Politics and Meaningful Statesmanship

The fundamental question being asked on all sides is whether orderliness will emerge out of the growing widespread dis-order. And, if so, by which means?

By Murli Dhar

It is not only in Mauritius. It’s a phenomenon that is hitting even the socially best performing countries of the world, notably even the very well governed Scandinavian countries. About half the population in very many countries are unhappy with the way politics is being done. This phenomenon is affecting nearly all countries, rich and poor.

This is what explains why some 40% of Mauritian voters haven’t made up their minds on the relevance of the political class. We won’t be surprised if such numbers increased over time, given the prevailing parlous state of politics on both sides.

It’s the reason why many citizens in different countries across the world are up in arms against their governments. The unhappiness springs, in some of the cases, with the emergence of challenging day-to-day adjustment issues touching upon job security, inability to meet basic bills pertaining to rent, water, electricity or the servicing of debts incurred – all of which made worse with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. In other cases, there’s growing mistrust in the ability of the state to balance the social equation, given that the elite goes on squeezing living standards out of those lower down by all (market) means available.

The fundamental question being asked on all sides is whether orderliness will emerge out of the growing widespread dis-order. And, if so, by which means? Or, will the disequilibrium stretch on to breaking point, with incongruous leaders emerging, unable to find a satisfactory answer to the problems which have cropped up all round? If so, that could eventually end up in a large scale war.

The dysfunction in Mauritius

Politics is about earnest decision-making. Good decisions improve the orientation of society and the economy. Bad politics keeps tinkering at the edges to a point of no return in the social and economic fabric.

Consider the impact of the way of doing politics in Mauritius, which is a multi-cultural society. It is therefore important to operate a harmonious framework to take advantage of a unified structure. However, right from the beginning, a model of communal confrontation was adopted as the way forward for local politics. Strident appeals to separateness of cultural identities was brought forth as the foremost factor on which the campaign for independence was fought way back in 1967.

Fifty-three years later, it may have become dormant but it appears ready to pounce, only waiting to be awakened. The principal vehicle through which it is being carried forward is through politics. It may have helped politicians to get people to rally around them over decades.

The communal segmentation which was centred on opposing minority versus majority communities at the time of independence “progressed” to other perverse forms since then. Election after election thereafter, sub-groups from within the population became the focus of the power game, resulting in sub-sub-divisions.

Given this, the focus of politics was no longer on getting the best outcomes for the country. What mattered more was drawing the “correct” representation from this sub-divided pool, with power of selection of candidates concentrated on party leaders.

Identity politics took centre stage. Other national issues, such as strengthening public institutions and increasing our economic scope were also looked into but as subsidiary concerns. Meritocracy was quite often baffled in the name of identity politics. It became primordial to meet the demands of distinct lobbies which wanted to grab key positions.

The pursuit of identity politics in Mauritius, focussing on distinct communities, castes and related affiliations, made the country weaker than necessary. Not only the best candidates to elections were not picked up according to their sharper embrace of public and international issues.

The power and influence of all manner of lobbies and incompetents on politics ended up affecting the delivery of certain public institutions, forcing politicians to increase the space of non-meritocracy. Some already in command in the public domain fought tooth and nail to maintain themselves despite their shortcomings. Things like this would go against otherwise sound and painful decisions for the long term good of the country. Pandering to specific “vote-banks” in a bid to secure power acted to distort efficient decision-making at the cost of the country.

It goes to our credit that, despite this dysfunctional divisive model, our successive governments did not fail us totally. Pressured by an educated citizenship, successive governments were led into taking some initiatives from time to time for the good of the country as a whole. Mauritius did not therefore sink the way certain other countries did into abject dictatorships, swayed by ethnic lobbies. Our institutional structure was able to withstand unwarranted political interferences.

After bankrupting the goodwill they had earned in the previous election, however, our governments were forced at times to concoct diverse coalitions to stick to power. This diluted whatever force of conviction the original politicians had in a personal sense of values or standing up for a sense of values for the country as a whole. A widespread culture of perpetual defection undermined whatever little ideological grounding or true statesmanship remained.

Breaking away from a model to nowhere

It is obvious that Mauritius will not make much headway if this chaotic system of divisive decision-making continued, pitching one set of people against the other or putting private interests “first”. Problems will not be solved at the root. New governments will keep overturning “bad” decisions taken by their predecessors. We might make some progress, but it won’t be the lasting solution or direction for the country.

Citizens in their majority have shown that they will endorse rational decisions taken for the good of all. This will happen the more the better we reconstitute statesmanship on a wider sociological base which makes sense of how people live and will be governed, how they earn their living, what are the prospects in the making for them and how the fruits of progress will be shared among all, indiscriminately.

That will cause politicians to shift from the classic divisive model to a larger role in keeping with the changing world: one in which they will adopt performing policies to the benefit of all, and be accountable for their actions to the people at large.

* Published in print edition on 22 October 2021

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