Campaign in View
By TP Saran
It cannot be gainsaid that there is more than a whiff of general election in the air, according to persistent buzzes that are being heard almost everywhere. Of course, and as officially announced since the resignation of Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo, there will be a by-election. For that reason, all the procedures for that purpose have to be followed, as they have indeed been with declaration of Nomination Day on August 17, i.e. tomorrow. And the process will go through to completion according to our constitutional provisions.
However, whether or not a by-election takes place is neither here nor there, really speaking. Practically all the information coming in points to the early dissolution of the National Assembly, followed by the announcement of the date of general election, which will take place before the year is out.
Lending credence to this is the fact that the calendar of major events on which the incumbent government is banking on for a bang is almost complete; what remain are the visits of the Pope and the inauguration of the Metro Express by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But besides these, the planning team of the MSM will no doubt try to seek maximum exposure for its leader so as to project him in the best light possible, as both an individual and a politician. This would mean attendance at selected venues and audiences, which will include socio-cultural organizations so all denominations and religious events as and when. That is the quasi-hallowed practice in Mauritius that is followed by all political parties, and again the party in power will have available at its disposal all the state facilities to maximize its chances of winning.
As matters are shaping up, to all intents and purposes the two main contenders are the leaders of the MSM and the Labour Party, who have openly exhibited their fierce antagonism to each other whenever the occasion has arisen. The other significant contender is the leader of the MMM, and he has every reason to play it cool and await the play of electoral arithmetic. This will then allow him to emerge in the middle and decide which way the balance will tilt, thus giving him greater bargaining power. This is a much better strategy that trying to forge an alliance with either party, the one with LP having been catastrophic at the last general election, and a similar fate might well befall joining with the MSM before the election.
Like everybody, Paul Berenger knows very well that Pravind Jugnauth and Navin Ramgoolam draw broadly from the same electoral base, with additional backing from other sections of the electorate, which varies depending on the trade-offs pledged during negotiations.
However, notwithstanding all this, rumours circulating widely predict that this is going to be one of the ugliest, dirtiest and most divisive campaigns ever. With all the might at its command, the outgoing regime will spare no effort to demonise Navin Ramgoolam and point to the ‘casseroles’ that have trailed him, though he has been cleared by the courts in practically all of them. His character and morals will be targeted, and this will be contrasted with the ‘clean’ family man image of Pravind Jugnauth, as a serious Prime Minister relentlessly pursuing objectives in the national interest.
The crux of the matter though is what does the electorate stand to gain in all this mudslinging, and what it would mean for the two protagonists tearing at each other’s throats in full view, making a spectacle of themselves. The electorate and the country are up against formidable challenges which need to be faced and sustainable solutions found. Among others, the tea sector is on slippery ground; sugar is becoming more bitter, as the oligarchy have long since diversified with their focus now being real estate deals focusing on high net worth categories of individuals and investors, essentially foreigners, and the government giving full support to the smart cities projects. The direct consequences have been small planters abandoning their lands, and a major social distortion in terms of access to decent and affordable housing for the upcoming generation. Besides, global business is under threat since the repeal of DTAT by India, while the SME sector is struggling to keep afloat.
Like all governments, this one too has taken several measures and projected its several achievements, but does anyone know how long economic measures take to seep in into the mainstream and deliver the expected impact that will purportedly benefit the people at large? No one is willing to take a call on this aspect, so that the question that naturally arises at this juncture is: in what way will a no-holds barred campaign provide the possible solutions or definitive answers to these challenges? On the contrary, will it not distract attention from them as the contenders try to settle personal scores by dragging each other to as low a level as possible?
That is the real danger that faces us in the forthcoming electoral bout. It is for the electorate to give the appropriate fitting reply.
* Published in print edition on 16 August 2019