Vox Populi, not Vox Dei

God knows there is plenty to do, mighty challenges for which the fresh incumbents must rise to the occasion. Will they? Time will tell

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Going by the various points of view that had been publicly expressed for a good while beginning sometime after the resignation of Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo as Member of Parliament, by all accounts it had become more than half-expected that we were heading for a general election rather than a by-election. Given that in our political system it is the privilege of the Prime Minister to decide upon the date of the elections, it goes without saying that the incumbent would choose what he considers to be the most opportune time for conducting such an event – based on purely political calculations and/or with inputs from astrological sources, as some people opine.

Whatever be, the strategy seems to have worked for the freshly constituted Alliance Morisien which has won with a very comfortable majority. This will no doubt be seen in a positive light by those who have been watching the outcome of national elections in several mature democracies such as Spain, Portugal, Israel where failure to obtain a clear majority has left these countries struggling to put in place a functioning government. The difference is that these are big countries with very strong institutions that keep the country going in the interim period that the politicians are still playing their games, which in some instances may not even come to a closure so that new general elections have to be called, as happened in Austria.

It would be recalled that prior to the elections there had been fears of a ‘hung parliament’, with the possibility evoked of the MMM leader finding himself in the privileged role of ‘kingmaker’ or ‘actor’, but as this did not come to be, the resulting political stability from the fact of a clear-majority win will at least ensure that there will be no critical disruptions in the governance and administrative processes that underpin the running of the country. As a matter of fact, things have quickly got back to their normal pace, as people settled down to their daily routine after the relatively short campaign for the elections.

For a start, some of the newly-elected candidates went about bringing down the buntings that had come up all over the island, setting a good example, but whether such enterprise and attitude will be mainstreamed in the long term as a mark of their commitment remains to be seen. Still, the endeavour is commendable.

On a personal note, in a perversely ironic kind of way, I was wishing that the buntings in Curepipe were left for a while longer – at least temporarily they added much colour to a town which has a rather dull and somewhat depressing look what with many of its main buildings in the town centre being covered with fungus, or badly needing a fresh coat of paint. Maybe they could be replaced with more permanent and artistic, and more colourful equivalents which would make the gay atmosphere persist? Just a thought…

Of course the activists driving in cars mounted with speakers and announcing the dates, timings, venues of meetings and the speakers taking part also contributed to the liveliness of the atmosphere especially in the latter part of the campaign, but what can replace them meaningfully I cannot think of at the moment. In the olden days we had various types of vendors doing the rounds and animating the localities at different times of the day with their cries to attract householders to come out and buy their products – fresh fish and octopus, dilait caille or fenousse, pistache, clothings and stitching material, etc.  And the Veeramundar or Police bands entertaining the Curepipians from time to time on Sunday afternoons. Ô nostalgie quand tu nous tiens !

But of course the campaigning had to end, culminating on the day of elections on Thursday 7th November. It was like a mini-tsunami with successive waves that gathered momentum over the few weeks allotted until they came to a standstill, and in the process many aspirants to power both old and new found themselves afloat while, on the other hand, a larger number of hopefuls were swept away. But fortunately for them not drowned. For the wheel of time keeps turning, and whatever goes up must come down and vice-versa. So their turn, especially that of the dynamic and youthful first-timers who presented themselves with concrete and pragmatic ideas, will surely come.

In the meantime, they have to keep ‘working at it’ as the saying goes, accepting that the verdict of the people represents Vox populi, the Latin phrase which literally means ‘voice of the people’, and in the political context is used to denote ‘the opinion of the majority of the people’ – in other words, democracy is believed to have prevailed, despite all its dysfunctions, which can be considered to be the undercurrents of that mini-tsunami. These would include, for example, the role of money politics in the exercise, the thousands of voters whose names were not to be found on the electoral rolls, the part played by social media and so on, among other things.

All this, along with the expert opinions of specialists in the matter that emotions predominate over rationality among voters, leads to the conclusion that, contrary to what has been believed all along the Latin phrase Vox Populi, Vox Dei ‘The voice of the people [is] the voice of God’, can no longer apply. Wikipedia enlightens us on this, with an early reference to the expression in a ‘letter from Alcuin to Charlemagne in 798. The full quotation from Alcuin reads:

‘Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi simper proxima sit’which is translated as: ‘And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.’

There have been some incidents of riotousness and rowdiness, which seem to have a historical pedigree going back centuries ago! Which therefore lend credence to the perception that while the people may have voted right for themselves, whether the eventual collective choice was a righteous one will ever remain in doubt.

This uncertainty can only be removed by the fresh incumbents working together truly in the national interest, as they promised to do while campaigning, and fulfil a majority of the pledges that they undertook publicly to carry out. God knows there is plenty to do, mighty challenges for which they must rise to the occasion. Will they? Time will tell… until the next tsunami.


* Published in print edition on 15 November 2019

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