Municipal Elections: A Test for the Future

The results of the coming municipal elections will inform us about the direction in which the different parties and the electorate will be travelling

By Sada Reddi

Every election, municipal or general, takes place in a particular context. This time round the forthcoming municipal elections will be held in a totally different setting from what we have known in years past. The reasons are many. They come in the wake of a pandemic and in very difficult economic, political and social circumstances. Above all, they will take place two years after the general elections, and that will provide parties as well as the electorate with a mid-term assessment of the government’s performance, with important consequences for the general elections.

While in the past municipal elections have generally been held shortly after the general elections, which enables the winning party or alliance to capitalise on the euphoria generated by its victory to win most of the municipal councils, this one will be different. But it could turn out that, contrary to what obtained in the past, we might have a higher turnout at the next municipal elections. The electorate will probably come out to express its many dissatisfactions which have been smouldering under the surface, suppressed by a repressive Covid-19 legislation introduced under the umbrella of sanitary measures.

Social discontent is widespread as a result of the many ills confronting society – from unemployment, poverty, violence, drug abuse and state failure to cope with the multiple problems to the numerous economic problems confronting the government both at the local and international levels. In such circumstances, no government would want to face the electorate, but any temptation to postpone the municipal elections would be suicidal for the government.

However, if on the one hand the government is confronted with major challenges, it may get some consolation in the fact that the opposition is also divided. Thus, the division of opposition votes may enable the government alliance to win; in fact it’s quite possible for any party or alliance to win the elections with just a small margin. At present one does do not know what type of alliances will be crafted in the months to come although all the main opposition parties have expressed the willingness to come together.

Government optimism will quickly melt away if the opposition parties try to be creative enough to build a common front. Unlike general elections where alliances are always problematic, municipal elections provide greater possibilities for collaboration among different parties at both government and the opposition levels, but more so for the opposition. Opposition parties may reach some electoral agreement not to fight each other in all the municipal constituencies. They may even decide to share the municipalities among themselves, leaving one party alone to fight the government alliance in a particular municipality and others aligned in different other municipalities.

For example, the MLP will face the government alliance in Quatre Bornes, MMM in Beau Bassin-Rose Hill, and the PMSD in Curepipe with different parties sharing the different wards in the two remaining municipalities of Port-Louis and Vacoas-Phoenix. Or they could even assign the different wards in the different municipalities among themselves such that one party may have to fight it out in one ward and leaving the others to focus their electioneering efforts in other wards where there is greater certainty of winning. This is more easily said than done for the different parties must be able to convince their respective segments in the electorate of the necessity of such a strategy. Unless they can do so, this can boomerang, which means that an intensive political campaign must be put in place to achieve these ends. Such permutations may even include the new parties if there is the will to work towards a common front in the present circumstances.

One should not ignore the other small parties and in particular the new ones. Some have pleaded for the small and new parties to band together and form their own alliance different from the mainstream parties. This too is a valid suggestion and it does not cost anything to try this option as well. Even without uniting their efforts, small parties usually play an important role in elections for even if they fail to elect their candidates, they influence the results causing the balance to tilt to one side or the other by securing hundreds of votes which could have gone to any other party or candidate. This is usually the case as victories are sometimes won by small margins. On the other hand, if they manage to elect a few candidates, they can even play a significant role in the balance of forces in the municipal councils.

What will be the response of the electorate to the different configurations to be put in place cannot be known at this stage. Political parties with their ears to the ground may have a sense of what the electorate wants and shape their strategy accordingly. While local issues matter a lot to the electorate, such as garbage collection, road repairs, leisure infrastructure and facilities, environment and other services, national issues will play a determining role as these have a direct impact on the lives of the citizens.

Growing insecurity, violence, drugs, housing shortage, poverty, unemployment and arrested development, and illegal construction are the major sources of the prevailing malaise in the country and in the urban areas. Not surprisingly for many, it does not appear to be ‘Maurice C’est un plaisir’ anymore…The electorate will have to weigh all this before it casts its vote either for change or for maintaining the status quo.

All the parties also have the duty and the responsibility to provide the public with candidates with a high profile of ethics and probity, for the quality of candidates fielded will be an important factor in its choice. It will also be an opportunity for the young to come forward and make the plunge, for the country needs a lot of new faces, creative minds alive to the needs of society and ready to go off the beaten track and deliver. It will be for them to overhaul local government services and develop it in line with the needs of the 21th century.

Finally, the coming municipal elections will allow both the parties and the electorate to test the ground for the next general elections. The results will inform us about the direction in which the different parties and the electorate will be travelling. Parties, party programmes, the type of alliances and electoral behaviour will provide the inputs to refine and shape the strategies for the future. So, the next municipal elections will have a decisive role for the future and they are too important to be ignored by both politicians and the electorate.

* Published in print edition on 17 September 2021

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