By-election or General elections?

The nation needs a new government, which can restore hope in the country and unlock the potential of the nation for better days ahead

Game over: these two words sum up the mood of the country towards the government; it needs to be confirmed either in the forthcoming by-election or in the next general elections. The resignation of a deputy of the constituency of Belle Rose/Quatre Bornes raises the prospect of a by-election in the coming weeks or months and will set the political cauldron boiling. Whether the present mood of the electorate will persist in the weeks ahead or not, opposition parties will however surf on the present wave of discontent and call for general elections in the national interest.

By-elections are valued more for their immediate and short-term consequences than for their long-term impact. One can recall how the by-election of Veerasamy Ringadoo in the district of Moka-Flacq marked the end of oligarchy politics in that constituency and paved the way for transforming the loose alliance of ‘progressives’ in the Legislative Council into the parliamentary Labour Party. The victory of Gaetan Duval over Romriki Ramsamy in a by-election was later to transform the Parti Mauricien. More recently the victory of Dev Virahsawmy in the 1970 by-election in Triolet not only boosted the MMM, but it may also have prodded the party into pursuing electoral politics instead of sensitizing the masses on its radical programmme. It is still fresh in the minds of many that the victory of Rajesh Jeetah in the by-election of Riviere du Rempart in 2003 marked the return of the Labour party and its culmination in the resounding victory of Alliance Sociale in 2005.

It is therefore extremely difficult for a government at mid-mandate to decide whether to go for general elections or not. A by-election gives an elector only one vote; its result provides an insight into the preference of the electorate, the electoral strength of different parties and candidates, and helps to refine strategies for general elections. Parties will even leverage the results of the by-election as a bargaining chip for negotiating alliances especially, as some argue, wrongly in our view, that the Belle Rose/Quatre-Bornes constituency is representative of the electorate at the national level. However, a by-election, in a small island like Mauritius, will assume the pace and the importance of a general election, more particularly so if it is fought on national rather than on merely local issues.

Whether government fields a candidate for the elections or not, all the votes recorded for opposition parties will be interpreted as an anti-government vote. Such a result will intensify pressure for general elections, exacerbate the political instability in the country and further paralyze government action. There has already been an attempt to load the last Budget with election goodies to be distributed to the electorate with a view to generating a favourable mood towards the government. The measures proposed misfired for they had been hastily put together without any thorough study, and thus had practically no impact on the electorate. Moreover there were no measures to revamp the economy in order to create gainful employment and the yawning inequality between the haves and have-nots continues to widen.

In fact the government may decide to go for a by-election oblivious of any negative consequences for the government or the country. As it feels secure with its parliamentary majority, it may go out and seek even more grants from other countries to finance other projects, useful or not, in anticipation of a better climate for it to face the next general elections at the end of its five-year mandate. It may still hope to eventually secure more favourable conditions for it to go to general elections after completing its five-year mandate.

To pursue such a course will prove risky. As the years roll by, the economic situation is becoming untenable. There are even greater challenges ahead in our export markets in Britain and in Europe while US policy remains unpredictable under the new administration. Those who defend the government’s high indebtedness argue that Mauritians also take loans to build their houses. They omit to say that these Mauritians make sure that they pay back their own loans and not leave them to be paid by future generations. Nor do they embark on a high level of indebtedness with the cynical attitude of ‘après nous, le déluge’.

While parties clamouring for general elections have their own good reasons for doing so, it would not be farfetched to say that a very large section of the electorate might well prefer a general election to chart a new course for the country. The government had been given an unexpected landslide victory in the last elections, but it has spent all its time to fritter way the trust placed in it. The press, the social media and trade unions and business sector, which were initially euphoric about the coming to power of the present government, have since expressed their disillusionment.

Only a bold and courageous leadership, with ears to the ground, will see that it is in its own and in the national interest to go for general elections as soon as this is practicable. The nation is already at great risk with a stagnating economy and a demoralized population. It needs a new government, which can restore hope in the country and unlock the potential of the nation for better days ahead.

Sada Reddi

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