The by-election will unleash far-reaching changes, and that is why the major political parties have made turnout on election day the battle cry of their election campaign — By Sada Reddi
In the columns of this newspaper, observers have over the years expressed the hope that the outcomes of general elections, by-elections and even municipal elections will usher new chapters in our history or take the country to new levels of political, economic and social development. This hope has been fulfilled on many occasions as well as disappointments at times. But it would not be too presumptuous nevertheless to renew our hope that the coming by-election on the 17th December 2017 will at least be a turning point for the country and the harbinger of a better future.
For many sceptics, the 17th of December will be just another number, another date; but not so from our point of view, for it has already ushered in a pre-electoral period and will precipitate the country towards the long-awaited general elections in a few months. It is beyond doubt that the by-election will unleash far-reaching changes in the future, and that is why the major political parties have made turnout on election day the battle cry of their election campaign.
For all parties and candidates participating in the election, and more importantly for the electorate in Quatre Bornes and beyond, the last few years have been a lesson for all of us as well as a blessing in disguise for some. It has enabled us to take stock of how incompetence, irresponsibility and lack of experience at the helm of public affairs can bring havoc to an edifice patiently and proudly constructed over the years, despite all the weaknesses one can detect in the edifice. Anybody can point out a number of flaws in the development of our society and economy, but these should not detract us from our major achievements and the efforts to continually improve and build a fair and just society. Yet we are still far from the vision that we cherish for our country.
If we look at the last few years, we would surely wonder how we could have been so resourceful and successful in confronting the worst economic crisis we faced in 2008. People will remember that we came out triumphantly with greater resilience and confidence, only to find ourselves during the last three years with a battered economy. We were told at the beginning of the government mandate that the country would soon register a 5% growth rate which would take us up to the level of upper middle income country. Far from attaining that goal, we are struggling every year to attain a growth rate of 4%.The morale of our entrepreneurs has never been so low and many our small entrepreneurs have had to sustain a decline of more than 20% in their business.
Unemployment, disguised employment, decline in manufacturing, increasing indebtedness and unproductive investments have left the economy in a very bad shape, surviving temporarily on property speculation and a property bubble.
Meanwhile the rich are getting richer, and it is ironic that a party which labels itself as “lepep” has turned into a doormat not for the private sector but for as a segment of that sector – the oligarchy which has reconstituted itself during the last decade. It appears that we may be going back to a time in the early decades of the 20th century when Henry Leclezio, the leader of the oligarchy, could say ‘L’Etat, c’est nous’. All the most important measures taken by the current government have been for the benefit of that oligarchy. The different budgets have ensured that the abolition of various duties and exemptions goes in favour of the oligarchy.
Our rupee has lost its purchasing power. On the other hand, the lowering of the repo rate, which has reduced interest income on the savings of thousands of pensioners, has enabled the banks to provide a windfall gain of more than Rs 800 million to the private sector through the reduction of their debts’ servicing. While the minimum wage and its implementation are to be welcomed, the negative income tax is another way of subsidizing employers of the private sector out of the public purse. Therefore it is not surprising that the oligarchy with so many benefits from the government and more to come will do everything to broker a new alliance for the so-called “lepep” party to retain control of the state.
It is in consideration of the bigger picture showing what has happened and is happening to the economy, to our society and democracy that the vote of the elector of Quatre-Bornes will be seen as crucial for the future.
Voting at an election is always irrational because no elector has all the information to make a rational choice; other considerations play an important role when he faces the ballot paper. Nevertheless there is always the possibility of a thoughtful and altruistic decision in an election. We vote because of our civic duty as citizens: we may do so out of self interest, but we also vote altruistically just like when we extend our help to a stranger we shall never meet again because we care for others and for the country.
It would be sad and a matter of regret if we were to find after the election results have been announced that our preferred candidate has lost because we did not care to go out and do our duty as a concerned citizen when our vote could have made the difference.
The good thing in this election is that we are all voting for opposition parties. The government has refrained from fielding a candidate, and the Prime Minister has probably, as an afterthought, explained that the so-called “lepep” party chose not to participate in the by-election because his government would have been accused of ‘bribery’. By using the term bribery while referring to a few populist measures his government has taken, the Prime Minister is indeed acknowledging the fact that what his government is giving away in terms of populist measures may be construed as ‘bribery’ being dished out in view of the coming general elections. The bribery has been concealed by making the offers some months before the elections so as to avoid any legal challenge in the future. One remembers that the accusation of bribery during an earlier election campaign levelled against Ashok Jugnauth was upheld by the Privy council.
It is important to remember the litany of scandals that continue to plague the government. There is no sector of the economy or society where one does not find a scandal linked with the present government. If this trend persists, we may soon find this country labelled as a rogue state. Whether the ‘bribery’, referred to unwittingly by the Prime Minister, is presently being given for the sake of a government proxy in the coming by-election or not, political parties have during the remaining time before polls on December 17 the duty to expose, denounce and sensitize the electorate about the dangers which confront the country and to work out strategies so as to get the maximum number of voters to cast their votes – for this will prove crucial for the next general elections.
A massive turnout will be like a breath of fresh air for the country and will ensure a change of direction in the country’s affairs.
* Published in print edition on 15 December 2017