some urban constituencies and a slim but real majority of the rural voting population. It is a near clean sweep from constituencies No 4 to No 14, with the notable exceptions of Ranjiv Woochit, Mahend Gungapersad and Ritish Ramful holding out the red flag. But his political advisers and himself will be keenly aware that this is nevertheless a “try-me-out” mandate as requested by himself and granted by just a little more than one-third of the electorate. This said, without begrudging the 2019 outcome for Pravind Kumar Jugnauth and the team he led.

To reach such a level, the MSM has obviously deployed all means and resources it could muster, including the transformation of the national broadcaster into a pale North Korean copy. Many observers are also aware that an intense push in the final hour of voting and the massive exploitation of Dr Ramgoolam’s unfortunate comments having a bearing on an obscure cultural practice, may well have tipped the scales in favour of the MSM. There were other unexplained errings one may add: the late coalescence of an LP-led Opposition platform, the prolonged uncertainties around the LP leader’s constituency choice, some poor candidate selections and the absence of an effective organization and communication structure, which the enthusiasm and dedication of young volunteers could not paper over. Moreover, one can be bemused that the LP cannot boast of credible youth and feminine wings, nor of structured think-tanks or commissions in various important domains: agriculture, energy, environment, education or public health policy…

But despite its by now notorious shortcomings and the heavy artillery aligned against the LP’s leader, the Party stood its ground at some 40:60 divide in the so-called “Hindu belt”. Which suggests that the “battle for the soul” of the rural electorate between the MSM and the LP may continue to be an intense and intriguing contest.  As for the MMM, it has lost both relevance and anchors in the rural setting, being now mostly confined to the Beau-Bassin & Rose-Hill urbanites.

It is now up to Pravind Kumar Jugnauth and his newly formed Cabinet to demonstrate a governance style and practice that stand them out from the SAJ-led first three years since 2015, the unending turmoils and the whiff of scandalous behaviours from all and sundry. He has the clout to sanction offenders immediately rather than wait for election ticketing time after 5 years to distribute red cards. As for the Opposition forces, in particular the LP and the MMM, they are at a watershed time and need to navigate with as much decorum as necessary or appropriate, the rejuvenation of their internal structures, functions and leadership roles. That could at least open new doors towards a closer coordination of their actions and strategies in Opposition, a necessary counterpoise for a healthy democracy.

* Published in print edition on 15 November 2019

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