“To storm the MSM citadel may be difficult but not impossible”

Interview: Dharam Gokhool

* ‘The opposition forces should not bank on a victory by default
They have their own houses to put in order before they can pose a real challenge to the present government’

* ‘The silence of the common people must not be confused with consent
The youth is the hardest hit and forms part of the lost generation of this regime’

Dharam Gokhool, former Secretary Generalof the Labour Party and Minister of Education, although taking a backseat observer status, does not hesitate to speak his mind on several critical issues facing the country. From the reckless state of the economy to the long list of scandals that have marked the MSM’s governance, he believes the 37% of the voting electorate may have eroded but without as yet crystallizing around a unified platform for change with a clear leadership. Significant sections of the population and its youth have aspirations that need to be heard. He also comments on the roles and responsibilities within the LP after the recent Executive/Politburo renewal exercise.

Mauritius Times: Are there, according to your reading of the politico-economic situation, objective indications that the MSM governing alliance might opt for early elections during the course of next year, or do you think it will go the whole hog till the end of its mandate in light of the Opposition’s inability to date to build a unified front capable of representing a strong and credible alternative?

Dharam Gokhool: Overall, the politico-economic situation is quite worrying in the absence of a well calibrated short-, medium- and long-term economic strategy to deal with the multiples crises on all fronts. Government is under constant public pressure. The popularity curve of the government has taken a downward trend. The opposition forces are very critical of the government performance but beyond that, they have not, so far, been able to come up with a credible alternative programme, a capable team and an inspirational political leadership.

On the other hand, a significant chunk of the electorate is sitting on the fence and is quite indifferent to all the sabre-rattling and hurly-burly happening on the political front. Recent sociological surveys have revealed that the majority of Mauritians love their country but the same cannot be said of their equation towards the present government… or even towards the fragmented opposition forces.

Indeed, we are confronted with a paradoxical political situation. The government is unpopular but there is no immediate threat to its comfortable parliamentary majority, and, with a fragmented opposition, a multi-cornered fight in an electoral system based on the First Past the Post formula would serve its interests.

I do not see any urgency on the part of the government to call the country for an early poll. To come out of the comfort zone requires conviction and courage. I may be wrong, but I do not see Pravind Jugnauth shortening his mandate and giving up the pleasures of the ultimate aphrodisiac that is political power, as stated by Henry Kissinger.

Unless some unforeseen circumstances like the Suren Dayal or the Navin Ramgoolam Safe Deposit case appeals to the Privy Council are fast-tracked and rock the political boat.

* One crucial question in the current political context is to determine whether the MSM still has, despite the embarrassment of its many ‘casseroles’, the support of the bulk of electors that voted it to power in 2019 and whether that would constitute a valid majority next time round. What do your contacts with the grassroots tell you?

The MSM won the 2019 elections by 37% of the votes cast. In fact, it mobilised only 28% of the registered voters. Due to our present electoral system, it secured a comfortable majority of 42 MPs.

Apart from the absence of a coherent, clearly articulated and well calibrated economic trajectory which is taking its toll on the purchasing power and quality of life of most Mauritians, the numerous “casseroles”, in terms of alleged cases of fraud and corruption, like Pack & Blister and Molnupiravir, flagrant nepotism andpoliticisation of all our institutions, combined with repressive legislation targeting critics and opponents of the regime, especially the youth, the onslaught against meritocracy and victimisation(the most reprehensible cases are those of Vishal Jaunky-MIE; Rashida Nahnuck-MSB and Manisha Jooty-MBCTV), the muzzling of opposition voices in Parliamentwith the often tacit but also overt complicity of the Speaker, the yet unresolved Kistnen murder case, the inability to tackle the drug scourge, the exacerbation of communal and divisive feelings through an abuse of socio-cultural platforms and the use of the MBCTV as a propaganda machine are some of the examples of a dismal and disappointing bilan of the government …and the list is not exhaustive.

In a small island economy where electronic and face-to-face communication and personal contacts are quite fluid, it would be a mistake to underrate the degree of political awareness among the common people. In fact, they are quite sharp in political analysis. Their silence must not be confused with consent. The youth, in particular, is the hardest hit and forms part of the lost generation of this regime, either victims of drugs or of blocked career prospects. With the MSM regime, many of our best brains are migrating for good.

Even the pensioners who benefitted from the generosity of the regime are coming to realise the illusion of money handouts. More money in their pockets does not translate into more food, medicine and other essential items in their shopping bags.

Against this background of governance of the MSM, it is quite reasonable to assume some degree of erosion in the support of the bulk of electors that voted it to power in 2019.

* The MSM has control over the timing of elections and the means for the distribution of freebies to the electorate. It also seems to have absolute control over most of the institutions that are crucial in the organisation and holding of elections. More importantly it is probable that it will go to any lengths to remain in power. How do you storm that citadel in these circumstances?

Indeed, the MSM holds many of the cards that can facilitate its aim to remain in power. To storm the MSM citadel may be difficult but not impossible. Read More… Become a Subscriber

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 23 September 2022

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