As befits a democracy, opinions are being freely expressed about the ongoing campaign for the forthcoming general elections in the country. There are no longer any secrets about the concerns and expectations of the population, and the political alliances on either side of the divide are each in their own way giving indications of their future approaches and the measures envisaged to satisfy the people.
A candidate party that has been running the government has the advantage of its achievements: these, however few, may be remembered by the citizens and influence their voting decision if they are not too far out in time – that is, if the government is in its first mandate. Both time and advantage run out in the course of the second mandate. Then, deficiencies and failures are more likely to be in the forefront of voters’ minds, and again, sway their decisions.
Anti-incumbency thus becomes an important factor in determining the outcome of elections. To this are added other factors such as behaviour and character of the leaders, or chance pronouncements that they may make on the spur of the moment without realizing the potential impact and possibility of exploitation by the adversary. In 1995, this cost Sir Aneerood Jugnauth dearly, with his remark about an education-related issue, despite his undoubted performance on the economic front which he is sure he can replicate afresh.
More importantly, though, it is some fundamental and burning issues that come up as being of major concern for the population at large. These issues emerge as the opposing parties start to confront the electorate and each other on public and private platforms, especially in the latter when pointed questions are asked by the common man in attendance. In spite of their own description of the people as le peuple admirable, the politicians seem to forget that the latter are in reality endowed with common sense and intelligence, and can see things pretty clearly for themselves.
In the current campaign, the core issues that have emerged and are being more widely debated by le peuple admirable are: recurrent water scarcity, the ‘metro leger’, and the proposed electoral reform and 2nd Republic.
There is disbelief about the promise being made to resolve the water scarcity problem when this has not been done in the earlier and the latter two mandates; there is a huge skepticism about the ‘metro leger’ project and a pronounced aversion to the 2nd Republic/electoral reform.
It is more than evident to every Mauritian that the 2nd Republic as proposed is going to be inherently unstable, that politically it is doomed because of the bicephalous power structure that it entails. Despite their newly-found – again! – friendship for each other and declarations thereof, the feeling is that the Navin-Paul is duo is not going to tango for long because each has a strong personality with streaks of stubbornness. What happens if they both refuse to budge from their respective positions on a policy matter or on a decision to be taken?
The very fact of having proposed that a committee of mediation will be set up to make them come to an agreement is a confession of their inability to reach compromise, and no committee will be able to resolve that. This will lead to paralysis in the functioning of government, and send very wrong signals both within and outside the country.
And for clues to such situations arising, one need go no further than the open and quite violent criticism of the Director General of MBCTV Dan Callikan, and of the DPP Satyajit Boolell. Both of them have been appointed during Navin Ramgoolam’s tenure as PM, and Paul Berenger does this under the very nose of the PM, present by his side. Besides being condemnable as being attacks on civil servants who are barred from defending themselves, it is seen as cowardly on the part of Berenger. Some people go so far as to say: ‘Just think – he is not even prime minister yet, and he is behaving like this. What will he do when he actually steps into the chair?’…
The dossier of water security has been muddled through, and it is no excuse that the earlier dispensation did not do anything. Now to come and propose a French to come and sort out the mess begs, logically, the question of what’s happened to the Singaporean experts’s report and recommendations? What if the French ones suffer the same fate? After being almost ten years in power, on the eve of general elections to come and simply promise to provide water to everyone 24/7 does not bite. There must be a more precise engagement with details now of the how and when. That only will satisfy the people, otherwise their frustration will only increase – and show later.
About the ‘metro leger’ project, over the years so many points against its sustainability have been raised that people cannot help asking themselves why the insistence to go ahead. ACIM in a communique which is reproduced elsewhere in this paper gives a comprehensive account of the relevant questions and areas of darkness that need to be elucidated before even a decision is taken. These matters have to be clarified beforehand, and they have not been.
There is something called course correction, and since one week is a long time in politics, that Alliance has a longer time — two weeks – to take the pledge for solid, time-bound measures, that must be announced before people go to vote, to tackle the core problems identified. But the outgoing incumbent is tainted with a heavy baggage of lack of focus, indecisiveness on critical issues, and a failure to trust local expertise, as well as saddling such expertise with past-by-date fossils in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy who are out of sync with the novel, changing world. Not a winning formula.
‘Forewarned is forearmed’ has never sounded so crucially relevant.
On the other hand, it ill serves the Alliance Lepep to keep harping on personal matters. It is true that the private lives of public figures are by the nature of their engagement open to scrutiny, but that does not mean going beyond limits of decency. That also people do not like, and tire of after some time. Such diversion of attention from main issues is only temporary, and people are sane enough to return to their genuine grievances, those that affect their daily living if not their survival. Let us, therefore, pray for some equivalent sanity among those who are over-indulging in back-stabbing and below the belt blows.
* Published in print edition on 28 November 2014