Political power: Transitions and transfers

Three changes of regime took place in the world within days of each other. The one in Mauritius was simply a transfer of power; the other two, in the US and Gambia, were preceded by a period of transition.

From father to son

Sir Anerood Jugnauth had announced in the course of last year that he would be relinquishing his post of Prime Minister any time soon, and that his son Pravind Jugnauth would be succeeding him. December was tentatively assumed to be the time when this would happen, but it didn’t. Then, on Saturday last in the evening, SAJ came on television and in the course of a brief address he stated that on the coming Monday (23 January) he would submit his resignation to the President of the Republic, and would be leaving the country in the able hands of a younger incumbent, namely his son Pravind.

There are, to our mind, four points of interest in the wake of this transfer of power:

1. The legality of the transfer: Already, following the announcement last year, a number of voices from concerned stakeholders were raised. Those in favour maintained that since we are in a Westminsterian system, the Constitution allows the leader with a parliamentary majority to step in when the incumbent PM decides to go, and SAJ reiterated this in his address, citing how Theresa May had replaced David Cameron after the Brexit vote.

Those against argue that the PM must resign from his dual positions: that of PM and as parliamentarian, as David Cameron had done. Then only can the new PM be designated. Since SAJ has done neither, they consider that this direct transfer of power, besides reeking of dynasty, is anti-constitutional. In which case, as SAJ himself said in answer to a question after the swearing-in ceremony, they should file a case in the Supreme Court.

2. SAJ remaining as Mentor Minister: Here there is no possible controversy as regards the Constitution: there simply is no provision in it for such a post, apparently modeled à la Singapore.

On both these issues, the first question is whether the opposition parties, singly or jointly, would be taking the matter to the Supreme Court. The second question is what is going to be the likely outcome if this happens.

Here a reasonable guess is that the matter would end up at the Privy Council, as happened with the MedPoint affair. Meanwhile, given the timeline for a judgement to be delivered, and the uncertainty about it, we may be in for a continuing state of low investor confidence against this background of, potentially, persisting political instability.

3. The conflict of interest issue in the MedPoint affair: The pertinent question here is what if the Privy Council were to maintain that there was indeed a conflict of interest, which would then directly concern the new Prime minister. Apart from the legal and constitutional conundrums that would inevitably arise, there is the definite risk of even more political instability with, again, its impact on our economic future. This is a very serious situation that is looming ahead.

4.The Mentor Minister in Cabinet: Will his presence not inhibit Pravind Jugnauth, and prevent him from functioning really freely? It is well known that when one’s senior is around, there is a sort of psychological block that takes place, and since the Cabinet is where crucial decisions are taken for the country, there is legitimate concern about how the physical presence of the father will impact the son in his decision-making. Will he have to look towards the father and get an approval for every decision to be taken?

For the sake of the country and the people, we really wish and hope that the new PM can take things in hand and get the country going again on a new footing, but the queries that this controverted power situation gives rise to need to be resolved promptly so that the people can be confident to look to the future with hope. After these past two years of unsettling governance, this is the least that they expect.

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Donald Trump’s inauguration: controversy and hyprocrisy

It’s been almost a year-long campaign that ended in, to all intents and purposes, the unbelievable election of Donald Trump as the President of the USA. He was throughout mired in controversies – his position on women and gender issues, Blacks and other minorities, immigration and the building of a wall to keep off Mexicans with Mexico to pay for its construction, his antagonism to Obamacare and so on.

And controversy has continued to dog him as he was installed as President on the 20 January. We had been led to believe that the US does not bother itself with such banal things as the size of crowds. Well, it seems that President Trump does. In one of his first outbursts, he lambasted the media for a biased coverage of his inauguration, showing empty spaces instead of milling crowds that had come to cheer their leader. His press attache dug the nail in further, apparently something unheard of in the annals of American political coverage. And now, as a result, a whole bunch of ‘crowd scientists’ are set to prove to Mr Trump that the women’s march on Washington had gathered three times more crowd than were present at the Trump’s inauguration! Given that this is the US, there will no doubt develop during Trump’s presidency a whole new field of ‘crowdology’ with business opportunities to boot!

While watching some parts of the inauguration ceremony, we could not help thinking about the irony of the situation at the Capitol in Washington where it was being held. Described as ‘both common place and miraculous’, by Ronald Reagan on the occasion of his own inauguration as President of the US, to us what was more incredible was the co-mingling in such – apparent – intimacy of people who throughout the campaign had so badmouthed each other. Was this hyprocrisy, the effusion with which they greeted each other? Or was it a sublimation of their seething emotions to the larger cause of the American spectacle that they and the world had to watch and believe in whether they liked it or not?

After the glitter it’s back to ground level, and already the new President has shown his teeth: he has done away with the Trans-Pacific Partnership involving 12 countries and that took seven years to negotiate, and has initiated the steps to undo Obamacare.

We felt sorry for Obama who had to grit his teeth and listen to the address by Donald Trump. The gist is best expressed by Nobel Prize winner and columnist of the New York Times Paul Krugman: ‘If America had a parliamentary system, Donald Trump — who spent his first full day in office having a temper tantrum, railing against accurate reports of small crowds at his inauguration — would already be facing a vote of no confidence. But we don’t; somehow we’re going to have to survive four years of this.

And how is he going to react to disappointing numbers about things that actually matter?

In his lurid, ghastly Inaugural Address, Mr Trump portrayed a nation in dire straits — “American carnage.” The real America looks nothing like that; it has plenty of problems, but things could be worse. In fact, it’s likely that they will indeed get worse. How will a man who evidently can’t handle even the smallest blow to his ego deal with it?’

Later in the article he calls Trump ‘egomaniac-in-chief’. Looks like there is going to be trouble ahead.

* * *

Gambia: a resolution, but…

After an initial declaration that he would accept the result of the general election won by his rival Adama Barrow in December last and would step down, outgoing dictator-President Yahya Jammeh made an about-turn and refused to budge, despite pressure put on him by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the UN, until the very last moment.

And despite the incoming government’s assurances that there would be no witch-hunting, Yahya Jammeh preferred to seek refuge in Equatorial Guinea. The plane that took him out of the country also carried his several luxury cars and other luxury objects. He also left the coffers of the people empty as he siphoned off nearly 11 million USD.

He has left his country – about six times the size of Mauritius with 1.8 million people – not much better that when he took over nearly 22 years ago in 1994. Another egomaniac one is tempted to say. And also another irony: how does another country accept to take in such a person who has not only committed so many crimes against his own people but looted their much-needed money as well? Remember Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator who boasted that he ate slices of the livers of his human victims? He was given asylum in Saudi Arabia. That’s the country where Mauritius is soon going to open an embassy.

TP Saran

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