Reform: A Prime Minister for two terms only and that’s it!

By TP Saran

Since we follow the Westminster model, it is pertinent to point out that it was internal bickerings that led to the ouster of Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown after they had been in office for about 12, 7, 10 and 3 years, respectively, reckoning from Margaret Thatcher in 1979. The period since then corresponds more or less to our contemporary political history.

Barring Paul Berenger’s two and a half year stint, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and Sir Anerood Jugnauth served about 13 years each as prime minister, and the present incumbent, Navin Ramgoolam, will have completed about 15 years if elections are held in 2015 according to the current term of the government.

13 years seems to be about the limit of incumbency for a prime minister in the Westminster model applied locally, but because the rumble starts in our case about one year into the third mandate, it is reasonable to estimate that two mandates of 5 years each for a prime minister in Mauritius are sufficient. That still gives a Prime minister in our case 2 years more than an American president’s maximum term of 8 years: so two five-tear terms already confer a bonus of two years over the length of stay of an American President.

It may also be noted that whereas the prime minister in the Westminster model is supposed to be the first among equals, primus inter pares, in actual fact he is virtually an elected dictator. This is the stated opinion of several politicians who have served as ministers and they no doubt knew what they were talking about. Further, it may be observed that in the American system the president has to get clearance from both the Congress and the Senate to pass a bill. In the case of Mauritius, the idea of a Senate has not even been taken up seriously although some noises had been made at intervals down the years for an Upper House.

Soon, it will be 50 years since we are independent. Can we, as a country, assume that such a state of affairs is conducive to good governance of public affairs? Isn’t it time to seriously consider, in a dispassionate and multi-partisan manner, setting a productive limit of two terms of 5 years each for a prime minister? We think that this idea seriously needs to be debated.

And we may not need to change to a presidential system with shared powers to do that. But what should happen is that the president – who everybody knows is the prime minister’s choice – should last only the duration of the appointing prime minister in question or, if he happens to belong to another party in alliance with the prime ministerial one, then there should be a provision for him to step down automatically when that alliance splits. In fact, we think that it would be highly productive for a president not go beyond one mandate.

If that had been done when the Medpoint affair led to the exit of the MSM, we would have been spared all the muck that hit the ceiling fan because of let’s say, confusing claims between the PMO and the State House, if not actually between their highest occupants, about which version of events was the correct one. And it is now history how ignominiously SAJ had to resign, resulting in further acrimony and a vulgarity of language on the part of the main protagonists and their partisans which shamed the nation.

What the ex-prime ministers will do after they leave their office is of course their private affair. Where those among them have transcending qualities, with a goodwill as great as that of, say a Jimmy Carter or a Bill Clinton, they could transform themselves to take on global initiatives to help humanity. That could leave our past incumbents in the post to spend their time in their wee comfort leaving the country to move on along new paths.

Usually, it is difficult to detach oneself from the exercise of power. However, there is merit in the consideration that one may voluntarily forsake power for the sake of the motherland, for better things to come up.

* Published in print edition on 8 March 2013

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