The Labour Party’s Future

This is a new generation and new forces are upsetting many an apple cart. The tune, and the manner – and manners too – must adapt

Today the Mauritius Labour Party is celebrating its 82nd year of existence — two weeks ahead of the 50th Independence anniversary. Neither can be dissociated from the other, for the history of this country, its development and the march towards tangible progress across the board – in the social, economic spheres to political reforms and transformations – all bear the stamp of the Labour Party from 1948 onwards up to 1968 and beyond.

There will always be naysayers and political propagandists who will subtly wedge in innuendoes and fallacious arguments into the debate, with a view to downplaying the struggle waged by the pre-Independence political leadership. Sadly the Labour Party’s lack of interest and commitment in drawing up a comprehensive and accurate narrative of that struggle has not helped either, except for a small publication that came out on the 40th year of its foundation. In any case, whatever had been attempted earlier had lacked strength and credibility due to the focus on one man — presaging in a way the personalisation of politics such that the importance and weight of individual politicians or leaders get the upper hand at the expense of the party. Other parties, those that carried significant political weight at one time or are still around, including the PMSD and the MMM, have also fallen prey to this phenomenon, and it is known what happens to the individual parties when the leaders fall for political or other reasons.

The Labour Party’s contribution to Mauritius has undoubtedly been immense, and besides the ups it has also gone through lows. A true history of LP is yet to written, and it is to be hoped that independent historians will bring clarifications and help us see in their proper perspectives the choices and decisions which have marked that history and their impact on the country.

Having survived 1982, it has since known a chequered course – sharing power and falling out with the MSM and PMSD, as well as for a brief period with the MMM from 1983 onwards. It got back into the driver’s seat in 2005 for almost 10 long years and lost to the Alliance Lepep in December 2014 – due in the main to its formula of a power-sharing agenda jointly with the MMM for a second Republic. Both parties have since remained in limbo. The MMM is still struggling to keep its head above the water after a long string of electoral defeats and challenges to Paul Bérenger’s style of leadership of the party. The Labour Party, on the other hand, obtained a welcome boost thanks to the victory of its candidate at the No. 18 by-election after three harassing years at the hands of a government intent upon finishing off the party and its leader.

The party is now well poised to and should take control over what happens next as regards its own future, though its leader is still not out of the woods as regards the charges he is still facing in court in two different cases. This should present not only an opportunity but a responsibility for such a historical party to re-invent itself in new ways, on the ground that what began as a party that belonged to the people must go back to them.

The focus must shift from personalities to the consolidation of the party structure and functioning. The allied issue here is the mode of leadership of the party that is desirable to take it and the country forward into the uncertain future that we all apprehend, given the protectionist global trend that is already in place. For a party that got off on a solid democratic foundation with Constituency Labour Party units, the most plausible path to taking off afresh is by beefing up and reviving the CLPs around issues of national importance. It will not only be a way of inducting new blood but this will also feed into the central structure of LP, where clearly it must not be business as usual.

This kind of change in functioning should also permeate upwards. There are those who recall the days of the robust LP of yore, when matters pertaining to both the party and the country were debated at the level of the executive. It used to be open forum, with activists also allowed to have their say – even dissenting voices were heard and listened to. It was more of a collegial than a presidential style of leadership, and LP has reached a turning point now where it has to present to the country which one is going to prevail. It goes without saying that the collegial mode is to be preferred, and with a leader beyond reproach and possessing absolutely above board credentials in terms of probity, trustworthiness and character, the collegial mode need not mean free-for-all or chaos. Like it or not, there is such a thing as morality of leadership – as examples around the world in mature democracies have shown. And that has been more talked about than happened here.

There is therefore space for an altogether revamped if not new leadership to emerge, but not only at the apex. The corollary is that the LP must open itself to candidates with competencies, track records, honesty and character chosen on a meritocratic basis by a defined and transparent process such as much alluded to Singapore does. That way only we can be assured of having the best to lead the party and the country.

On the other hand, of critical importance is for the party to spell out its programme and indicate what would be the policy approach: will it be driven by ‘clientelisme’ and populism or will there be solid evidence bases that will guide the decision-makers? How will projects be driven: by narrow interests or will national and people-oriented considerations prevail?

To underpin this reorientated way of handling the affairs of the country, whatever be the earlier criticisms, it is vital to re-establish a Ministry of Economic Planning and Development – or an equivalent Strategic Think Tank on a permanent basis. It should be tasked to examine all projects and the implementation policies therewith according to international norms and standards in a guaranteed autonomous manner, and not be threatened of dissolution if pet political agendas premised on vested interests do not get a pass. Provided any such, and all other decisions too, are solidly grounded in the best available evidence base.

Repeating the old shenanigans, such as again le vrai changement, will no longer have traction. We are hurtling into the third decade of the 21st century in barely two years from now. Politicians across the board must not play on the base instincts of the people as they have so far. This is a new generation and new forces are upsetting many an apple cart, all across the world, including our country.

 

* Published in print edition on 23 February 2018

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