By Jan Arden
Undoubtedly and somewhat unexpectedly for many observers, some key events around the end of 2021 and the new year have rocked the boat. Certainly not to the extent that the government in office will be shaken from its oversight of public interest matters, but enough to shake our long-held beliefs in a functioning democracy with its set of correlates, namely credible institutions and agencies, with an independent judiciary, the press and radio, including social media activists acting as prods to help refocus the authorities on any misfirings.
Social peace and cohesion comes with the certainty that, barring occasional rapidly corrected hiccups, the police force can be relied upon to provide an equitable institution, acting with neither fear nor favour. This has perhaps always been a tricky act to follow in a small island with dense social and political networks and connections, but rarely had we felt either at MCIT, CCID or the main police force, such a need to remind ourselves that reigning in any excesses of the political folk comes with the job. Even a silent majority of honest hard-working officers would have been uncomfortable with disturbing examples of double standards policing, particularly evident over the end of year period.
For instance, only the highest echelons will have assessed whether a crowd of would-be public attendees justified the need for deploying a visible army of armoured vehicles, patrolmen, street closures and roof snipers, all in military gear, to accompany ex-Minister Sawmynaden to court. This was not the first time such privileged treatment was doled out to the guy who was elected by and thereby answerable to the people of his constituency and the wider country who still pay his wages in Parliament.
While some may write off this repeat handling as a normalised excess, most observers would view the circumstances surrounding the early morning arrest and the raking up of a ten-year-old case with a dubious conspiracy charge against former Minister Bhadain and now leader of the Reform Party, an unrelenting thorn in the flesh of the MSM, as further evidence of a politically skewed police hierarchy. When was the last time they took to task any ruling henchmen, investigated any of their alleged improprieties, or took statements from those involved even when video clips have gone viral?
In the UK, the PM Boris Johnson has been under fire for ignoring health and sanitary protocols of his own government at a boozing event he hosted during confinement in 2020 and, despite his public apology, there are growing calls even within his party for his resignation. The public accusations piled on relentlessly, morphing from “there is one law for you (the high and mighty…) and one law for us (ordinary law-abiding citizens struggling with the pandemic…)” to simply “there is no law for you!”.
The idea that there was a secluded abode where political power, paid for by all law-abiding citizens or financial means, guarantees you are above the law has shocked even conservative Britain. Even as his government has finally acceded to an inquiry, the Brexit campaigner and Bojo PM has lost most of his shine in that event and its ghastly handling.
While ordinary Mauritians have been fined and penalised daily for either not wearing masks properly or attending events and birthdays, the viral video of our maskless Health Minister partying with family and friends at end of year in a confined space, has erupted on social media. While truck loads of police officers would have been on the scene and making provisional charges for ordinary laymen, there has not been a preliminary police inquiry if health protocol rules had been breached in this unseemly dance party.
These renewed skirmishes of the police hierarchy with equity and fairness comes, it must be pointed out, after nearly two years of the judicial inquiry ordered by the DPP in the tragic death of MSM activist Kistnen, a murder case that brushed aside the rapid police conclusion of suicide, in a widely followed WebTV serial with the lawyers known as the Avengers playing a lead pro-bono role. The judicial findings and report regarding the mesmerising twists of this high-profile inquiry are awaited early this year.
A bridge too far?
There is a palpable sense that we have travelled a long patient path of builders since independence, successive governments doing their bit and adding another bulwark to further our fledgling democratic spaces and institutions, and we seem yet bereft of recourse when any of these same once-proud institutions falter and start failing the country.
The National Assembly under the current leadership has become a dismal specter of its older glory, the ICAC looks under state capture with too many examples of dysfunctional investigations. Where did we go wrong? Have we crossed a bridge too far? What can and should be done to free the country from the shackles of dysfunctional institutions evidenced these days?
Which brings us to the movements seen around the new year on the political front with discussions under way for a reunification of Opposition forces that Navin Ramgoolam and the Labour Party had called for early on and found itself excluded from in a widely circulated press conference marshaled by the MMM leader. It may well be that the sense of crossing an unwelcome further bridge, has galvanised Opposition leaders so early, when we are at mid-term of government mandate, in their separate assessment that they have to unite their strengths, laying aside their egos, ambitions and party calculations for the public interest.
We would normally abstain from using the term “blitzkrieg” for electoral processes that by and large have withstood the tests of several general elections under the supervision of the Electoral Commissioner and the Electoral Supervisory Commission. But the admission in Court a fortnight ago by the Electoral Commissioner and his Deputy that the manual tallies of vote counts they had in their possession since the day of the elections, were fraught with such inconsistencies that they could no longer hold on to their continued insistence over two years that all went well in the last general elections. A stance it might be noted that ignored several reported cases of official bulletins flying about outside voting control, ignored the inconsistencies of the now infamous computer room or the differential treatment meted out in some polling or counting stations to political representatives.
We are used to some politicians behaving badly, others making false promises, we are inured against the travesty of the Parliament or the failings of some institutions, but if the long-cherished belief in the credibility and professionalism of our vaunted electoral institutions goes astray, what still remains to console Mauritians that theirs is not a hijacked democracy?
Would even a late resignation of officials caught in the spotlight be of any value or have we to bite the bullet to the bitter end and work towards a new era?
* Published in print edition on 21 January 2022
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