The elections are behind us and so will be the constitution of the new Cabinet of Ministers by this Friday’s issue of MT. The improbable Alliance that SAJ mustered together three months ago has driven home to a handsome 51 seats in Parliament against a paltry 16 for the LP-MMM tandem and 2 for the OPR in Rodrigues. We underlined last week this remarkable performance since it results in literally a full-blown three-quarter majority of seats with OPR support. Of the 51 seats, the MSM has a comfortable cushion of 33 seats, enabling SAJ, in his sixth mandate, to govern with a considerable degree of freedom from potential demands of allies and the pressure of communities, socio-culturals and courtesans of any ilk, including private sector lobbyists. Such a degree of political freedom and clout has not been observed for a long time.
The productive sectors will have welcomed the end of a long period of political uncertainties and many non-partisan observers and common folk have applauded the dramatic wind for change that has brought the end of the unpalatable Electoral Reform and the even more exotic Second Republic. For good they hope! The new team will and should be granted a grace period and have to be wished well for the country’s sake, as elegantly done by the outgoing PM and, with perhaps less grace, by a more disgruntled Mr Berenger, obviously still smarting from the rotin bazar.
Many lessons will have already been drawn from the conduct and the outcome of the December elections and seasoned observers have done so amply over the airwaves and in the press. Our main purpose here will be to highlight some what-next issues.
Euphoria. Once the euphoria of the parliamentary outcome and its implications have sunk in, the leaders and politburo of the MSM-PMSD-ML alliance will be all too acutely aware that, by virtue of the complexities of our electoral set-up, one out of every two voters did not choose them. When 30% absenteeism is accounted for, the strong Parliamentary result rests on relatively modest and possibly imbalanced foundations (about 35% of the population). It is a consideration that has its implications, sobering for government or encouraging for others.
Cabinet. Every incoming alliance faces its first hurdle with the constitution of Cabinet and the allocation of various non-ministerial responsibilities (PPS, Speaker, Chief Whip, etc), particularly the ones that are perceived as major and determinant to the success of government. Sharing of the spoils is never an easy task and often induces the first latent sources of tension. The front bench will also have to be resolved although many observers are speculating whether SAJ will resist the temptation to amend our Constitution to increase the high-flying posts and perks of Deputy and Vice-PMs.
Observers will watch carefully the SAJ handicraft and political intentions in his current love triangle. Signals and symbols in early stages will be weighed by one and all even if early grumblings are most unlikely.
Nominees. At every change of guards, key positions have to be renewed, a necessary prerequisite for allowing the incoming political alliance a free hand to implement their vision and their policies. This is normally restricted to Chairmanships of key parastatals, some strategic DG or CEO posts, Ambassadorships, advisors and nominees on various Boards, although one cannot exclude wider “purges”, which can be perceived as unduly spiteful, building up negative energies. Those who understand and accept the rules of the game bow out gracefully while some, uncertain of the span of the broom or their specific tenure conditions, await for instructions, for premature retirement requests or for handing-over niceties. Most Boards and their memberships are rarely lucrative positions and quite naturally, they often await for their new Minister to be appointed.
Those who, at various levels and capacities, selflessly campaigned throughout for the winning team, expect their “rewards”, and so do those who only perceived the turning winds in the final days. It is horrendously inappropriate to qualify all of them simply as “roders-bouttes”. It is a quite natural phenomenon, during which, one can only hope, competencies are matched with responsibilities and that square pegs are not made to fit round holes simply to make room for back-room boys, “zenfan lakaz” or communal lobbyists, augmented at times by more opportunistic queue jumping side-switchers. Almost every new Minister needs some able advisors and PR agents while some high offices like PMO probably need quite a handful of experienced staffers.
As for the Presidential institution, which straddles general elections, it ensures smooth transition, swearing in ceremonials and is called upon to open Parliament with the very official Government statement of intent. More than anybody else, SAJ would not expect the current President Kailash Purryag to depart from practice and from Constitutional provisions, even if it means giving Mrs Ameena Gurb-Fakim time to prepare for the responsibilities of such high office when that vacancy properly arises.
Grace period. As with every incoming government, there will be a natural grace period, not only due to the end-of-year season and the couple of quick-win measures in the famous catalogue of twelve pledges that can be implemented without delay: pension benefits and driving permit penalty system come to mind. A couple of other quick-wins and the upcoming budgetary proposals need legislative workout and resumption of Parliament. The feel-good factor of these combined early measures, despite Mr Berenger’s dire warnings, could safely buy the incoming government a relative breathing space. The charges, responsibilities and expectations their campaign pledges for the short and longer term have been raised. The pressures to deliver will come soon enough and do not need reminder at this stage.
Opposition. Both major Opposition parties need to regroup their separate identities to conduct a level-headed fundamental re-assessment of how and where they went so wrong, even at the cost of being “wise after the event”. The MMM leader turned to his well-honed rapid-fire approach in the heat of unexpected defeat, relying on scapegoats to dismiss the whiffs of “autocritique”. The prolonged public “on-off” courtship, every twist weekly relayed by Mr Berenger himself, were bad enough. In eventually describing the Second Republic as a paradoxical “partage” where “the new Presidency would have far more powers while the new PM would retain every inch of his prerogatives!” the numerous fears and the ultimate rejection of uncertainty found root. Neither press nor social media nor many disgruntled militants may take kindly to “business as usual” in the MMM spheres.
The LP has suffered a major setback, most of its leadership unmercifully swept away in the second heavy defeat of Navin Ramgoolam as outgoing PM. Bearing the full brunt of incumbency, usure and disconnect from their electoral base, they are understood to have adopted their post-defeat analysis mechanism. With 40% electoral support between them, neither party and probably neither leader is dead or even dying yet, but they have to recognise the hard questions to reassess the essence, soul, leadership style and structures of their respective parties in a new age.
Outcome. To come back to a wider perspective, on the plus side, there are several reasons to be satisfied with the outcome of last week’s elections. Acronyms like ER, PR and 2R are dead, seemingly for good. The known and safe Westminster model with its Best Losers will continue with us. There will be a single hand at the helm of country of the mettle of SAJ and a single experienced hand at the major Finance Ministry. The incoming government has a strong, stable majority, in effect an unexpected three-quarter score, which should safeguard it from communo-casteist influences and private sector lobbies.
The incoming Alliance will have to deal with some areas of concern and some threats. Managing internal dynamics and “dynamoes” will test the regime. It has to guard against “dominere” tendencies, and against sycophants, courtiers and intrigants. Electoral gains stem from a relatively modest adhesion and it has bound itself to deliver on a wide-ranging front of pledges for the first three months in office. The Opposition and independent forces, after the shock and reassessment period, will recover their bark and bite. Finally, the MSM will have to prepare its leadership transition towards the end of the current mandate.
A guarded satisfecit does not preclude being appreciative of the remarkable performance of SAJ. His campaign team hit the national mood spot on and successfully garnered active social media and press support. They could afford a rehash of slogans coined in 2005, most notably Vire Mam and Bizin Sanzman. They even basked in momentous communication gaffes of the opposing duet engaged in battle without strategy, coherence and coordination, unable to sell a bilan or face open debate. There is little doubt that SAJ, granted full charge and freedom, can choose the ablest and confer a sense of purpose and direction to his team. Bon vent, for country’s sake!
* Published in print edition on 19 December 2014