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Political Decay and the Trapped Transition

The responsibility remains on the shoulders of the new generation and their commitment to engage on the road to reconstruction of a new political landscape

-- Rajiv Servansingh

The philosopher Francis Fukuyama has established his fame with his celebration of the triumph of capitalism after the implosion of the Soviet Union which he described as marking the “end of history”. Talking about what he calls America’s political rot, in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, Fukuyama now admits that this “could be as big as the Soviet collapse.”

Fukuyama then goes on to attribute the deplorable political situation in the United States to what he calls “political decay” and defines the latter as “the capture of political power by well-organized interest groups that bend the system to their own interests, at the expense of the broader public interests. A decayed system is also one that cannot fix itself, because those entrenched interests and ways of thinking prevent reforms.”

The systems of government and political organisation in Mauritius and the United States could not be more dissimilar yet there is no doubt that the above description of “political decay” will resonate with probably a majority of people in Mauritius. Political observers would certainly all agree that our political system has clearly suffered from a constant process of rot over the past decades leading to the present state of political shambles and a sense of profound moral decay. The seriousness of the situation is that ALL our traditional political parties have to a greater or lesser extent been tainted by this phenomenon, including those which most vociferously denounce the present state of “corruption” and breakdown of governance.

Arguably the results of the last elections reflected the deep revulsion of the electorate for such a state of affairs and their aspiration for a radical transformation of the governance setup. Unfortunately after two years of the incoming government the general mood in the country is that, if anything, matters have gotten worse especially with regard to the number of scandals involving either members of the government or their close relatives and circles.

Although from an explanatory/academic perspective it could be argued that the process of accelerated rot has been facilitated by the breakdown of institutions and political processes that has characterized the previous regime, this can in no way justify the present inadmissible rot. At the very least, the electorate voted for a promise of “reconstruction” of those institutions which had been battered during decades and not for what is now the predominant perception of an abuse of the institutional vacuum by the new administration. Politicians who are elected on the basis of a mandate should know better than to believe that they can “get away with murder” by pointing out that their opponents had done much worse when in office.

As we have mentioned earlier, the essence of “political decay” is the capture of political power by well-organized interest groups. Probably because of the sheer size of the country and the dynastic-family distortions which has hitherto restricted the choice of the electorate, it is NEPOTISM (the unfair use of power in order to secure jobs or other benefits for your family members or friends) a most pernicious form of special interest which has emerged as the dominant and most toxic agent of decay.

Although this does not mean that the country is not formally democratic (indeed we often rank among the first for our democratic credentials in various surveys carried out by credible international observatories) it does mean that that there is a crisis in representation as some families seem to enjoy a disproportionate weight in the political process leading to undue influence and privilege. This perceptible unfairness and the resulting sense of INEQUALITY are the antithesis of the democratic spirit if not of the letter of democracy.

Apart from nepotism, the other most damaging and dysfunctional consequence of the process of political decay in the country over the past decades has probably been the quasi feudal culture of subservience and intellectual debility which animates groups of sycophants who compete for the favours of their political masters. The local equivalent of what in the United States would be well-organized and determined interest groups for whom “money talks” are the loosely organized obscure interest groups headed by self- appointed leaders. The transactional currency here is not money but their purported “weight” in the determination of voting behaviour among their peers.

Fukuyama also points out what could effectively be the most dramatic outcome of political decay, namely the inability of a decayed system to fix itself because “the entrenched interests and ways of thinking prevent reform.” We leave it to our readers to consider the extent to which this remark is eminently relevant to what we have described above and the sense of frustration and national despondency which it has occasioned. The decade or so of what could be defined as the secular stagnation of economic growth as well as the permeating fear of social decline in the country over those years can be mostly blamed on this process of political decay.

While admittedly other conditions need to be present for a successful break away from the present “middle income trap” and a threat of decline in our living standards, the necessary condition would still hinge on the ability of political leaders to effect a paradigm shift to rid themselves of this old order. This is the only way out of our conundrum if we wish to access the roads of transition to our cherished ambition of a high-income economy.

The recent years have been marked by preoccupation with national decline in the absence of a grand ambition to mobilize the “forces vives” of the nation around a coherent project for the country. Without a new societal alliance and redefined political ambitions it would be near impossible to transcend this sense of gloom and doom.

The ball is partly in the court of our erstwhile political leaders, some of whom will have to show the sort of magnanimity which are expected from real statesmen in times of crisis. Partly the responsibility remains on the shoulders of the new generation and their commitment to engage on the road to reconstruction of a new political landscape.

Rajiv Servansingh

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