Time for a new breed of altruistic politicians

It is high time for the talented young of Mauritius to challenge the highly contested local political system and the political establishment. The current political leadership and political class which have repeatedly failed the country must step down or be jettisoned…

By Mrinal Roy

A system that allows billionaires to exist alongside extreme poverty is immoral.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

For too long the country has been bogged down by an inept political class driven by their own vested agendas rather than a commitment of selfless service to the people and the country. Plummeting standards of governance and political ethics as well as repeated breaches of trust have alienated the people. The root cause of this deplorable state of affairs is the quality of politicians which have monopolized the political scene. They are patently far from being a representative sample of the wide diversity of intellect and talent present in the country.

Despite an appalling track record in terms of poor governance, economic performance and widening inequality, many political analysts trapped in a warped mindset still envisage an unchanged political landscape with the same protagonists and repeatedly defeated party leaders yet again blithely trying new permutations of alliances or political game plans in a bid to wrest or keep power. This endless rigmarole which has plagued the country for decades and sapped its prospects for too long cannot go on. As a nation it is high time to sweep the local political Augean stables clean of its inept and repeatedly disavowed protagonists.

In the best democracies of the world such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France or Singapore, the main politicians and political leaders are for the most chosen from among the most able and talented citizens who have been to the best universities of the world and have a track record of achievements in diverse fields before joining politics. Isn’t it high time for us to urgently do likewise? This is the only way we can collectively realize our loftiest ambitions as a nation. We have already wasted too much time.

How many of our political leaders and politicians have a generally acknowledged track record of achievements in their respective field of activity before joining politics? There has been an obvious climb-down from the quality and high standard of intellect of MPs who were elected at the first general elections in the country in 1948 and led the fight for the rights of the people and independence.

Grim forecasts

The international economic context is worsening. The trade wars triggered by Donald Trump and the import tariffs slapped on China, the EU, Canada, etc., as well as the Brexit logjam and rising interest rates in the US have taken their toll. Presenting the forecasts for the world economy at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, this week, the International Monetary Fund has cut its estimate for global growth in 2019 to 3.5 percent, from the 3.7 percent it had forecast in October last and down from the 3.7 percent rate registered in 2018. The global growth forecast for 2020 is 3.6 percent. The World Bank and the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) have also reduced their world growth forecasts.

China, the world second largest economy reported a growth rate of 6.6 percent in 2018, its lowest growth rate since 1990, nearly three decades ago. Donald Trump’s $250 billion tariffs on Chinese goods have adversely affected Chinese exports. The IMF expects China’s growth to fall further this year to 6.2 percent. The IMF has also reduced its forecasts for the Euro zone countries of the EU to 1.6 percent from 1.8 percent. Weaker demand for German exports, the Brexit impasse and the financial difficulties of Italy have sapped EU growth prospects. Trade tensions, higher interests rates and a rising US dollar affect exporters, $ loan repayments and investment.

Growing inequality has also been a prominent feature of the world for a number of years. In its latest report entitled ‘Public Good or Private Wealth’ released this week ahead of the World Economic Forum held in Davos , Oxfam said that ‘ inequality was at record levels’ . It highlighted that ‘the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by $900 billion or by $2.5 billion a day, in the last year, while the wealth of the poorest half of humanity, i.e. 3.8 billion people, fell by 11 percent.’ It called ‘for a wealth tax to level the playing field.’ The report also flagged tax evasion by the rich, saying the super-rich were hiding at least $7.6 trillion from the tax authorities, avoiding an estimated $200 billion in tax revenues.

In a scathing indictment, the report added that ‘the richest people can buy citizenship in any one of a number of countries offering minimal taxes and scrutiny of their wealth.’ The report also flagged that in Africa, some ‘30 percent of private wealth may be held offshore, denying governments on the continent an estimated $15 billion in tax revenues.’

Imperative of a new team

In the face of such daunting challenges affecting our main markets, it is imperative that we choose the most talented and able Mauritians to lead and competently manage the country. This means that the present local political system must be radically overhauled. Instead, the people must choose a team of talented young Mauritians committed to serve the people and able to brainstorm an innovative pathway of socio-economic development which inter alia puts people and their continued well-being, climate change and the protection of the planet, quality health care, free education and social protection at the centre of government actions.

There are so many inspiring examples in the democratic world of the young boldly taking up the challenges facing their countries. Many young politicians across the world are showing the way to the talented young Mauritians who aspire to serve the country and the people. There are potent democratic movements in the United States which question and contest the political order in the US.

The success and broad popularity of Bernie Sanders and the causes he championed such as pro-labour rights, bridging inequality, universal healthcare, tution-free tertiary education, reduction in military spending and the imperative need to urgently address the emergency of climate change which is causing devastating harm to planet Earth have inspired many young Americans. It is therefore worth flagging the example of two young American politicians namely Tulsi Gabbard and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who each in their own way are challenging the US political establishment including their own Democratic party and charting a new refreshing way of doing politics.

I take examples from the Unites States as it is unique in the way that first generation immigrants can realize their most ambitious dreams within their lifetime. There are so many examples of this happening in the US. Kalpana Chawla, who was born and graduated in Punjab, India moved to the US to become an American Astronaut who participated in the Columbia space shuttle missions. Austrian actor Arnold Schwarzenegger became a two term governor of California. Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google or Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft and so many others are examples of the many well-qualified migrants who are having exceptional careers in the US.

Reshaping American politics

Tulsi Gabbard and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez not only epitomize the values, intellect and rich diversity of young Americans but also showcase their robust engagement to reshape American politics and focus government actions on the real concerns of people.

After being at 21, the youngest serving member of the Hawaii House of Representatives, Tulsi Gabbard left her comfort zone to join the medical unit of the Hawaii Army National Guard and serve in a combat zone in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. She was later deployed to Kuwait.

In 2012, she was elected as the first Samoan-American member and the first Hindu member of the United States Congress. Although she was a Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee, she resigned from the post in February 28, 2016 to endorse the candidature of Senator Bernie Sanders for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

Tulsi Gabbard says that politicians must go out to meet the people to know of their concerns and existential problems so as to ensure that these become the focus of government policies and actions. She inter alia supports Medicare for All, abortion rights, the return of American soldiers from the Middle East, robust actions to protect the planet against the disastrous fallouts of climate change.

Interestingly she opposes the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power as it would open the way to ISIS, Al Nusra and other extremists groups to take over the whole of Syria. On January 11, 2019, the 37 year old Gabbard announced her campaign to seek the Democratic nomination to contest the US Presidential elections in 2020.

On 3 January 2019, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Puerto Rican descent became, at the age of 29, the youngest woman ever to serve in the United States Congress as the US Representative for New York’s 14th Congressional district. Ocasio-Cortez supports Medicare for All, tuition-free public college and trade school, a federal job guarantee, enacting gun control policies and an energy policy relying on 100% renewables.

She calls climate change the “single biggest national security threat” facing the United States and advocates a transition to an electrical grid running on 100% renewable energy and to end the use of fossil fuels by 2031. She has thus proposed a tax of 70% on income above $10 million to pay for the ‘Green New Deal’. According to tax experts this tax would bring in extra revenue of $720 billion per decade. Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman wrote that Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal is fully in line with serious economic research by economist Peter Diamond, another Nobel laureate and others.

Both young Congressmen are regularly interviewed on the major US media channels where they have the opportunity to expand on their views.

Whatever be our personal take on the stances of Tulsi Gabbard and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on major issues affecting their country, what is important is they have given considerable thought to some of the major challenges facing the US and the planet through climate change and have come forward with cogent responses which challenge the old guard and the US political Establishment.

Common battle

In essence, the causes championed by them are similar to our own concerns in Mauritius as well as those of people across the world. These key common concerns of the people have been blithely swept under the carpet for too long aided and abetted by the political Establishment including those from the left. It is the common man unable to meet the basic existential needs of his family and angry with politics and the political establishment who voted massively for Trump and Macron who promised them a better quality of life. However, political history has repeatedly shown that the Republicans unwaveringly adopt policies which favour big capital rather than the working class.

It is therefore high time for the talented young of Mauritius to challenge the highly contested local political system and the political establishment. As a nation, we need to start with the premise that the current political leadership and political class which have repeatedly failed the country must step down or be jettisoned through the ballot box.

The talented young of the country must therefore team up and join forces to brainstorm an innovative pathway to transform Mauritius into a far more prosperous, inclusive and equitable country for all. The first step is to know the ground reality of the country. This can only be done by meeting and discussing with the people in situ. The majority of the people of the country are disenchanted and cynical about politics and politicians. The young must therefore convince them that they will unswervingly fight for them and their concerns through targeted policies framed in consultation with them.

The future of our country is in our own hands. It is high time for a new breed of altruistic politicians who pledge to resolutely serve the nation and continuously improve their quality of life to take over for the good of the people and the country.

I chose to take the oath of office with my personal copy of the Bhagavad Gita because its teachings have inspired me to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country.
Tulsi Gabbard

* Published in print edition on 25 January 2019

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