The idea of ‘third force’ in the local political landscape has surfaced a number of times at the approach of general elections that have been held in the past couple of decades, although it would be difficult to say exactly when. Nevertheless, it has been articulated quite loudly, more so nearer the date of elections. We are in principle over three years away from a next general election, and the surprise is that talk of the third force is already in the air.
Perhaps it has to do with the debate about the search for alternative leaderships in the traditional political parties, through a process of internal democratization rather than through the dynastic route or being left to the prerogative of the existing leader. But it may also have gained enhanced traction with the success of the protest movements triggered by government failures, inactions, and misgovernance and that have made as their battle cry nothing less than that the ‘government must go’.
In response, government has said a firm no: it is here to stay and complete its mandate.
This therefore gives the diverse opposing groupings that have made up the crowds at these street protests, as well as the political parties belonging to the opposition, the space or opportunity to come up with a challenger strong enough or with sufficient credibility to take on the outgoing party at the next election.
Viewed from this angle, the options that seem to emerge are limited to a few scenarios. The first one is that, riding on the wave of popularity as civic activists with a potential to mobilize huge crowds, one or other of the leaders, such a Bruneau Laurette, decides to form a political party which may well be a front for the powerful interests whence he is receiving his backing, which remain unknown to the wide public so far. The issue here is whether being a civic activist, however successful is qualification enough to rally the broad range of competencies that are needed to coalesce into a nation-wide party that will take the country forward.
The other scenario that naturally comes to mind is that the major parties — MMM, Labour Party, PMSD – will not accept to fade away, and reinvent themselves, though how is a big interrogation mark. More specifically, Berenger and Duval are likely to see in Bruneau Laurette a challenger who will cull from the same electoral base from where they draw much of their strength. In that sense LP may have less of an issue because from the beginning it has presented itself as the national party under whose umbrella all colours of the Mauritian rainbow have their place, though the leadership issue is also as big a concern here as in the other parties.
The next possibility is of course that Rama Valayden and his Avengers formally begin to set up a new political party with an altogether different orientation and ideology than what the existing parties have offered so far. While it is true that they are showing great zeal and competence in exposing the government’s failings and weaknesses, from there to formulating and proposing an alternative that will be accepted as widely as possible is still a long way off. Nando Bodha, who has recently resigned from the MSM and his ministerial post, has also made known his intention to launch a political party. He is reported to be working on its political manifesto, and it would seem that he would be positioning himself as the challenger of the current Prime Minister – no less.
On the other hand, another call that has often been made is that parties and their leaders must make way for younger blood that would infuse new ideas and smarter ways of doing things. Unfortunately, the shenanigans of some of the young parliamentarians that were inducted have put paid to this thesis, and in fact they have done a disservice to their own segment of potential candidates who could perhaps be genuinely inclined to contribute to make the country better.
When all of this is put together, we may well end up with a plethora of parties whose effect will be to disperse votes, and thus do the game of an outgoing regime. But that does not mean that a third force is not needed. Only that the one that emerges must reckon with the political realities, and the challenge that a strong incumbent represents – but most of all be sufficiently credible to inspire trust and rally nation-wide support.
* Published in print edition on 19 February 2021