When will things get really better?

Editorial
It is time that we begin to put our ears to the ground, take good note, and do what in required to make things become really better. Otherwise, there might just be another ‘Vire mam’…

By TP Saran

Every time that the government changes after a general election, there is renewed hope that things will get better based on electoral pledges made by the new incumbent. From this peak of expectation that holds up the mirage of the promised land, before we know we begin to slide down towards the reality that, after all, it was only a mirage that was put up to lure the electorate into voting for change – though sometimes there erupts a scam or a scandal that gives a brutal indication that there is rot beneath the glittering surface.

Vire mam, perhaps the first time in our electoral history that social media had such a massive and direct impact on the voting pattern, was such an overwhelming victory that people almost to the last ti-dimoune began to believe ‘yes, this is it! This time it’s for real!’ Alas, as had happened before too, the shine started to pale out, and pretty fast, as members within the ruling party itself started to put own goals thus eroding the image of their party and their government by their misbehaviours, injurious words and meddling in institutions. All these have already been exposed in the public domain and there is no need to go back over them, but there are certain matters that are illustrative of some fundamental dysfunctions that call for attention.

One of them is no doubt about the proposed electoral reform that has been dragging on through successive regimes and that, for reasons best know to themselves, governments seem to suddenly awake to as new elections approach. Elsewhere in today’s edition of this paper, ex-Minister Pradeep Jeeha makes a cogent plea for fixed-term parliaments, and that includes local council elections as well. In the wake of the postponement of the village and municipal elections by a prime ministerial decision, he makes the case that this prerogative should be removed and that Parliament should vote for a fixed term for both general and local elections, irrespective of party or politician. Given the quasi-abuse of this prerogative that denies the people their right to change their representatives at determined intervals, we feel that this suggestion needs to be seriously taken up and made to materialise.

The dilly-dallying about the final form of electoral reform is perhaps a reflection of the variety of views, both candid and controversial in many an instance, expressed by several people who have commented on the matter. However, certain things have come through very clearly: an increase in the number of parliamentarians is not favoured; the party list of candidates to be picked and chosen by a party leader is a definitive no-no; it is for the people to decide. Therefore, the clear message is: either present the reform as part of the electoral manifesto and let the people vote on it at the general election, or hold a referendum, the latter being the view of reputed constitutionalists. With such a definitive sense of direction given, why doesn’t the wobbling stop and a decision taken?

The other major issue is repeated instances of malfunctioning of institutions, the latest of which concerns the Sugar Insurance Fund Board. In articles published earlier in this paper, attention had been drawn to the wrongs that were allegedly being perpetuated at the SIFB and that were detrimental to the interests of the small planters. Unfortunately, the situation was allowed to fester until, pushed against the wall by revelations in Parliament, government has been forced to dissolve the board of that institution.

That, of course, is not sufficient. The government must follow this up by a thorough examination of the misappropriations and procedural irregularities that would have taken place there and take the required remedial measures to get the SIFB running again. Otherwise, the small planter community is going to be unforgiving towards it.

What is happening locally seems to be reflecting an emerging pattern that is now taking more concrete shape, often violently. Witness the ‘gilets jaunes’ movement that came up almost spontaneously in France, and that very soon turned violent – and of a seriously confrontational type, pitching the forces of law and order against the masses who faced them brazenly. After several days of being in limbo, finally the French Prime Minister has had to give in and retract the measure that triggered this mass protest: an increase in the price of fuel.

However, this was but the triggering element. The movement swelled against the backdrop of a mounting awareness that the power elite – political and economic – is in disconnect with the realities on the ground, the sufferings of the people. This is how Claude Poissenot, an analyst at the University of Lorraine has expressed it in an article he wrote on the subject entitled ‘Why France’s ‘gilets jaunes’ protesters are so angry’: ‘Many of those protesting feel neglected, oppressed and dominated. For the most part they’re employed, but their incomes often don’t meet their needs despite the exhaustion they feel from their work. The simple promise of being able to live off one’s income is no longer being kept. It’s no longer possible for somebody to lead their life as they please, or to make their own choices. How can the ideal of autonomy be achieved if the riches of society aren’t shared out more widely? (bold added)

These are the sentiments felt by couples who say they “can’t get by” despite having two jobs, or young workers who still live with their parents because their income is insufficient or too unstable for them to move out.

The anger on display in the protests stems from this impossible equation. And since the collective notion of social class has disappeared in France, this anger is now being experienced on a personal level. Difficult living conditions are now more a matter of personal experience than a condition of class’.

Further, ‘As the distance from those who govern us increases, it’s become convenient to listen to ourselves and our emotions much more. The success of emoticons in messaging apps and texts are a clear sign of this, and personal feelings are now guiding our lives in thousands of different ways’.

The feelings on the ground both locally and in many democracies are much the same. If we want to avert any ‘gilet jaune’ type phenomenon in Mauritius, it is time that we begin to put our ears to the ground, take good note, and do what in required to make things become really better as had been promised. Otherwise, there might just be another Vire mam – with the people almost certainly standing to be duped yet again, following a pattern.


* Published in print edition on 7 December 2018

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