It is widely known that the leader of the MMM, Paul Berenger, has the knack to commit political blunders – and that is what has kept him away from Government House, as Prime Minister, either on the electoral strength of his party or as major partner in alliance with other parties whenever the political circumstances in the country were clearly in favour of the MMM – and much less for communal reasons as it is conveniently surmised. His latest move which excluded Navin Ramgoolam from a meeting of the ‘L’Entente’ in a bid to force the Labour Party’s leader to renege on his ambition to stand as the prime ministerial candidate of the erstwhile ‘L’Entente PTr-MMM-PMSD-Reform Party’, especially the manner in which he proceeded about it, the language verging on arrogance and the timing, represents the summum in terms of political ineptitude.
The ouster of the LP from the ‘L’Entente’, leading to the resignations of Arvin Boolell and Shakeel Mohamed as Leader of Opposition and Opposition Whip respectively, has not only taken the wind out of the sails of the Opposition, it has led to its implosion. Much to the pleasure of the MSM leader. Also, a welcome relief, for at least some time, from the battering that his government has been facing in the wake of the judicial enquiry into the murder of the MSM activist Soopramanien Kistnen, along with suspicions around other alleged suicides and public outcry about the questionable manner in which public procurements for medical supplies and equipment were done last year.
As could be expected, in the fallout of the MMM leader’s blunder, Navin Ramgoolam has leveraged the opposition to his leadership of the LP by both the MMM and the PMSD to whip up a wave of sympathy in his favour amongst Labourites. The exact opposite of what was sought to be achieved by Paul Berenger has taken place: Navin Ramgoolam’s leadership and grip on the LP has not only been consolidated, but it has also succeeded to kill off – at least up to the next general elections – any opposition within the Labour Party to his leadership of the Party. Navin Ramgoolam will surely, thanks to Paul Berenger, remain the uncontested leader of the LP for a good number of years, and he should also, like Pravind Jugnauth, be thanking the MMM leader for this dramatic change in his political fortunes. All those who had been nursing the ambition to take over from Ramgoolam, including Arvind Boolell, have in the process been weakened, the more so in the case of the latter following his resignation as Leader of the Opposition – which platform would have allowed him to establish his credentials as a potential leader of the LP.
The question now is: What happens next? For one, the focus will in the weeks ahead shift to the political battles in view of the forthcoming municipal elections, which will serve as a test of the ‘rapport de forces’ on the political spectrum of the different mainstream parties as well as those that are likely join the political fray soon – from so-called civic groupings to those of the lawyer-politicians. In this week’s interview, Rama Sithanen, former Finance minister, talks about the positive consequence of the implosion of the ‘L’Entente’ in favour of the ruling party. ‘The PM must be laughing all the way in the face of this disgraceful decomposition of the Opposition. The ‘Entente’ was slated to win handsomely the municipal elections. Now the game has changed considerably. Except probably for Beau Bassin and Rose Hill where socio-demographics will clearly give an advantage to the MMM-PMSD alliance, all the other municipalities are up for grab especially if there is a fourth party that tries to disrupt the legacy formations (…). Instead of a concerted attack against the Government, the Opposition parties will be dispersed and there will be a division of votes that will help the MSM. It could win with only 30% of the votes in many wards in a highly fragmented contest.’
What happens after the municipal elections and the next general elections is a long shot, and it’s likely to give rise to different permutations on the political spectrum. But the most concerning issue of bigger significance is what becomes of the Labour Party? Because it now faces two major competitors: MSM and the MMM-PMSD coalition. The current structure and dynamics of the party are still rooted in its old mode of functioning, and despite talk of reform this has really never happened. To quote Rama Sithanen again, ‘Reform is both feasible and desirable if the Party does its soul searching in a dispassionate, composed and calm manner.’ This implies building ‘an appealing leadership, a diverse and competent team comprising both young and wise persons, an ambitious and realizable programme with new ideas and policies, a modern way of doing politics and a broad coalition of people to become the historical broad church and be electable again’ so as ‘to become an attractive, effective and electable alternative to the MSM and the MMM-PMSD coalition.’
There is no other way in which LP can regain its role as a ‘locomotive’ driving the political direction in the country. Post the municipal elections, this is the challenge LP must address.