Now what?

Now that the by-election is over, the question is: Where do we go from here? — By L. Hazareesingh

In roughly two years, the country will be facing general elections, with possibly the same kind of choices. It will be tempting to either vote for the current government for fear of the alternative or vote for an alternative for fear of the current government. If we are to believe the main parties, there will be no political arrangement before the elections, possibly leading to no party having a majority sufficiently strong to form a stable government. In my view, the resulting coalition government will be even worse than any pre-election coalition because the stakes will be so much higher, with the need to give away part of the store even more pressing. It doesn’t have to be so.

The biggest problem in democracy today is that we have basically abdicated our own responsibility in governance, placing our trust in unresponsive political parties to tell us what should matter to us, when all they seem to care about is what matters to them. Thus it was that the past election was centered on those who were for a new political dispensation and those who were against. There was no crying need for changing the political structure of the government but the change would have served the desires of two individuals, no matter the consequences for the country. In the absence of ideological or programmatic differences, elections are fought on unsubstantial issues.

The by-election has brought some welcome new faces to the political arena. New faces alone, however, will not be sufficient to change the political dynamics of the country, at least not for the better. In my humble opinion, leadership behaviour in the next couple of years should determine whether a political party should continue to be entrusted with any responsibility in the future.

The sine qua non of Future Governance:

1. A vision statement for the country: What kind of country does the party envision in the long term?
a. Given the tension between those who view Mauritius as being essentially a multi-racial, multi-religious country with each group retaining its rights and privileges and those who believe that Mauritius is fast evolving towards a true melting pot, is there a need to make constitutional changes? If so, what are they?
b. Given the rising inequalities and the distress of families subject to economic dislocation, what is the role of government in providing a better social safety net?
c. What can the government do to encourage increased private sector investment in quality of life projects?
d. What are the major infrastructure and economic development projects for the next ten years?

2. A vision for the party:
a. Is the party accountable to its members?
b. Is there a well-defined process to identify, recruit, train candidates?
c. What is the fund-raising mechanism?

3. A vision for each elected member of the party
a. Is there a code of ethics?
b. What are the consequences for violating ethical norms?
c. Do elected party members maintain communication with their constituents?
d. Do they reflect the values of their constituents?

4. A concrete plan to depoliticize important institutions of government, to wit,
a. The police
b. The judiciary
c. The ICAC
d. Parastatal bodies

5. A concrete plan to provide parliamentary oversight on afore-mentioned bodies

6. Mechanisms for impeachment of constitutional officers such as police commissioner, ICAC Director, etc.

If the past is any guide, politicians will try to cobble some or all of these ideas into a hastily drawn document a few days before the election and, once elected, spend months trying to convince people they intend to move forward with their plans, without actually doing so. Case in point: The Freedom of Information Act.

It is time to tell politicians of what we want and get them to tell us when and how they intend to deliver. If not, then they are looking at the certain death of their party.


*  Published in print edition on 29 December 2017

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