There is a growing clamour for fundamental change in our battered democracy. The time is ripe for the innovative young to take up the challenge — By Mrinal Roy
The people’s verdict is unequivocal. The electorate of Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes have made their democratic choice. Arvin Boolell won the by-election in the constituency by a large margin. With 7990 votes, he has obtained more than twice the 3261 votes polled by the MMM candidate Nita Juddoo who came out second. Only 23,112 out of the 42,052 voters cast their votes in the by-election. Arvin Boolell was thus elected with some 35% of the votes cast or 19% of the registered electors in the constituency.
The low turnout and the low level of votes obtained must have a humbling and sobering effect on all candidates as despite all the campaign razzmatazz, banners and expense they have been unable to rally the support of the bulk of the voters of the constituency. In a very wide field of candidates, Arvin Boolell’s victory can to some measure be also attributed to his popularity and personal rapport with people. He presumably also benefitted from the votes of those who want him to assume a leading role in the Labour Party so as to boost its prospects and future.
45% of the electorate therefore opted to shun the by-election despite the considerable means and social media campaign used by the main political parties to canvass them. This high level of abstention is the highest ever registered in the country in an election since independence. In contrast, some 72% – 86% of the electorate in the constituency have exercised their voting right during the last nine general elections since 1982. In the last two by-elections since 2003, the rate of voter participation exceeded 73% and 84% respectively. The exceptionally high rate of abstention measures the sense of alienation of nearly half of the electorate and in particular the young voters of the constituency towards the political class, its poor standard of political ethics and endless shenanigans. Is it not time to clean up the Augean stables of local politics and give hope to the people and the country?
Brutal reality check
It would appear from the results and the low turnout that it is the diehard partisans of each party mobilized by the party activists who voted for the diverse party candidates. The score obtained by each candidate of the different parties is therefore basically a snapshot of their respective strengths in what is considered to be a constituency which is representative of the country. Thus, the outcome of the by-election is above all a brutal reality check for the various political parties. For example, it is revealing that the PMSD candidate, Dhanesh Maraye could obtain only 2177 votes which represent a mere 10.7 % of the 20,278 votes obtained by his leader, Xavier Duval who came out first in the constituency at the December 2014 general elections.
In contrast, the victory of Arvin Boolell is a shot in the arm for the Labour Party after the debacle of the December 2014 general elections. The margin of victory and the portent of a resurgence of the Labour Party have certainly jolted the government. Riding high on the wave of victory, the leader of the party who is beleaguered by serious accusations of wrongdoing in various court cases and all those who lost their seats at the December 2014 elections have come out the woodwork. Nothing seems changed except for the new promises and the rhetoric. Maintaining the status quo in terms of leadership and its stranglehold over the party structures and decision making process would certainly undermine the party going forward and thwart its prospects for the future.
This is not the time for jubilant smugness nor is it time for lame excuses by the parties that have been roundly defeated. It is time for the political class to take stock and finally wake up to the profound causes of alienation and deepening mistrust of the people of politicians generally.
New leadership and ethos
Let it be clearly stated. Beyond promises and the current sense of elation, three necessary conditions are needed to trigger a real and necessary resurgence of the Labour Party. The party must first and foremost reboot with the primeval ideals, principles, ethos and commitment of service to the people the Party championed at the start of its fight for the rights of the people, freedom and improved standards of living and quality of life for all as from 1937. It must be fundamentally reformed and truly democratized under a new inspiring leadership. It must also urgently induct a new team of young talented and competent men and women with an established professional track record capable of connecting with the people, brainstorming and elaborating an innovative and ambitious projet de société which rallies the nation. It is only such a reformed and rejuvenated Labour Party which can aspire to win back the trust of the multitude and improve its future prospects. Not to do so is to hobble the momentum of the by-election victory.
The by-election results have again showcased yet another ignominious defeat for the MMM. It is the last of a long list of seven consecutive defeats at the polls since 2005 under the present leadership. Its history of repeated defeats at the polls clearly shows that its brand of politics has been systematically shunned by the multitude. As a party, the MMM has continuously shifted its stances and swapped alliances to adapt to circumstances and the political exigencies of the moment. The poor score of the party at the by-election in an urban constituency showcases its sharp decline in popularity. Only an urgent change of leadership and a democratic opening of the party to the young talent in the country around principles which unite rather than divide the nation can save the day.
Let the talented young prevail
The polarization of the partisan vote was such that none of the new independent parties and independent candidates has fared well in the by-election. They have disappointingly obtained at best a few hundred votes. However, their determination and courage must be lauded. There are some good elements. The young talented candidates and parties who have at heart the betterment of the country and the urge to serve the people should learn from the lessons of the by-election. They should above all not give up. Their time will come.
If we want, as a nation, to establish a better socio-economic and political order in the country, we all need to contribute to bring about this salubrious sea change in the country. It must be said that throughout the run up to the by-election, the media has focused its attention through panels, debates and interviews on principally the candidates of the main political parties. The young independent parties and candidates were basically left to fend for themselves through principally social media platforms.
These young candidates and parties must learn that they need to set up a democratic and transparent party organization which has a constituency as well as a national footprint capable of interacting and mobilizing people through social media and the internet across the country. They also need to prepare in conjunction with the people a blue-print for a new socio-economic order and a code of political ethics which rallies the nation. This is not an easy task but internet and smart phone tools available today could render interaction and sharing of inputs and ideas with the people more efficient and proactive.
Most importantly, they must be able to adhere and promote such core principles and values such as meritocracy, equality of opportunities, inclusiveness, unity, solidarity, fair sharing of the fruits of prosperity, support to green and environment friendly policies to safeguard the quality of life and the country already threatened by the fallout of global warming, etc. The sordidness of politics has shooed the young. There is obviously a political vacuum in the country as people yearn for a better political order driven by lofty ideals, unity and a commitment of service to the nation.
The young must realize that burying their heads in the sand will not do. Their future depends on the prospects and the bright future of the country. If they want a sea change for the better along these core values and principles, they have to use their sacrosanct right to vote to bring about the much needed change for a far better order clamoured for so long by the people. So many times in the chequered history of the country, the vote has been used with single-minded purpose by the people to assert their rights and sanction those that have threatened the fundamental anchors, core principles and values of our democracy. It is time to use it judiciously and potently again.
Rome was not built in a day
The MBC has unanimously been shown a red card by the people following its inept and so blatantly partisan handling of the by-election results. The condemnable decision to switch off the live broadcast of the proclamation of the election results just before the live speech of the victorious candidate Arvin Boolell is the last straw.
The present government has shamelessly feudalised the MBC financed from public funds to the status of a boring and dull government propaganda machine endlessly tom-tomming rehashed news and the tedious videos of the same selected politicians day in, day out. This narrow minded approach will boomerang. No wonder more and more people are simply switching off to more balanced international news channels and biding their time.
In many ways, the by-election has clarified the political scene. It has also cut each of the main protagonists to their real political weight. There is a growing clamour for fundamental change in our battered democracy. The time is ripe for the innovative and inspiring young to take up the challenge and finally free the country from the decried seediness, appalling governance and endless shenanigans of local politicking. Rome was not built in a day.
* Published in print edition on 22 December 2017