The Next Kingmaker

By M.K.

Twelve months after the victory of Arvin Boolell in the December 2017 by-election in Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes, a new stir appears to be rousing the local political scene in the context of the forthcoming general elections to be held most probably by the end of the year or early next year. By all accounts it is quite unlikely that the governing alliance will go for the by-election at Piton-Riviere du Rempart on November 13, following the resignation of Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo; its choice of candidate in the person of Vikash Nuckchady only goes to confirm that it will not be prepared to face defeat in a rural constituency against an old hand like Anil Bachoo of the Labour Party. Defeat in a rural constituency in the run-up to the general elections, a few weeks or months later, will spell doom for the MSM-ML combine. A Labour Party win, on the other hand, will create, according to LP apparatchiks, an unstoppable momentum that will see it back in the seat of power after the massive no-vote against the LP-MMM alliance in December 2014.

Given the heavy defeat suffered by the LP-MMM alliance, Labour has remained more or less politically weak all this while. On its part, the MMM which had already undergone a pre-electoral split, saw another group of its elected members leave the ranks of the party to form a new political party called Mouvement Patriotique. In other words, the MSM-PMSD-ML alliance has ruled almost without opposition since the last elections. The MSM in particular has employed its dominant position to target and try to eliminate for good Navin Ramgoolam as a political adversary.

Confronted with various provisional charges of wrong-doing and subsequent arrests inflicted on him by the CCID, Navin Ramgoolam has clung on to his political role and leadership of Labour and has long been preparing a political come-back. He caused a stir by organising a political gathering at Kewal Nagar to celebrate the 115th birth anniversary of SSR, where he used the platform to castigate the MSM in particular, thus pitching Labour in a fight-to-the-end against the MSM. In so doing, he was hoping to elicit a favourable decision from the pool of traditional voters common to the two parties. There is a general sense now that, despite Labour not having imposed itself as dramatically as it would have wished against an MSM-led government, some political inroads have been made. Such inroads have been facilitated by the various gaffes certain members of the present government have been making.

On its part, the MMM has not staged a forceful comeback. Paul Bérenger, the leader of what remains of the party, has not been seen to be as incisive in the Assembly in sharp contrast to his interventions during earlier his mandates as the full-fledged Leader of the Opposition. At times he has even been seen to be adopting a complicit attitude towards the leader of the government, which led to speculations of another ‘Remake’ of the MMM-MSM alliance of 2000.

The picture that is shaping up therefore is that the coming general elections will be essentially a tussle between LP and MSM, with MMM being the other party in the fray that will be of consequence. Given this scenario, the outcome will therefore be determined mainly by rural votes, that is, the constituency common to both MSM and Labour, with a few seats spread between the two in the urban areas, but which are more favourable to the MMM.

Since neither of the two main parties, that is, LP and MSM, are likely to obtain a comfortable majority, it follows that in all probability even with its smaller number of seats won, the MMM will find itself in the role of kingmaker. A similar situation followed the elections in Austria, where the third party with a minority of seats found itself in the role of kingmaker, thus controlling the agenda for the country’s future.

The option ‘seul contre tous’ of Paul Berenger will make political sense in that it will also have the added compensation that it will allow the party to bring back to its fold its traditional supporters who have in the recent past distanced themselves from the party due to the MMM’s alliances with the Labour Party and the MSM at various times. Paul Berenger may thus see more merit in being a kingmaker (who will set the agenda for the next government) from a position of electoral weakness than from a position of strength through an overall win at the next elections. In effect, he will thus have transformed an electoral weakness into a political advantage.

As matters stand now, this is the road we are likely to travel, Whether the MSM and LP are willing to take that risk – of being dictated terms by a minority partner as kingmaker – is their choice. Having served as prime ministers, their respective leaders are in a better portion than most to apprehend the implications of such a final outcome materializing. If they take the wrong turn, that will amount to an abdication of their larger responsibility towards the country and their constituency. The choice is theirs.

* Published in print edition on 23 August 2019

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