Vive La République

The defining characteristic of the Republic is that it is composed of citizens who enjoy equal and inalienable rights and all the citizens make up the nation

This article was written at a time when it was believed that the tussle between the President and the Prime Minister had found a compromise solution. The President was then to leave after the 12th but before the 27th of March.

It now seems that the President has decided otherwise and wishes to prolong this drama and constitutional crisis for much longer. This is a real shame and yet another illustration of the dearth of values, ethics and total lack of understanding of what is the “sens de l’etat” at the highest level of the State.

Res Publica

The Romans created a republic form of government. It is a government that is governed by officials. Officials that were chosen and voted by the free citizens. The officials represent the people in the government. Unlike the direct democracy of Ancient Greece, the republican democracy of Rome was more stable and organized. It was ruled by two officials or consuls. The two were given one-year term and they weren’t allowed to be voted within 10 years after. One consul can veto (latin word: “I forbid”) the other’s proposals and decisions. Supreme power was not given to one person only


One would have expected the President to do the only honourable thing which this situation requires: state that she has done nothing wrong but that with due respect to the true spirit of republicanism and for the post that she occupies she intends to resign and eventually prove her innocence through due process.

The example being set at the highest echelons of the State is deplorable and only serves to take us a little closer to the much decried status of a ‘Banana Republic’.

In English we have a great expression which says: “When you are in a hole, stop digging”. Some would be well advised to reflect on this.

* * *

The 50th anniversary of a nation is a milestone in the life of a country and deserves to be treated as a truly special occasion. From what we have witnessed from the official ceremonies as well as from the general mood in the country during these past days, the government and the people for once seem to be on the same page in this regard. In these circumstances, it is thoroughly understandable that the 26th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic has been rather subdued. Which does not mean that it should be completely obliterated.

The passage from a status of independent nation in the Commonwealth to that of a Republic in 1992 is significant and pregnant with meaning for the people and the country. In fact the principal effect of this momentous change in status can be succinctly captured in the phrase – From Subjects to Citizens. Indeed Mauritians remained her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second’s subjects at the time of independence. The Queen as Head of State was duly represented by the Governor-General in Mauritius.

It is somewhat regrettable that for most Mauritians the transition to Republic was first and foremost a matter of change in institutions as the Governor General was succeeded by the first President of the Republic in the person of Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo who had himself been the Governor General. Although there was a definite and justifiable sense of pride in the fact that a Mauritian would hitherto be the Head of State, this is bound to remain a mere formal change as long as we do not grasp the full meaning and implications of what is indeed a  qualitative institutional transformation in the life of a nation.

In Western political history, the notion of the Republic as a form of political organization can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosophers Plato and later Aristotle who examined the virtues and weaknesses of different forms of organization of the “polis” or the City. The concept of Republic, as we know it today, derives from the Latin Res Publica which refers to a system of government that emerged in the 6th century BC in Rome.

The more recent form of the Republic grew out of the “bourgeois revolutions” of the late 18th and the 19th century when the industrial revolution had created the “objective conditions” for a freer and more dynamic and certainly less autocratic system of governance. It was a powerful force during the American War of Independence, culminating in the Declaration of Independence from England in 1776. In Europe the ideological and philosophical notions associated with the Republic as a ‘superior’ form of governance gathered momentum in the intellectual ferment leading to and following the French Revolution of 1789. The first French Republic was founded in 1792 and lasted up to 1804.

The history of the French republic is illustrative of the tumultuous times in the Europe of the 19th and early 20th centuries as the “old world” struggled through all sorts of reactionary regimes to survive against the rising tides of modernity established on the notions of individual freedoms and free trade driven by the rise of capitalism as a form of economic organization.

The regime presently prevailing in France is known as the Fifth Republic, introduced by President de Gaulle after the Second World War, and which ironically enough many considered as the harbinger of a presidential monarchy.

The mere absence of a monarch at the head of the State does not make a country into a republic. As long as institutions, including political culture and self-awareness about one’s rights and duties as a citizen are not fully embedded in the governance structures and appropriated by the government as well as the governed, the conditions for a true republican regime to function are not in place. The defining characteristic of the Republic is that it is composed of citizens who enjoy equal and inalienable rights and all the citizens make up the nation.

In a country like ours with its diverse population and melting pot of cultures and religions the Republican form of government provides the core system of values which must be shared by one and all. Republicanism is an ideology which has grown out of the struggle against tyranny. It is based on the sovereignty of the people in deciding on their destiny within the framework of the nation. Beyond the various forms of governments that it may embody, Republican philosophy is fundamentally attached to a way of life and an uncompromising commitment to liberty as well as a rejection of any form of aristocratic or modern day elitist government.

 

* Published in print edition on 16 March 2018

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