Matters of the moment
More than at any time in the chequered history of the country, we need to make the right choice and entrust the future of the country only to the ablest team of Mauritians
By Mrinal Roy
In the United States, twenty-five candidates are running for the Democratic Party nomination to contest the US presidential elections on 3 November 2020. In 2016 the Republican primaries comprised 17 candidates including Donald Trump who finally won his party’s ticket and the November 2016 presidential elections. The twenty-five candidates vying to obtain the Democratic Party ticket represent a wide spectrum of opinions ranging from Socialist Bernie Sanders, progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard and centrists such as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
The wider field of candidates has resulted from the reforms adopted on more open rules of candidatures by the Democratic and Republican parties as from the 1970s and 1980s. The party candidate to the US presidential elections is therefore chosen as a result of primaries and caucuses organized by each party. Despite being quite unwieldy to organize debates when there is a vast field of candidates, the merit of this gruelling democratic process aimed at selecting the party candidate to contest the 2020 US presidential elections is manifold.
Sorting the wheat from the chaff
It enables every candidate to grill each other on their credentials, their track record as legislators for those who are elected members of Congress or their individual track record in their field of activity as well as have a contradictory debate on their views on major domestic and international issues of particular interest to the US citizens such as free healthcare, gun laws, immigration, climate change, the protection of the environment and biodiversity, foreign policy, the return of US soldiers from areas of conflict, etc. The debates and the views expressed by each candidate also help bring forth the depth of intellect and quality of each candidate (or the lack of it) and basically sort the wheat from the chaff.
The debates also enable the electorate to take cognizance and assess new proposals and ideas to address and resolve major issues of concern to them. For example, the US does not have a universal healthcare programme, unlike other advanced industrialized countries. Healthcare is largely owned and operated by private sector businesses. Arguing that healthcare is a human right, Bernie Sanders has proposed that it should be guaranteed free of charge to every American. Similarly, at a time when gun violence and deaths continue unabated in the US Elizabeth Warren has proposed a new plan that pledges to reduce American firearms deaths by 80%.
It should be remembered that the French Socialist party has since 1995 also adopted a process of primaries to select its presidential candidate. The Republican Party has followed suit as from 2016.
Such an open and transparent process of selection of candidates to contest the highest political post of a country has established new benchmarks of democracy. While the democratic space is being constantly enlarged in other countries to enable political parties to democratically choose from a field of candidates the best candidate qualified to contest presidential elections or lead the party for general elections, on the basis of each candidate’s credentials, intellect and proposals on how best to address the core concerns afflicting the country, this is far from being the case in Mauritius.
The post of President or Prime Minister is too important a responsibility in a democratic country for the credentials, intellect and mettle to grasp and address the major local and international issues confronting the country, of aspiring candidates not to be first tested through a democratic exercise of interrogation and public debate before choosing the best suited party candidate to contest the elections. However, the ultimate choice of the President, Prime Minister and government selected to run the affairs of the country is determined by the people’s vote at general elections. The people’s choice legitimizes the government in place whose governance nevertheless remains constantly subject to the scrutiny and oversight of the people.
In contrast, the situation in Mauritius is a far cry from these cardinal democratic benchmarks. Despite scathing defeats at the polls, rejected leaders of political parties, in contrast to standard norms of political ethics, do not step down. The various parties do not open the field of candidates to contest the party’s leadership or hold primaries to democratically choose the candidate most qualified and apt to lead the party. The omnipotent leader basically has a hegemonic hold on the party and remains rooted to his post despite repeated defeats at the polls. All parties seem to share a common culture and adopt a similar template of governance. This appalling situation is widely decried by the multitude as it undermines the prospects of the country and thwarts the aspirations of the people for a better future.
“Despite scathing defeats at the polls, rejected leaders of political parties, in contrast to standard norms of political ethics, do not step down. The various parties do not open the field of candidates to contest the party’s leadership or hold primaries to democratically choose the candidate most qualified and apt to lead the party. The omnipotent leader basically has a hegemonic hold on the party and remains rooted to his post despite repeated defeats at the polls. All parties seem to share a common culture and adopt a similar template of governance…”
The upshot of this abject situation is that the people are time and time again slapped with the same choice of leaders which they have either rejected in the past or do not want to vote for. Too often candidates for MPs are also imposed on the electorate at the last minute before general elections. It is evident to one and all that every Tom, Dick and Harry cannot be fielded by political parties to contest general elections and be entrusted with the lofty responsibility of ably representing and serving the people. In so many instances in the political history of the country, such questionable choices have been fraught with risks as evidenced by the number of Ministers and MPs embroiled in diverse scandals over the years. Scandals afflicting the current government have forced several ministers to step down and seem from latest press allegations to continue unabated. It has also led to costly botched decisions.
The financing of political parties is a major evil of our democratic system. The occult financing of political parties saps our democracy and is a covert vector of leverage and malpractices as well as perceived to be an illicit source of substantial enrichment of parties. Such a questionable system thrives in opacity. The bill to regulate the financing of political parties was tacitly scuttled as it was patently evident that there was no real will and intent by the leadership of the main political parties to couch a legislation which ensures that all donations are truly transparent, accountable, by named individual donors, audited and open to public scrutiny as well as being strictly limited. These funds should ideally be paid into a common pot managed by the Electoral Commission to be shared among the various parties on the basis of objective criteria.
The current deplorable situation is therefore untenable. It begs so many fundamental questions. Can we as a nation afford to entrust the responsibility of managing the affairs of the country to those who have repeatedly failed the country? Should every candidate aspiring to be PM not first subject himself to a democratic exercise of interrogation and public debate to first ascertain who makes the cut in terms of credentials, intellect and competence to grapple with the many daunting challenges facing the country, to lead their party to contest general elections?
Making the right choice
We should realize as a nation that the responsibility of competently running the affairs of the country is not a job for the dilettante or a rag-tag team trumped up at the last minute. Too many years have been wasted owing to ineptitude and under par performance.
There are real risks of a no deal Brexit on 31 October 2019 under PM Boris Johnson and a global recession next year in the wake of the trade wars between the US and China. The world is almost every week confronted with the dire fallouts of climate change on the planet through extreme weather conditions, monster storms, monsoon havoc, devastating floods, landslides and wildfires. July was the hottest month on record. It caused a massive melting of ice in Greenland which sent some 197 billion tons of water into the Atlantic Ocean, raising sea levels.
Is the country prepared and geared to face the impact of these developments and other major challenges? Is the country, for example, preparing for a no deal Brexit bearing in mind the risks to the number of tourist arrivals from the UK and the value of our exports with the pound sterling falling to a 28-month low against the US dollar as well as looking at practical issues such as changed export documentation?
As a nation, we need to realize that time is running out. More than at any time in the chequered history of the country, we need to make the right choice and entrust the future of the country only to the ablest team of Mauritians demonstrating through their credentials, track record, intellect and the quality of their proposals to tackle the difficult challenges facing the country that they have the mettle to overcome the obstacles in the country’s growth path and carry the country to new heights of socio-economic development and inclusive prosperity. We need to collectively facilitate and usher such an existential sea change. We have no other option but to act now.
* Published in print edition on 16 August 2019