Revisiting our Garden of Democracy


By Jan Arden

How often have we not read or heard some variant of this statement from international organisations since the nineties: “Mauritius is proving/has proven to be a stable and viable democracy with a thriving market economy”? And, overall, as the “viable, functional democracy” weathered well the political transitions, abrupt as they were, in 1982, 1995, 2000 and 2005, we and external observers were entitled to believe that, whether under difficult or thriving economic circumstances, our polity, our democratic fabric and values were indeed resilient.

The majority of us may even have taken those values for granted, ignoring the fact that much of this resilience might be due to statesmen figures like Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, Sir Abdool Razack Mohamed, Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo, Sir Gaetan Duval, Sir Satcam Boolell and Paul Berenger, who had developed and honed their democratic values and political stature in the complex and fragile sociological realities of post-independence Mauritius. They were perhaps bolstered by a generation of top civil servants doing their best to serve the general interest, or by a free press keeping them on their toes, and by an apolitical police force and an independent judiciary. Or again by the hegemonic land-owning private sector in making sure the land we share was neither rocked nor derocked, or even by the legitimist and democratic thread in the so-called Hindu belt that perhaps avoided riotings not infrequent in several other multi-ethnic island states.

We will leave the analysis to historians and sociologists, but we might have grown accustomed to the notion that our garden of democracy would not be plagued by uncouth gnomes waiting to destabilise our civilised “way of doing things” or much worse grab away our freedoms, gnaw at our democratic space, harass political opponents, lawyers and media outlets and impose on subservient civil servants, fatly rewarded political lackeys, incompetent nominees and ineffectual institutions, a clannish rule. At least, that’s the glue and narrative that Opposition leaders of the three traditional parties, Navin Ramgoolam, Paul Berenger and Xavier Duval, have evoked to bring them together in a historic platform to oust the MSM regime in power. That the birthing of such a reunion of three different sociological and political sensibilities, each with its own unique history and contributions to Mauritian society and its development, each with its own figureheads, took time was natural and they may still have some fine-tuning to continue doing.

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Credibility issues and the branding of a unified Mauritius

There were certainly credibility issues raised by the MSM loyalists that had to be tackled and most importantly, how the electorate, come end 2024 or earlier, the agents, activists and the general population would buy into the brand of a unified Mauritius. The fact that the MSM clearly had neither the confidence nor the stamina to run the gauntlet in postponed municipal elections (subject of a constitutional challenge), depriving in the process half of the electorate of its democratic rights, may have pushed the three leaders to hold their first public test of a regional congress last Friday right smack in the middle of rural Mare d’Albert. With alternating rural and urban ones for their future mobilisations announced. But the turn-out, tempo and enthusiasm at Mare d’Albert was keenly watched by all observers, political parties and probably some friendly powers, but with some trepidation by the MSM and its own security and information services, for the rural hinterland of constituencies 4-14 and hindu-belt Mauritius was assumed to be their only residual backbone.

That it was held without much fanfare and the briani-rum and beach-bussing of past MSM events, in a localised, difficult to access setting and against attempts, we hear, to derail the gathering through various means, made the regional congress of Friday 28th in these wintry evenings all the more significant as a first test of the tripartite political dispensation led by the LP and Navin Ramgoolam. That it was a remarkable success to the extent that Kohinoor Hall was swamped and a few thousands were treated to giant screens outside, as all YouTube and media coverage testified, was best evidenced by the tremors that shook the Sun Trust and its masterminds, calling for some hasty MSM Comité Central the very next day. After the abandon of the urban electorate, the perspectives of the rural electorate, shaking off the pressures and threats, flocking back to their LP roots and leadership in this tripartite alliance was worrying enough for that response even if matters may be far from settled at this stage.

Indeed, the MSM may feel that it has enough of a narrative in infrastructure around the Metro express for instance and a package of goodies that have been handed out to some socio-economic groups (parents of children to age 3, adolescents attaining age 18) with another budget expected in the pipeline next year, to face this unified Opposition. It can be expected to make the choice of suitable venues difficult. And now that there will be increased vigilance about voting and counting, it will undoubtedly use every other lever at its disposal, including the national broadcaster MBC and its formidable war-chest to avoid a defeat at the next general elections.

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The LP-MMM-PMSD’s Key Value Statement

Transforming that first successful test into a round-the-island mobilisation, with minimal finances, will be the second necessary phase although the population needs to grasp the fundamental tenets of the proposed LP-MMM-PMSD governance. My personal view is that a Key Value Statement (KVS) declined into a set of Key Implementation Measures (KIMs) should establish the horizon, lay out the essential reforms needed and list some of the key measures that would exemplify the Opposition approach to the country’s governance. A Key Value Statement does not require working out the nitty-gritty and minutiae of individual measures, however important these might be for individual sections of the electorate. Human short-term memory extends to some 6 or 7 individual elements and such a Key Value statement should not exceed that grasping ability.

Besides, with the governance shortcomings and failings highlighted by the MSM government, such a KVS should not stretch the agreement capacities of the three traditional parties. Roll-out of this simple conceptual and political framework over the next couple of months would allow the three teams to agree on Key Implementation Measures to be included under each heading, absolving the parties from the distracting task of preparing 200-page manifestos that nobody reads and ends up picking dust on shelves. However, we are well aware that all three parties have their own traditional approach, trusted lieutenants but some consensus would be required on such matters. The chantier of reforms is so wide-ranging that we beg to believe that a bottoms-up approach of ideas and suggestions would not fit the necessities of the times and could be counter-productive without the top-down overall framework.

Apart perhaps from the Office of the DPP and the functionings of the judiciary, it has become quite apparent that most of our institutions badly require reforms to avoid their ever being prey to the subservience of a ruling dispensation. From the police force, the autocratic and dishevelled Parliament, the investigative institutions, the functioning of State-Owned enterprises unanswerable to Parliament, the curtailment of excessive privileges, perks and benefits of polity and the top-notch civil servants are but some of the more meaty reforms awaiting a new government.

These are far from being exhaustive as much-needed economic reforms, including the inordinate powers of the Ministry of Finance, straddling virtually all domains, have not even been mentioned here.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 4 August 2023

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