Tango for Two

At each and every turn when the country could feel that at long last we might have a six- or even a three-month span of unhindered stability, government has the knack to engulf those forlorn hopes in yet another stormy spell. Unfortunately for the country there are strong reasons to doubt whether 2017 will be any different

Last week-end’s turn-around and resignation of Xavier Duval, ex-number 2, Deputy PM and major political partner of the now defunct triangular Alliance Lepep, coming as a bolt from the blue, has thrown a rather huge spanner in the works. The attempt to rush through a Bill purporting to make the DPP’s Office and its collective judgement on prosecution matters, conditional to an administrative review and correction mechanism with retroactive powers, has backfired into a major political conundrum.

The institutional independence from political interference of three major Constitutional offices, that of the Commissioner of Police, the Chief Justice and the DPP, hardly and justifiably fought for and agreed upon by the founding fathers at Lancaster House, have never been openly challenged, even when the Executive was sorely tempted and had the necessary majority of MPs to do so.

The doubtful justifications (as convincingly argued by VR Nathan in last week’s Mauritius Times issue), the pressing haste over the festive period, the absence of a large consultation with the legal profession, government’s visible “war of attrition” against the DPP or his Office over the last two years, the inclusion of a retroactivity period and the necessity for Constitutional amendment with the requisite three-quarters majority in Parliament, were more than enough to make the proposed Bill hugely controversial. Normally sedate respected voices in the legal profession and, more surprisingly, in the conglomerate sector, condemned such an ill-justified tampering with our Constitution.

The suspicions have acquired credence that real motivations are not quite about transparency and accountability, still less about some understandable concern over the common man’s woes with costs and delays from the initial stages of police enquiries to the ultimate resolution of an affair in Courts. Were that the case, one could have expected some form of a Law Reform Commission to consider, à tête reposée, all views of practising professionals before coming up with appropriate proposals for consideration by the Executive and the Legislature. That may yet be the more sensible outcome should the MSM-ML tandem fail in its belated attempts to secure alternative support for a three-quarters majority over the coming weeks.

Meantime, in the aftermath of the difficult but bold decision of the PMSD leader to quit, it is clear that (a) the three-pronged Alliance Lepep has lost a key stabilising keel and is now reduced to the MSM-ML tandem; (b) the latter no longer commands a lop-sided Constitution-amending majority in Parliament, which may be a huge relief across the non-partisan board, including in the private sector; (c) the MSM on its own does not have an absolute majority of 35 seats and is dependent on the goodwill and bargaining power of its ML partner; (d) as per the Syntheses/DCDM polls, with a national 0.5% support, the ML tail could find itself wagging the MSM dog (24% of support); (e) at the height of its electoral triumph in December 2014, Alliance Lepep mustered 38% of Mauritian votes; the MSM-ML support is barely above 24% today, after two years in office, a dramatic erosion of fortunes that is a reflection of widespread population disenchantment.

One can foresee that some sore points are still in the offing or awaiting clarification over coming days. First, the productive sectors will be wondering what impact this truncated political tandem at the country’s helm will have on the structure, mechanisms and arbitration processes of decision-making in what they already regarded as a byzantine multi-centered power structure.

The tandem team still has enough seats – 41 — to continue running the country’s affairs with a reasonable security margin and yet it looks surprisingly fragile. No one would take bets on their willingness to face the electorate in the near future, either at general or even at replacement elections should any frustrated MP decide to resign from Parliament. One can imagine all too well the bargaining power of individual MPs in the current shifting context. The clay feet of the colossus are showing.

Those who have been batting for leadership or generational change at the country’s helm will have to shelve designs and ambitions that had almost come to fruition a few weeks ago. SAJ has no other choice. As for the complex tractations surrounding the necessary ministerial musical chair to replace vacating PMSD ministers and appointees in various strategic posts, unless adroitly handled, they may generate a host of frustrations. Short-term stability and predictability will remain elusive.

The public sector investment programs, announced to pick up the slack in private sector investment and the massive recruitment of civil servants or “stagiaires” may somewhat ease the unemployment figures, but the impact of recent events on foreign or local investors, cannot be discounted. Foreign Direct Investment, already in wait-and-see mode since the upheavals of 2015, is unlikely to find cause for buoyancy these days as more political fracas keep hogging the limelight with government steering from one self-inflicted controversy to the next.

Patience, so often asked for these days, is increasingly running thin in markets and streets. At each and every turn when the country could feel that at long last we might have a six- or even a three-month span of unhindered stability, government has the knack to engulf those forlorn hopes in yet another stormy spell. Unfortunately for the country there are strong reasons to doubt whether 2017 will be any different.

Best wishes for the New Year to all staff and readers of Mauritius Times!

U.C.

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