Political dead end

The MMM, the PMSD and other opposition parties are now reduced to pull their forces together in a nondescript alliance. The Labour Party remains prisoner of the delusions…

By Mrinal Roy

A well qualified, competent and talented opposition is a key element ofa vibrant democracy. It acts as a counter weight to the government in power and keeps it on its toes through its incisive analysis and constructive criticisms of government policy initiatives andconstant oversight of government actions. It also provides the people with the choice to vote on the basis of overall merit, ability, principles and ideals underpinning its programme for a better socio-economic order, an alternative team and government to run the affairs of the country.

This is the case in the best democracies of the world. This choice is made by the people on the basis of the policies proposed by each party to competently address their concerns, the quality of their leaders and the trust they have in the leaders to deliver on the promises made.

Stark reality

In Mauritius, the stark reality is that the opposition is in shambles. It is patently evidentto all and sundry that the opposition parties led by leaders who have been repeatedly defeated at the polls are unable to connect with the people and rally the multitude to challenge the government and offer a credible choice to the people at the polls.

The MMM, the PMSD and other opposition parties are now reduced to pull their forces together in a nondescript alliance to counter the MSM-MMM dissenters government in power. The scale of the MMM and PMSD decline can be measured by the fact that the MSM was for years claimed by the opposition parties to represent only a paltry 10% of the electorate.

The Labour Party which played a key role in mobilizing the people andthe workers of the sugar industry to fight for freedom from colonial rule and a better socio-economic and political order could have been a catalyst of necessary and salubrious political change in the country. It however remains prisoner of the delusions of its repeatedly disavowed political masters.

No political leader can be more important than the paramount interests of the people and thecountry. His interests cannot supplant those of the people and the country.

Ups and downs

There are obviously ups and downs in the history of political parties in power. Their connect with the people and the trust their leaders enjoy among the people as well as the sovereign will of the people remain the final arbiter of the outcome of elections. This is evident from a survey of the recent political history of the best democracies of the world.

In the United States, the Democrats are back in power after the Trump presidency. In the UK, after some 13 years of Labour governments under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the Tories are in power since 2010. In France, after the heyday of the François Mitterrand era, when he served as President of France from 1981 to 1995 for the longest time in office in the history of France, the Socialist Party (Parti socialiste) has had mixed fortunes under various leaders. At the 2017 French presidential elections, the PS finished 5th and polled a paltry 6.36% of the votes. This change of fortune and fall in popularity are very often related to the persona, values, leadership qualities of the party leader and the policies proposed by the party.

The political landscape is also defined by changing public opinion and the rise of new parties. People are more and more frustrated with the political establishment. People in Europe and various countries are also increasingly more vocal againstimmigration anda dilution of national identity. This has led to the emergence of nationalist parties which obtained high scores in the Europeanparliament and opinion polls in Hungary, Austria, Denmark and Belgium. In France, Eric Zemmour, a right-wing talk-show celebrity who challenges political correctness on subjects such as immigration and national identity is rising in popularity and risks upsetting the apple cart of candidates vying to obtain the centre-right ticket for next year’s French presidential election.

However, in all these democracies, the defeat of a political leader, President or Prime Minister at the polls leads to his prompt replacement by a new leader. A change of leadership is an opportunityfor the party to reinvent itself around a new ethos and broaden its political footprint. A new party leader who upholds democratic values, good governance, transparency, accountability and a commitment of altruistic service to the people and proposes an innovative new socio-economic and political order which rally the multitude can provide a new impetus to the prospects of the party and challenge the incumbent government at the polls.

Far cry

In contrast, the situation in Mauritius is a far cry from these fundamental democratic principles. Trappedin the web of dynastic and clan politics, the country has had two father and son Prime Ministers or only four elected PMs during the 53 years since independence. In comparison there have been ten PMs in the UK from Labour’s Harold Wilson to the currentConservative PM Boris Johnson during the same period. In India, the world’s largest democracy,there have been 12 different Prime Ministers in that period.

To make matters worse, the government has a deeply rooted culture of overbearing control over the government Establishment, state institutions and companies as well as the national TV financed by public funds which is press-ganged for daily partisan propaganda.Nepotism and the appointment of the coterie are the instruments of this control. Control does not mean efficient management. It breeds opacity, appalling governance and costly blunders.

As a result, there is a patent lack of transparency and accountability on every decision which risks showing the government in a bad light. This relates to government spending, costly blunders such as the heavy Betamax payout,emergency procurement tenders, the Safe City project, the state of the investigations into the many scandals involving alleged wrongdoings by government ministers or basic statistics such as the evolution of Covid-19 in the country or the number of tourist arrivals since the opening of our borders, etc.

Government finances are strapped as billions of Rupees have been spent to finance various support measures and bailout funds to distressed private sector companies amid reduced government income in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Government is therefore patently desperate to reboot the economy and in particular the tourism sector given its key importance in the national economy. The country must therefore take every precaution to ensure that the economic recovery of the country is a singular success.The country can no longer afford to make more costly blunders. This key responsibility cannottherefore be assignedto political appointees or the dilettante. It must be entrusted to seasoned and competent professionals with pointed skills and expertise in every field.

Putting people first

Assuring the successful socio-economic recovery of the country also means reviewing and questioning the premises of our economic model assiduously promoted by every government. Its excessive dependence on the tourism industry and high-end real estate activities based on the sale of properties to wealthy foreigners have been exposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a context where the difference in ideology is blurred, it is our value system which becomes an instrument of change. The key question to be asked by aspiring politicians and those who canvass the support of the people at the polls is: How can I improve the quality of life of the common man? How can we stem drug trafficking, improve healthcare, the education system, social welfare, the law-and-order framework, bridge widening inequality, change our economic model or act to mitigate the dire fallouts of climate change, etc., so that they competently address and respond to the fundamental concerns and expectations of people?

The economic recovery of the tourism sector is dependent on an efficiently managed and profitable Air Mauritius. Government has no competence to manage or define the commercial strategies of an airline company. The first government decision regarding Air Mauritius shows that it has not learnt from the lessons of costly past blunders which plumbed the finances of the airline.

At a time when so many experienced professionals of the commercial airline sector have been forced into inactivity, it would be simply daft not to headhunt and entrust the management of the national airline to experienced professionals of the commercial airline sector with a proven track record of achievements. It is equally important that the Board of Air Mauritius also comprises seasoned experts from the airline and tourism sector so as to build potent synergies between an innovative policy framework and commercial imperatives to assure sustained profitability.

What future for the young?

The political situation in the country has never been in a worse state than presently. The country is trapped in a political dead end. There is a legitimate and pervasive apprehension regarding the future of the young. The status quo is therefore untenable. The whole political class stand accused.

* Published in print edition on 15 October 2021

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