The question is whether Pravind Jugnauth will choose to stand on the wrong side of history by going along with Bérenger’s agenda? Or will he, like his father, take the principled stand that the Minister Mentor has resolutely maintained from the very beginning?
Paul Bérenger is going back, again, to his favourite pastime: electoral reform, in particular proportional representation (PR), the introduction of which into our electoral system would constitute, in his view presumably, the one — and true — political legacy of a career spanning almost five decades. It’s rather astonishing that a party which started out militating on a platform that sought to create the conditions favourable to nation building — “unité nationale” was what was bandied about on the MMM platform down the years — should choose to advocate in the same breath the introduction of PR by a margin that would spawn the emergence of ethnic and communally-based parties. Inevitably and predictably, this would bring into the political debate matters of race, religion, and caste, thereby defeating in the process the emergence of a pan-Mauritian consciousness.
In fact, there is nothing new under the sun: this same debate was being waged 50 years ago in the columns of this and other local papers. Readers can take cognizance of the circumstances prevailing in the late 50s and the agenda of the various interest groups, including the then Parti Mauricien, all militating in favour of PR. In an article by Peter Ibbotson in the columns of this paper reproduced last week (on Page 3) – which is also available online – he referred to those interest groups militating for PR in terms of “reactionaries” – ‘… that is just what the reactionaries want. Call them reactionaries, Parti Mauricien, Tories, Conservatives… or what you will; but it all boils down to the same thing.’
Mauritius’ progress and stability have been achieved thanks in a large measure to the application of universal adult suffrage with simple majority. The credit for this is owed to the calibre and sagacity of the earlier generation of politicians who fought tooth and nail against PR, thus ensuring the emergence of generally stable and strong governments down the years. It must be acknowledged that amongst those who chose to place themselves on the right side of history, one of the few remaining politicians of that generation, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, has remained constant in his position towards PR. His stand that the application of PR should not defeat the electoral outcome of our simple majority electoral system is sound political judgement, and it is not surprising that the MMM leader should, during his press conference last Saturday, qualify SAJ’s stand on the matter as “retrograde” in his comments on the workings of the ministerial committee chaired by the Minister Mentor on proposals for electoral reform.
The political circumstances prevailing today are much more favourable — even better than in 2014 — for the MMM to press for the introduction of PR, which will ensure for itself a parliamentary representation sufficient to hold sway over the conduct of national politics and the formulation and implementation of public policies. In spite of what Paul Bérenger has been saying since months now, as matters stand and in view of the ‘rapport de forces‘ prevailing presently, it is very unlikely that the MMM will go it alone in 2019. The MMM, Mr Bérenger is surely aware, cannot win general elections on its own, especially with himself presented as prime ministerial candidate, and it is not given that this could be possible even in a three-cornered fight opposing the MMM, MSM and Labour Party. An alliance with the Labour Party, headed by Navin Ramgoolam, will be opposed by the MMM’s militants, and Bérenger’s next best bet in the circumstances would therefore be an MMM-MSM remake, on terms that will ensure the promotion of the MMM’s agenda, including electoral reform that accommodates a dose of PR.
That would however require a parliamentary majority large enough — which the MMM cannot obtain on its own — to pass through any constitutional amendment. The bad blood between the Jugnauths and Navin Ramgoolam, reminiscent of the earlier Labour Party-IFB days, has intensified to make a LP-MSM alliance improbable. Especially so given that each leader’s personal agenda appears today to be taking precedence over that of the party at the expense of their respective followings.
Paul Bérenger is probably calculating that now is the time for him to strike his career’s deal and ensure that his legacy is achieved, as a way of making up for what he lost by a hair in 2014: his Second Republic deal with Navin Ramgoolam’s Labour Party that he had been aspiring to, and which included a dose of PR. On the other hand, the MSM government is facing an uphill battle to regain the trust of the electorate after its three years in office which have been peppered with all manner of scandals, putting its electoral fortunes in jeopardy. Only an alliance with the MMM, it might like to think, could brighten up things for the MSM – and ensure, its leaders would hope, that the party succeeds in a fresh bid to remain in power.
The question is therefore whether Pravind Jugnauth will choose to stand on the wrong side of history by going along with Bérenger’s agenda? Or will he, like his father, take the principled stand that the Minister Mentor has resolutely maintained from the very beginning? After the recent tussle between the Presidency and the PMO, Pravind Jugnauth now has a given opportunity to show his mettle and take the decision that history and future generations will remember him for.
* Published in print edition on 13 April 2018