Events of the past two weeks are open to so many comments that observers hardly know where to begin. My grain of peppery salt for what its worth.
a) With the need to get rid of the obligation for community declaration in order to stand as candidates for elections, and the quasi-unanimity against another or an updated community-based survey, clearly the stage was set with the White Paper on Electoral Reform for a double necessity: a three-quarter majority of MPs in the House and an indispensable consultation of the population for changes of such magnitude. It would be singularly strange for anybody, including our Supreme Court or an international Committee, to dismiss either, even under the guise of “furthering democracy”.
b) Nobody needs reminding that neither the MMM in office nor any previous government with adequate majority in the House, have implemented reform of the FPTP cum Best Loser system. Constitutional reform anywhere else in the world has indeed required years of patience, perseverance and downright plodding. We have had our years of discussions, consultations, reports and committees. We are at a historic juncture, where we may not get the perfect solution with all aspects covered, but we need to move the goal posts sensibly, in a way that takes account of our local context. The Westminster system has served us well, ensuring at least governing stability and accountability in Parliament while showing its limits with time. Neither the French, Indian, US or any other presidential system will provide the answer; we need to evolve our own system, one that fits our traditions and complexities, for it will bind us all for generations.
c) The French Fourth and Fifth Republics are both inadequate for different reasons, the first leading to endless, futile and damaging dominance of party politics; the second, in response, was a tailor-made system for General de Gaulle, with its own heavily autocratic dimensions. Many, in both the LP, the MMM and in the electorate, would recoil from Presidential models that would be a massive shift in our culture and context, bringing heavy risks of divisive communal politics. Election of a President and accountability, which is a legitimate concern, would be better left at Parliament level, with qualified majorities as appropriate. If the two main party leaders reach consensus on the contours of a Mauritian Presidential system, it naturally should be sanctioned by the electorate.
d) Neither this Government, nor the PM can be faulted for having, as promised, published the consultative White Paper, outlining general directions of achievable change and sticky points still open for agreement. Nor for having made it widely available and invited all concerned parties for suggestions and comments by the 5th of May. Nor for having simultaneously undertaken a range of consultations with political and other opinion or community leaders. Nor again for having opened the door to detailed discussions with the Leader of the Opposition, as only a full and confident alignment of the LP and the MMM can bring any constitutional change to the electorate for ultimate sanction. Although discussions seem to have faltered on a few points, they may not and probably have not entirely run their course, when agreement seems so near.
e) Both are major parties with significant core support, which the last DCDM-l’Express Dimanche political Barometer, measured over April-May-June and after the tragic events of 2013, situated as follows: the LP at more than 30%, the MMM at around 17% and all other smaller parties (MSM, PMSD, others) at about 2-3% each. Difficulties and problems over some specific affairs and the phenomenon of “usure du pouvoir” are real, and may lead to some disaffection with governing teams, although many have ingrained that the PM has a reduced maneuvering room with the MSM departure.
Core support does not mean electoral performance but is an important base point. Can we assume that these levels of core support for political parties have been dramatically altered? Or that the country’s only flagship personalities for the country’s governance remain Navin Ramgoolam and, to a lesser extent, Paul Berenger? The Politis Barometer has apparently lapsed since then, leaving us with unproductive speculation, media gossip and conjectures.
f) There is no reason to believe that personal chemistry, mutual confidence, desires, wishes and ambitions of leaders have no play in the discussions around the White Paper, Electoral Reform and alliances. They are necessary ingredients for a working relationship that has drawn lessons from and shelved past experiences. One would be equally foolhardy to assume that both leaders would, in the process and under the spell of Clarisse House, neglect the wider interests of their political parties and the country as a whole. Or to forget that irreversible change should be envisaged beyond the destinies of current leaders. Or that achievable Reform and an alliance capable of driving it should not in the future address more complex questions (like political party financing) where there is as yet no consensus.
g) Both Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Berenger can of course go it alone in the coming elections, guaranteeing, whatever the issue of yet another hotly contested drama, that there may not be any Reform. Their recent actions seem to suggest that’s not their preferred choice. Mr Berenger has, with a unanimous vote of the Monday MMM politburo, put the MSM-MMM Remake out of its misery and called it a day. The PM, coming out of his Monday LP Executive bureau, has given ample indications of his orientations and preferences. Will the two big ships manage to berth, when time, history and national interests are beckoning?
Private sector and the country, by and large, need a new “souffle” and a strong, stable government to keep addressing, with renewed vigor and greater visibility, the social and economic challenges ahead.
* Published in print edition on 1 May 2014