By TP Saran
A recurring question that has cropped up, and kept being ventilated, for several years now is the problem of ageing leadership of our main political parties. Following from this is the modality of designating the leader, the selection of an eventual successor, and as far as possible all this to be done by means of a transparent and democratic process.
One can understand that each party has a history, and came up on the political scene in a given context and circumstances pertaining to that context at the time. In the case of the Labour Party, the first founder Dr Maurice Cure was followed by another man of the people, Guy Rozemont. Upon his death, Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became the leader. After his passing away in December 1985 there was a period of ‘floating’ until Sir Satcam Boolell took over and handed back a few years later to the son of Sir Seewoosagur, Dr Navin Ramgoolam, who has since held sway over LP for nearly three decades now.
When the Ralliement Mauricien morphed into the PMSD, Gaetan Duval was made its leader, a post he held until his death in 1995. Having broken away to form his own PMXD, the son Xavier Duval finally reintegrated the original party, and has now been in the saddle for about two decades.
Formed after Independence from the remnants of the Club des Etudiants of the Jeeroburkhans, Virahsawmys, and some others in the early 1970s – a tumultuous time across many parts of the world marked by the dissent of students and young intellectuals with the prevailing political and economic regimes, it ultimately fell (by design or otherwise) upon Paul Berenger, who is said to have also been inspired by the quasi-revolutionary 1968 events in Paris, to lead what would ultimately become the MMM. One of the major figures of the Paris ‘revolution’, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, ended up into a more settled and less fiery public career in his native Germany. But Paul Berenger’s fire is still burning, despite some health issues that afflicted him. To put it mildly, he has towered over his party from the very beginning in spite of the different ‘contestations’ of his leadership and ideological swings and which led to the formation of break-away groups. The latest attempt at reform and leadership change led to a few faithfuls again leaving the party, with some more deserting it shortly before general election 2019. Not without acrimony and some washing of dirty linen in public. Some felt that they could not languish on the opposition bench forever, and sought their place under the sun elsewhere – literally.
The MSM was a breakaway faction of the MMM that emerged after Berenger’s posturings met with the emergence of a determined Anerood Jugnauth, who it had been (wrongly) assumed would be happy playing second fiddle to Berenger. It was made clear to the latter that ‘government is government, and government decides’, not the ‘Bureau Politique’ of the MMM. After a long innings and repeated victories, Sir Anerood passed the mantle to his son Pravind Jugnauth, a move that many considered had already been planned by the patriarch, although he put it down to a matter of his health. After the recent victory of the MSM in the general election, Pravind Jugnauth has redeemed himself and can be said to have earned his legitimacy as the undisputed leader of his party.
From this brief overview of these four parties, one can say that, save for a brief spell in the Labour Party, all of them are under some variant of dynastic politics, what with the latest entrance into the fold: Joanna Berenger, duly elected recently. But of these, only the MSM seems to have put into effect its home-grown succession plan, however controversial it may have been perceived to be at the time of the direct ‘passation’ in mid-mandate by the pater to the son. But then, like his father before him, the son took the bull by its horns to demarcate and establish himself and lead his party to victory.
With the petitions that have been lodged in court to contest the results of the last general election in some constituencies, and which are likely to take some time to be determined given the nature of the legal process, there is remote possibility of any challenge of the government’s continuation in office any time soon. In any case, the position of the MSM as a party that has completed a cycle and begun another through a successful leadership transition will remain unchanged.
None of the other parties can make a similar claim – as yet! But with the induction of Adrien Duval in the party, it would appear that the PMSD is taking anticipatory steps in this direction. At the celebration of the PMSD’s anniversary (last year probably), Xavier Duval clearly enunciated the ambition (‘démésuré’ according to political analysts, given the party’s struggle to remain relevant down the years following the 1969 coalition) of having a PM from the ranks of PMSD in the future, adding that it might not necessarily be him but someone else. Whether that someone would be another Duval or not he did not spell out, but when the time comes if he bowed out and allowed the party to decide democratically, then he too would have begun another cycle of renewal in the PMSD.
As for the MMM, would its historical leader Paul Berenger consider bowing out in due course and give some liberty to the MMM to thrash out its future course, again similarly ending the longest current leadership cycle of any party and giving the opportunity for another cycle to begin?
At least it can be said of these three parties that they have had some succession plan (even the aborted one of the MMM for that matter) in view, with only the MSM having completed its own. Nothing of the sort, alas, can be said of the oldest political party, LP. If not history, nature teaches us that all phenomena are cyclic in nature, and that even human institutions somehow follow that pattern when viewed in the long run. That is the only way to renew and survive, by infusing new blood and generating new ideas. The current leader of the LP would be well advised to ponder this truism, and to start loosening his grip as party leader, allowing others to begin a renewal cycle and chart the future course of the party. Unless this is done, the Labour Party seems headed towards the paralyzing slumber it has trapped itself into since December 2014.
The time is ripe for new political party cycles to begin, and the opportunity should not be missed.
* Published in print edition on 13 December 2019