Expectations from the by-election at Quatre-Bornes

If the young new candidates with forward-looking ideas live up to their promises, perhaps the new dawn we are all hoping for may yet come to be

When we look at what is happening in established democracies around the world — the supposedly model ones such as USA, UK, France, Germany, Spain, India, Japan, as well as our own country Mauritius – we cannot but agree with what the British statesman and politician Winston Churchill is quoted as having said about it on November 11, 1947: ‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…’

Indeed, what seems to prevail in many democracies are ‘sin and woe’ which surface within weeks of any new regime taking over, exposing the dirt of the previous one – until its own skeletons are made to tumble out of the cupboard when in its turn it is replaced by a clear enough margin or squarely swept off by the party or alliance it earlier defeated. Which confirms that democracy is neither perfect nor all-wise, as Churchill concedes. In fact, how can it be so? For it all boils down to us, imperfect human beings with all our foibles and whims, as the ones who run the show, which is therefore bound to be influenced for the better or the worse by these imperfections. Which makes us as spectators exclaim when the dirty scandals are exposed in public view: what a show!

When the financial crisis of 2008 took the world by storm, the greatest experts after innumerable analyses came to the conclusion that there was a single overriding cause: human greed. It landed many prominent corporate bosses and bankers in prison, and afterwards new rules and regulations were scripted and legislations passed to deal with the… imperfections in the system that had led to the fall. And yet, and yet, scandals continue to erupt, and all are premised on human greed and lustful desires.

In the country that is considered to be the most mature democracy in the world – it boasts itself to be so –, the USA, the bugs that are crawling out of the woodwork following the election of Donald Trump as president are only getting bigger by the day, and they involve not only members of the present Republican government but – no surprise – current and former democrats as well, not sparing anyone however previously high or mighty, including President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary. Even the philanthropic entity Clinton Global Initiative has been charged with irregularities. As if these were not enough, revelations about sexual harassment scandals in all fields of activity – the cinema world (where it was first exposed involving movie mogul Harvey Weinstein) and fashion, the world of finance, the IT industry not sparing Silicon Valley, corporates, banks, the media, etc.

And when we come to the local scene, we are faring no better. No need to repeat what is already known what with many prominent public figures having had to step down, and the revelations that are coming up at the Lam Shang Leen Commission on drugs which make us shudder for our country and its future, in particular that of the current and forthcoming generations. In all legitimacy, they expect the fulfillment of their even modest ambitions of availability of jobs that suit their competencies, of decent and affordable housing, efficient healthcare, sound education, and provision for social living in a safe and clean environment sustainable over time.

No doubt the candidates standing in the by-election will make the usual pledges, and Churchill’s observation notwithstanding, there is no gainsaying that there are some fundamentals that define a proper democracy which all aspiring politicians advocate loudly and promise to defend. Most importantly are abidance by the rule of law, equity and social justice. And yet we know, for we keep seeing, that these are the very first victims of our flawed democratic system. Because, once they are elected, politicians become populists and succumb to political correctness, and that is when the rot sets in.

Can things be done differently? I believe that this is possible. My only ever direct participation in politics was when I took part in the campaign for the by-election at Riviere du Rempart in November-December 2003 after Sir Anerood Jugnauth had stepped down as Prime Minister. I accompanied Dr Rihun Hawoldar, Member of Parliament, for the first three weeks approximately at Piton-l’Esperance, and then was asked to shift to Barlow village to give a hand to Mr Jeelall for about ten days until election day on December 22 if I remember correctly.

It was a very revealing experience indeed. I found people who still had genuine basic needs that needed to be addressed in a systemic way, that is, by using politics as the instrument for change within the – imperfect though it is – democratic framework in respect of the fundamentals I have alluded to above and based on principles deriving therefrom.

In 2006, when I was appointed to a position I had never asked for – Chief Medical Officer (subsequently Director General Health Services) -, I was finger-pointed as being a ‘political nominee’. But I never bothered with this. For me there was a job to be done, a continuation of my professional work. The difference from my work as a clinician in my position as CMO was that I had to factor in the political dimension – that is, view things in a larger national perspective – while making sure that the technical and ethical principles underlying the practice of medicine and the delivery of healthcare at all times guided the decision-making process.

For this, I learnt that I was criticized at times because I was not ‘cooperating’ – that is, not giving in to poltical pressure. But I was adamant on the principles: however, I did allow a certain flexibility to come into decision-making that allowed for smoothing over some difficult situations. It was always with the larger interest of the patients and the public at large, and especially keeping in mind future generations –, and this is what made the process different from tweaking the system, which is usually done for personal advantage.

That is why I am convinced that if one is sincere and acts professionally, things can be done differently, even by the politician. Unfortunately, ‘sincere politician’ sounds like an oxymoron – until someone comes along and proves the contrary. There are a couple of young new candidates with forward-looking ideas who are taking part in this by-election, and if they live up to their promises and pledges, perhaps the new dawn we are all hoping for may yet come to be. But we will have to wait, isn’t it, until after they are elected to see how they go about sorting out the problems of that constituency befoe, in due course, they scale up to national level. To be fair, perhaps they must be given the chance, so let us see what the result is to begin with.

On the other hand, a number of opinions have been expressed to the effect that this election will send a strong signal about the outcome of the next general election due in 2019. Bookmakers have given a high score to seasoned politician Arvin Boolell, who has in a recent past asserted his legitimate aspiration to prime ministership. Should he be elected, his position will no doubt be strengthened for this call when the time comes. We had campaigned briefly together at Barlow in December 2003. Whatever the result of the Quatre Bornes contest, I would like to remind him and other Labour leaders of the pledge they took vis-à-vis the inhabitants of Panchavati during our campaigning in 2003. And that Panchavati is still at status quo.

When will the deprived people of Panchavati get their due?

 

* Published in print edition on 1 December 2017

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