Compromise and Alliances

The question remains whether, irrespective of the outcome of the coming by-election in No 18, voters will again be left in the lurch

We stand on the threshold of a by-election in Constituency No 18. We will know by 20th September who all will present themselves for this seat in the Assembly. As matters stand at present, it appears different parties from the opposition will present their own candidates.

In other words, they would like to distinguish themselves from each other. That will possibly show them publicly independently of each other so that, comes the general election of 2019, they will be free to go for it with the maximum autonomy of choice of political platform. It is not that the opposition parties are in any way united on programs, or that they are keen to league together against the government. Stakes are different.

On the other side, the MSM-ML government may not wish to enter into a contest that it might possibly lose, it being given that governments are generally unpopular at mid-term and given also its track record so far. Losing in the by-election would only add to its carrying burden of so many blunders committed during the first two years. It might possibly therefore not take the risk and prefer to overcome shortcomings it has accumulated by realizing something concrete during what remains of its mandate.

It is being countered as much as possible by different forces in its attempt to reconstruct its public image by realizing some significant projects which will visibly make a difference to its track record so far, e.g., the Metro Express project. It does not look like it will cow down in the given circumstances but it remains to be seen whether it will get over the various pressures being raised in different quarters.

Having left it open for opposition parties to have a go at each other in the by-election, the government may even reap the benefits of their confrontations in No 18. Politics is about winning power and holding on to it for as long as possible. If it sticks to this belief, it will not unnecessarily take a risk on the already diminished political capital it enjoys at present. Were its public image to improve sufficiently in the interval to the general election, it might be thinking, that would allow it to get credible new allies for the next elections. Buying time could prove to be a better option for it. It will in all likelihood put a premium on the long term.

In Mauritius, the long term has been one of political alliances getting together, convincing voters that they are the likely winners and thus securing the floating votes of those who actually determine electoral outcomes by swinging at the last minute in favour of that alliance they believe to be the winning side. This formula has been tried as often as possible with permutations of political parties in alliance.

The question arises whether, given this realization by voters, as was expressed in the outcome of the 2014 elections, will it prompt political parties to try a different formula?

Burnt by its alliance with Labour in 2014, the MMM has been trying to win back its traditional voters who abandoned it, by letting it be known publicly that it intends to go it alone for the general election of 2019. Going it alone for the MMM – and hence for Labour and the MSM, residually – and convincing supporters about its ability to win single-handedly at the polls is a tall question for the party. Its past political meanderings and consequent loss of public goodwill have caused deep disaffection among its traditional voters. Although not impossible, it will prove significantly uphill for it to rally them behind it again.

If the MMM fails in this enterprise and has to embrace the classic game of compromise and alliance with another party, that will open up space for a party like the PMSD which was lately nursing a national ambition for itself, given the state of disarray in which its arch-rival, the MMM, has been finding itself in. It is unlikely the PMSD can go it alone at the national level, as matters stand at present.

That leaves the two other arch-rivals, the MSM and Labour, to decide about the political alliance they will join, as between the MMM and the PMSD, for the general election. This is because they’ve been doing it so poorly at individual level that they may not be able to afford the alternative route to secure power, going it alone. Any political party willing to form an alliance with either of these two parties will have to weigh in ethical considerations were court cases facing the leaders to have enduring negative impacts on these two parties. It’s a question that can be settled with the passage of time, not now. So, potential political allies will have to “wait and see”.

After the bitter experiences voters have had with political alliances all and sundry in the past, the question remains whether, irrespective of the outcome of the coming by-election in No 18, they will again be left in the lurch. As matters stand at present, it appears that a repetition of past patterns of political alliances cannot be written off altogether.

 

  • Published in print edition on 8 September 2017

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