Lessons from Vibrant Democracies

The legitimacy of a Prime Minister, a Minister or an MP is determined by his actions, his competence, good governance, sound judgement and public trust in his leadership and the manner he honours his mandate

By Mrinal Roy

Daily Express

Recent events in the United Kingdom, the United States and France have once again reminded people and governments of some fundamental principles and standards democracies across the world must be grounded on. A democracy is shaped by the manner the contract of trust between the people and the MPs they elect at the polls is honoured. It is only vibrant when both the people and the MPs unwaveringly ensure that their democracies adhere to the highest democratic benchmarks and uphold people’s and public interest at all times.

The onus is therefore squarely on the people who must exercise their democratic rights judiciously, assure a continuous oversight on the manner their democracy is functioning and ensure that as elected representatives of the people, MPs diligently defend and safeguard the highest standards of democracy in their country.

The relationship between the people and the government elected by them is anchored on trust. The people must therefore keep government action under constant scrutiny to gauge its ability and competence, its good governance and ensure that the affairs of the country are being judiciously managed in an accountable and transparent manner to assure inclusive and shared prosperity.

The party is over

In the United Kingdom, the no-confidence vote faced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, last week, is a case in point. Boris Johnson faced scathing criticism and intense pressure from MPs including senior members of his own party and the public after reports that multiple parties at Downing Street had breached the UK Covid-19 restrictions and rules that were set by his own government. A no-confidence vote was tabled by MPs of his own Conservative Party against him in Parliament last week. He survived the no-confidence vote with the support of 211 MPs whilst a large rebel faction of 148 Conservative MPs or 42% MPs of his party voted against him. It was the worst indictment on a sitting prime minister by his own party in recent times This significant loss of trust in his leadership and sound judgement weakens his position and undermines his legitimacy in the eyes of his own party and the country at large. Is this the beginning of the end? The party is over.

Boris Johnson is theoretically safe from another leadership challenge for a year under the 1922 Committee rules.

It is noteworthy that this is the second time in four years that a UK Prime Minister has had to face a vote of no-confidence. Theresa May won a no-confidence vote in 2018 by 200 votes to 117. However, she had to resign as PM in July 2019 after her revised draft Brexit withdrawal agreements were rejected by Parliament three times.

The no-confidence vote against Boris Johnson is an object lesson for democracies across the world. It depicts the democratic ethos, values and principles which every PM, Minister, MP or aspiring politician must strictly abide by. It is above all anchored on the fundamental principle that the allegiance of elected MPs and Ministers must above all be towards the people and the country instead of blindly supporting their party leaders who have lost public trust.

The legitimacy of a Prime Minister, a Minister or an MP is determined by his actions, his competence, good governance, sound judgement and public trust in his leadership and the manner he honours his mandate and his commitment of altruistic service to the people.

The attack on the Capitol

The US Capitol is the symbol of American democracy. On January 6, 2021, supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol to disrupt the joint session of the US Congress (chaired by former Vice President Mike Pence) assembled to count electoral votes that would formalize the victory of President-elect Joe Biden.

After almost a year of investigation, the Democrats-led US House of Representatives select committee inquiry into the unprecedented attack on the Capitol which endangered American democracy is currently holding hearings on the assault. An ongoing criminal investigation has led to more than 800 arrests in nearly every US state. Liz Cheney, the Republican vice-chair of the committee, said Mr Trump had ‘lit the flame of this attack’.

Seedy truths

The evidence presented at the inquiry shows that the attack on the Capitol was triggered by claims of election fraud. In a video testimony shown at the hearings this week, former US Attorney General Bill Barr said that ‘he had repeatedly told the former president that he had lost the election and that his claims of fraud were wrong.’ The former attorney general added that ‘we can’t live in a world where the incumbent administration stays in power based on its view, unsupported by specific evidence, that there was fraud in the election.’

The storming of the Capitol was an attack on American democracy and the lofty principles and ideals enshrined in its Constitution. The US Congress was duty bound to inquire and expose the seedy truths behind the unacceptable attack on the Capitol, the US ‘temple of democracy’. The Congressional Inquiry has shown a bipartisan unity to uphold and safeguard American democracy and bring those responsible to justice to deter any such attacks in future.

French National Assembly Election

Some seven weeks after the victory of President Emmanuel Macron of La Republique En Marche (LREM), at the 24 April elections with 58.55% of the votes cast, the LREM is facing a robust challenge at the French National Assembly election by the Nouvelle Union Populaire Ecologique et Sociale (NUPES), a newly formed coalition of left and green parties led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the party La France Insoumise. Mélenchon had obtained 22% of the votes at the first round of the French presidential elections held on 14 April. At the first round of the French National Assembly election held on 12 June, NUPES with a vote of 25.66% positions itself as the principal challenger of Emmanuel Macron’s movement Ensemble which obtained 25.75% of the votes.

The election was again marked by a record-high abstention rate of 52.49%, up 2% compared to the 2017 legislative elections and significantly higher than the 2012 42.78% rate. As is the case in so many countries, the high abstention rate reflects the pervasive disillusionment of the people in France with political institutions and the political class. It is revealing that NUPES which includes parties such as the Socialist Party, which had fared so badly at the recent French presidential election, has synergised the votes of people who want a change from the current contested socio-economic and political order. Will this voting trend surge to the point of upsetting the apple cart and undermining Ensemble‘s objective of obtaining an absolute majority in the National Assembly with more than 289 seats?

In essence, NUPES has provided the disillusioned voters with a potent alternative voice to carry their existential concerns in the National Assembly. If the voting intent of the first round is maintained or strengthened in the second round of the legislative elections to be held on 19 June, it could ultimately make NUPES the leading opposition force in the National Assembly.

Object lessons

These events are potent object lessons for democracies across the world. A democracy can only be vibrant when the people and the country are always more important than the vested and parochial interests of party or party leaders. In the UK, Conservative MPs did not hesitate to table a no-confidence against their leader Boris Johnson to openly show in the context of the Partygate scandal their loss of trust in his leadership and sound judgement and contest his legitimacy to continue as PM.

In France, despite the widespread sense of alienation among voters towards the government policy framework, the NUPES coalition has provided an alternative choice to voters. In the US, Congress did not hesitate to conduct an inquiry into the Capitol attack which could indict an outgoing President.

Plummeting standards

It is patently obvious from the above events that the standards of democracy in Mauritius are aeons distanced from these lofty benchmarks. Dynastic parties, omnipotent party leaders and pliant MPs, appalling governance and lack of transparency and accountability are the bane of our political system.

To crown it all, the 2022-23 budget exercise has also exposed the extent of extra budgetary special funds hidden from oversight and scrutiny amounting to billions of Rupees built from surplus funds garnered by fees and diverse contributions collected from the price of gasoil and mogas, unused project funds, etc., which akin to a ‘slush fund’ are blithely used when required or to doctor the key parameters of the budget figures. This is the last straw.

When will this abject travesty of democracy all end?

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 17 June 2022

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