The ball is now clearly in the camp of government

Drug Commission Report & Voting Behaviour

Has the publication of the Lam Shang Leen report caused serious damage to government through what has turned out for many observers to be an “own goal”?

The publication of the Lam Shang Leen report on drug trafficking in Mauritius provides a great opportunity for the authorities to start a full-blown operation for ridding the country of this nefarious criminal activity. One must give full credit to the Commission for having made some bold observations and very commendable recommendations which can kick start the process.

Considering the background against which the Commission was appointed, it took much courage for the Commissioners to have so honourably discharged their duties. The Commission has used very extensive procedures to collect and collate a vast amount of information to fulfil its assigned task. Failure to make optimal use of these would surely be tantamount to neglect of duty by those who are now tasked with taking this exercise to its ultimate end – a vast operation for dismantling the known and identified networks of individuals and their acolytes in the public institutions.

There will undoubtedly be criticisms regarding the process as well as the views and recommendations contained in the report, and some of these would probably be justified – human failings being unavoidable under such dire circumstances. Those who feel aggrieved by its contents will surely engage in due process to express their objections. The maturity of our democracy will be judged by how all stakeholders (journalists, politicians and the public at large) accept the validity of these actions and the basic rule of natural justice that every “accused” should be provided with the right of defence.

Having said the above, however, one should be mindful that the enormous amount of information which has been so assiduously collected over such a long time – with tens of witnesses and other “participants” in the drug trafficking “business” having been questioned – should not be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. In this connection, perhaps a bit less of partisanship in the interpretation of events would constitute a more helpful approach in bolstering the efforts to genuinely combat the malignant forces of the drug trafficking mafia. Under the circumstances, politicians would be well advised not to forget who the true enemies are.

Has the publication of the Lam Shang Leen report caused serious damage to government through what for many observers has turned out to be an “own goal”? This follows from the fact that one immediate consequence has been the resignations of one Minister and the government appointed Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly. At first sight the government seems to have been taken aback and caught on the wrong foot following the publication of the report and the subsequent resignations.

Paradoxically, while the advisors of the government and the Prime Minister have very astutely avoided what would have constituted a public relations disaster by (a) making the Commission’s report public, and (b) ensuring that these two office holders resign, they seem to have failed to gainfully use the benefit of advance knowledge of what was to follow, to frame the events in a manner that would at least have maximized damage control. On the other hand, it must be said that the dispersed and sometimes contradictory reactions of the opposition parties have mitigated the extent of damage which could have followed.

What happens from now on and until the next general elections on the drug fighting front is what will determine the real impact of the publication the report? Perceived softness or inaction on behalf of the Government, especially in a context of the persistence of a sense that such illegal activities are on the ascent, could be politically fatal. The ball is now clearly in the camp of government…

* * *

Voting behaviour – The result of a complex mix of conditions

It is a self-evident truth that the Government is banking on accelerated public infrastructure development as a major plank of its coming electoral campaign. The Prime Minister has demonstrated a personal interest and great determination in the realization of the Metro Express project which seemingly will be advertised as a central achievement of his prime ministership.

In addition, the Ministry of Public Infrastructure is busy on several fronts including the works at the entrance of Port Louis as well as the “auto pont” at what is popularly known as the Jumbo-Phoenix roundabout that presently constitutes a major scare for the travelling public.

The question which arises is therefore: do such investments in and the realization of public infrastructure works impress the electorate enough to condition their voting behaviour at the time of general elections?

There is evidently no simple answer to this question. Voting behaviour is the result of a complex mix of conditions existing at the time of the elections and the prevailing “mood of the electorate” at that given time. The lesson that we have all learnt in 2014 is that the mathematical addition of votes purportedly “owned” by different parties is nothing but a chimera.

Philosophers like to portray men as a rational creature, but practice has shown that this is far from reality when it comes to economic and political behaviour. The behaviour of voters in fact is the result of several irrational factors including action from pressure groups in invoking religious and communal factors. The influence of money (in the absence of a legal framework for political party financing) as well as the charisma of leaders also account for a fair share of the determinants of political behaviour. A political campaign is the sum of all those factors plus what paradoxically enough seem to be more marginal concerns about the manifestoes of the contesting parties and in the case of the incumbent government its “realizations” or achievements during its mandate.

Finally, the evolution of the predominantly two-party electoral system (in Mauritius this would include the inevitable alliance blocs) since the end of the Second World War has been marked by a trend that favours what has been described as a presidential system in that the electorate is driven to choose between two leaders to be elected as the Prime Minister. This would therefore tend to increase the weight of factors such as past performance and charisma in the choice of the electorate.

Given recent history, it is our view that the psychological school of voting behaviour is what would come closer to determine the result of the next general elections. In this school, what matters most are party identification, candidate orientation and issue orientation.

To quote from a paper in Public Policy and Administration Research, “by party identification is meant a voter’s psychological attachment to a party. By issue orientation is meant the attitude of a person towards current questions and as to what the government should or should not do. Candidate orientation means the attitude of the voter towards the personal qualities of the candidate.”

* Published in print edition on 10 August 2018

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