It’s all about power, not electoral reform

An article in the French magazine Le Point of 22 April 2014 about ‘carriérisme politique’ and ‘l’ivresse des sommets’ provides some indication of the mindset that underlines the current talks about electoral reform locally.

Some quotes from that article illustrate the prevailing calculation, and they are relevant to our context because the presidential system aimed at (with powers) is inspired from the French model:

‘A un certain niveau de pouvoir, de petits marquis se laissent gagner par l’ivresse des sommets. Ils se servent de l’État et ne pensent qu’à leurs intérêts.’

‘Ils veulent juste laisser une trace de leur passage. Comme une limace sur une salade.’

‘Le carriérisme est devenu roi dans la classe politique et dans la haute fonction publique pléthorique.’

The White Paper on electoral reform that has been presented is beginning to look less like a tool of participatory democracy, which is what it should be, and more of an unalterable policy commitment after the declarations made by the two party leaders, Ramgoolam and Berenger, following their meeting at Clarisse House. Apparently they have reached agreement on almost all the points. The clear implication is that these points agreed upon will override all other viewpoints.

In any case for a paper that has been so long in gestation – years altogether – the time limit set for submitting opinions is completely unreasonable. In fact, with all that has been articulated so far, there seems to be a clear case for the setting up of a Constitutional and Electoral Review Commission to look into the matter over a reasonable amount of time and come out with a report and recommendations. And, as part of the methodology of the Commission, there is also a case for round table discussions involving a wide range of stakeholders to be conducted by a moderator with appropriate skills and who does not come from the world of politics.

What is patently clear is that it is not electoral reforms that have been discussed between the two leaders. Rather, these two ageing off-on partners have been engaged in working out an arrangement that will ensure that they remain as long as possible at the apex of power. That itself would not necessarily have been a problem, except that the country has already had a bitter experience of their brief political co-habitation in the past: it did not work.

Based on this, there is ample reason to think that this fresh attempt at power sharing will be inherently unstable, with a corresponding and ongoing political instability at the crucial level of the government mechanism that will constantly impede its smooth functioning. No country can be run properly with two poles of executive power where two competing ways of doing things – alas, not two philosophies – will pitch two egos trying to play out their ambitions on a population which has already had enough of their antiquated tangos. In local politicians, age does not seem to curb their desire to control the country and others. Why don’t they start by controlling themselves and exit with heads held high?

Besides, there can be no true democracy without a viable opposition, and the alliance that is planned will wipe out the possibility of having a strong opposition. In its place there will loom the real danger of an autocracy taking over, which is totally undesirable for the country. The national interest will take a back seat under these circumstances.

Any discussion on the political future of the country must lead to greater clarity on the issue of adequate representation of all communities, since the proportional representation formulae proposed so far are still far from giving satisfaction. There must also be debate about the number of representatives, about a second level of parliament (upper house, senate or by whatever name it is called), about limitation of mandates of the Prime Minister and President and about party financing among others. There is no doubt sufficient intelligence in the country to thrash out these issues collectively.

With the focus purely on the political nitty-gritty on the part of the competitors for power, there seems to be no time or place for addressing the larger matters of concern to future generations of our citizens. Energies would have been better spent on considerations such as how to prepare for anticipated youth unemployment, the orientation of the tertiary education – merits and demerits of the present model being peddled, the growing rise and pervasive influence of big capital and its superior growth rate compared to that for the income levels of the struggling lower and middle classes (hence increasing inequalities), sustainable land use and distribution, the energy scenarios that will sustain development, the very meaning and desirable model of development for that matter.

As concerned citizens it is our right to expect serious national engagement on these and related issues by our leaders, unless their only aim is to leave, like the limace, but une trace de leur passage sur la salade.

* Published in print edition on 25 April 2014

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