How Political Parties Have Failed Voters

Whereas in France, Emmanuel Macron has emerged as a potential capable saviour from the impending disaster of putting the reins of government into untutored hands, do we, in our case, have a sincere and competent personality who could take the country off the risk of disruptive failure?

The first round of the French presidential elections played out last Sunday. The results show that the extreme right wing nationalist candidate, Marine Le Pen, has emerged as the runner-up against Emmanuel Macron, who has just created his own political party for the occasion. It is after the second round to be held on 7th May that we will know for certain who of the two will be President of France over the next term.

What is striking however is that none of the classic French Socialist Party and the traditional right wing Republican Party has made it to the two top positions. Given the wave of nationalism currently spreading across the West, one would have expected Marine Le Pen to emerge strongly in the polls, which is what has happened. By pulling Emmanuel Macron to the top, despite the fact that his party is not one of the classical strong parties of France, being a new-born for the occasion, voters have shown scant regard for the erstwhile established political parties.

The question that arises in this context is whether the political parties as of old in Mauritius, notably, Labour, the PMSD and the MMM, haven’t also been eroding the strong goodwill on which they thrived in the past.

In our case, the ultimate show of force at election time has been between the two most powerful political forces confronting each other. In the 1967 elections, the fight was between the PMSD, on the one side, and Labour and its pro-independence allies, on the other. The pro-independence alliance was the winner. But the PMSD captured 44% of the votes cast, in a strong showing at the elections. Voters were thus divided between Labour and the PMSD on the two sides of the political spectrum.

But when Sir Gaetan Duval decided two years later, in 1969, to form an alliance of his party, the PMSD, with Labour, the dividing line disappeared abruptly. PMSD supporters in their large numbers repudiated the Labour-PMSD alliance. They, together with a dissident wing of the party, felt that this new alliance had betrayed the cause for which the party had stood in the elections and before.

Even though the party formed by PMSD dissidents did not do well in the subsequent elections, the PMSD was thereafter reduced to a mere shadow of what it had been in the 1967 elections. Most of its erstwhile supporters shifted allegiance to the nascent party, the MMM. It is in this context that the MMM emerged as the main contender for power against Labour, as one of the two surviving classical parties of Mauritius.

Not satisfied with the management of Labour by its establishment, a dissident group, the PSM, emerged from the ranks of Labour. It didn’t take long for the MMM to forge an alliance with the dissident PSM group and run for the general elections against Labour in 1982. This, along with worsening economic conditions, helped the MMM-PSM alliance inflict a crushing defeat on Labour in the 1982 elections.

The MMM thus emerged as the strongest political party of Mauritius. Not for long. Internal rifts led to the dissolution of the MMM-led government of 1982, to be replaced by an MSM-Labour-PMSD government in the elections of the following year, 1983. The MSM party took form as a dissident splinter group from the MMM.

The MMM met with the same fate as the PMSD, albeit in smaller doses. Thus it had its own crop of split-aways: Lalit, MMMSP, RMM… This was carried forward in the wake of its opportunistic 2014 electoral alliance with its former arch-rival, Labour: there was the pre-electoral split of the party with the birth of Mouvement Liberater (ML); it also saw a post-electoral split with the Mouvement Patriotique (MP) of Alan Ganoo and others going their separate way. The MMM has thus become unrecognizable from its original form.

As in France of late and in other parts of the world, our classic political parties have kept losing steam. The leadership of political parties have pursued their own private pursuits to secure power and the gains from holding on to power, with artificial constructs of coalitions, as necessary, from time to time, without bothering too much about delivering on the broader agenda facing the country. Their numerous breakups and resurgence as disruptive alliances shows that they have prioritized their political survival at the cost of everything else.

Are voters awakening up to the games being played by classic political parties? Brexit and the election of Donald Trump show that this might be so. For the time being, last Sunday’s first round of the French presidential elections shows that there is an element of relief from the fear that the right wing nationalist wave would also sweep in France and thus usher in a potential breakup of Europe. We’ll have to see whether Emmanuel Macron will carry the necessary conviction vis-à-vis voters which Hillary Clinton failed to do in the US.

Mauritius is not caught up in as strong a wave of protest against social injustice as that which has visited the developed countries during the past decade. The last general elections showed voters express clearly their repudiation of classic re-composition of political parties in a bid to secure power. Those they voted to power in replacement of the old guard have been doing no better, unfortunately.

This situation may give rise to another explosion of protest. France appears to have averted slightly the exaggerations and disruptive politics to which the UK, for example, has exposed itself since June 2016 due to political under-management. In the case of Mauritius, old political leaders have, in a similar manner, been losing their credibility. Whereas in France, Emmanuel Macron has emerged as a potential capable saviour from the impending disaster of putting the reins of government into untutored hands, do we, in our case, have a sincere and competent personality who could take the country off the risk of disruptive failure?

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