A State of Permanent Democratic Deficit

When three Ministers are forced to bolt and be scurried off from a meeting with their constituents, there is definitely something rotten in the Republic

The recent events in the La Butte and Cite Barkly regions have again demonstrated how dysfunctional our democracy has become over the years if not decades. This is even more disheartening in the context of the approaching celebration of the 50th independence anniversary of the country.

It can be said that this is not really the first time that the country faces such a period of turbulence when basic democratic rights seem to become the first victims of an insufferable gap in the communication between the government and the governed. The more cynical among us, especially among those who lived through those traumatic times, will probably opine that there is nothing new with this situation. They would probably compare it with the immediate post-independence period (1969-1976) following the formation of the infamous Labour Party-PMSD coalition government. In those days there were similar allegations of illegitimacy to the extent that the 1967 elections had seen those two parties violently oppose each other.

Voters of both sides, probably even more so among those who had been convinced by the propaganda of the losing side (PMSD) were astounded by such a “revirement” by their erstwhile leaders. The situation became so tense and ultimately ungovernable in the country that a state of emergency was declared whereby the basic rights of the people as enshrined in the Constitution of the country were effectively suspended. The general elections due in 1972 (five years after those of 1967) were postponed and rights of assembly and press freedom severely curtailed.

In this article we argue that the above described events, notwithstanding the present situation of democratic chaos is indeed unprecedented in the short history of our nation since Independence. Whereas the consequences and impact of the present disruptive events and the suspension of political and individual rights associated with the period of the state of emergency referred to above are equally condemnable, the nature of the beasts remain different.

A state of emergency is a legal instrument available to the government for use under certain circumstances and which can sometimes be “justified” as in the case when a country is engaged in war, or can be contestable as in our view when it was earlier used in this country. Marxists consider it as a part of the “repressive arsenal” of the State which uses such instruments for the defence of the prevailing bourgeois order. From whichever angle one looks at it, this legal instrument has a form and its application creates an objective situation which is well understood by opponents as well as proponents.

As we have stated earlier when compared to what is happening in Mauritius these days, the essence of the phenomenon is completely different. We are here dealing with an insidious and corrosive lamination of our democratic institutions and values which can indeed have much worse consequences than the previous episode of state of emergency.

The perception that there is a complete dissonance between the actions and intentions of this government and the sensitivity and mood of the nation seems to define the nature of the governmental regime. Arguably such persistently confrontational differences can totally unbalance the minimum degree of consensus needed between the people and their government for a democracy to function properly. In many mature democracies such situations lead almost naturally to new general elections. The surest way of giving voice back to the people to express their views and clarify matters.

When it comes to the Cite Barkley and La Butte incidents of last week, which revolve around the Metro Express project as proposed by this government, the whole conundrum becomes self-evident. It must be said that the government has a huge handicap when it tries to “sell” its project to the people at large and particularly to those whose life will be completely upset as a result of having to abandon their dwellings as a result of its implementation.

How can one be expected to ignore or forget the fact that the Prime Minister who was elected with a large majority in the last elections was one of the fiercest opponents of the “light railway project” as it was then known? The demagoguery of some of the politicians who were present on the site has further confused the issue and made it very difficult to distinguish between genuine leaseholders who deserve a form of compensation and the “squatters” who are trying to extract undue material benefits from what is basically an “unlawful” occupation of state lands.

The present government was elected on a platform which included its avowed and clear opposition to the project and promised alternative solutions for the traffic problems facing the country. Admittedly the “manifeste électoral” which describes in more or less detailed manner the intentions of the parties contesting for power at a general election is not a legally binding document. It nevertheless constitutes the ONLY document to which a rational voter can make reference to in determining his preference for one or the other candidate or party seeking for his votes.

This column has consistently argued that the “democratic way of life” is about respect for law but certainly not only that. Whenever legalism becomes the preferred hiding place for those who have been democratically elected to work for the interests of the majority, the “democratic process” is clearly being undermined. Trust and credibility are integral part of the democratic process and blatant “lies” and untenable promises their anti-thesis.

When three Ministers including a Deputy Prime Minister, well surrounded by large numbers of armed bodyguards, are forced to bolt and be scurried off from a meeting with their constituents, there is definitely something “rotten in the Republic”. Failure to take notice, or even worse attempts to deny, can only be assimilated to sheer irresponsibility leading to the most worrying consequences. A bon entendeur, salut.

 

  • Published in print edition on 8 September 2017

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