Warming Up for the General Elections

When the time for elections comes, it is the electorate that will deliver its verdict for the formation of the next government. Inevitably, the focus of the electoral campaign will be on the pluses and minuses of the incumbent government

The end of winter will herald a sizzling season in politics as the country goes to the polls either next year – or maybe earlier. The strategies to be adopted by all parties gearing up to face the electoral challenges confronting them will be more or less similar, any difference will be according to whether they are in government or in the opposition. How these challenges will be played out at election time will also depend on several factors which, in recent times, are no longer predictable given that political realities are much more dynamic and even volatile. The by-election in the constituency of Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes is a pointer worth keeping in mind.

There are indeed major differences between how parties in government and those in opposition operate as they inch towards election day. Whatever disarray may occur within a party is the direct concern of the party members, its organization and its leadership, its voting bank and to a much lesser extent the wider electorate. That internal squabbles within a party can weaken its support from its electoral base is not to be denied. However, if members of the opposition parties in the Assembly have a role and a responsibility towards the public and are accountable to the electorate just as members of the party or parties forming the government, the latter have the higher and added responsibility (as the trustees of the people) and are invested with legitimacy to administer the country according to established democratic norms and practices.

When the time for elections comes, it is the electorate that will deliver its verdict for the formation of the next government. Inevitably, the focus of the electoral campaign will be on the pluses and minuses of the incumbent government; the extent to which various policy measures have been implemented, their impact and failures will come under scrutiny. Whether the government has been successful or failed to tackle issues concerning corruption, nepotism, education, health, drugs, traffic congestion, environmental degradation, unemployment, law and order and economic growth will be scrutinised and these issues will constitute the litmus test for many electors before they cast their votes.

Parties in government conscious of their achievements and failures will normally craft a strategy during their electoral campaign, usually to downplay their failures and blow up any achievements. The media, both state and private, will be expected to build a new image of government. Politicians with low self-esteem will be advised to seek edited and filtered photos to create an alternative reality with the hope of hoodwinking the electorate. Such devices can also be double-edged since they may lead to delusional beliefs amongst the party leadership as they deepen the gulf between fantasy and reality.

One should also expect a desperate effort to resort to financial resources to outspend opposition parties especially if a law on political financing is passed which in the Mauritian context can at best be an eyewash. Even a dose of proportional representation introduced in the context of an electoral reform can pose some unintended risks unless it is reduced to being a cosmetic measure to be implemented only after the general elections. Finally, there may also be a last-ditch effort to reconfigure the government alliance, but this is fraught with enormous difficulties and risks.

Opposition parties will be in a relatively much more comfortable situation when confronting the electorate since government action or inaction will provide an antidote that will energize the electorate out of its apparent apathy. The numerous scandals which have impacted the government’s popularity rating will make opposition parties feel that they have the wind at their back – especially as election results can dramatically swing from one party to another as demonstrated not only in Mauritius but in other countries too, such that waves elections also form part of the political landscape.

Whether the opposition parties will capitalize on both objective and subjective conditions in their favour remains to be seen. We are still one year, more or less, away from election day and there is ample time for both government and opposition parties to change for the better or worse. It will not be sufficient for opposition parties to simply highlight the fact that gross domestic incompetence has trumped Gross Domestic Product growth rate or propose a grand vision for 2050 or 2060 which will never take off from the ground. However, the country needs a vision, a blueprint which has to cater for the present, the medium and the long terms. It must be comprehensive, inclusive, collaborative, realistic and above all implementable in stages.

Even before thinking of the way ahead in terms of programmes, both government and opposition parties will face a fragmented electorate. The emergence of new parties on the political landscape will have some impact on the election results, for however small the impact may be, it can make a difference between winning and losing a seat although it will be difficult to gauge the response of the electorate to the proliferation of parties or the emergence of dissident groups both now and in the future.

Major parties will generally abstain to ally with newly emerging parties for several reasons. First, there has not been enough collaboration with these parties either as a group or individuals to confidently build a partnership. Second, individuals within these groups have different ideological backgrounds ranging from the rabidly conservative to the progressive left. Third, they do not have any electoral base to make a significant difference in any constituency. Fourth, their personal ambition may undermine the unity of the various parties.

For these various reasons, parties will be cautious about such alliances and will resist the lobbies within and outside the party in their favour. Most likely ‘small parties’ can elect a few members if they shed their ‘egos’ and accommodate themselves into a federation for electoral purposes if proportional representation is conceded before the next elections.

Until election day, there will be much volatility on the political scene while the electorate will simply wait in the wings to deliver the final charge. Meanwhile major political parties must have already drawn their lists of candidates so as not to get caught unawares. The likelihood that the major parties will remain the driving engines in any party alliance can reasonably be expected. With the established parties fighting each other and other parties joining in the fray, democratic politics in Mauritius will have made a long stride in the future.

* Published in print edition on 17 August 2018

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