Parties Version Which.0?

New blood is required, sure, but it must be tempered with wisdom, which is not the forte of youth

An article by Kamal Munir, Associate Professor of Strategy and Policy, Cambridge Judge Business School titled ‘Nawaz Sharif ousted in Pakistan: celebrate, but remember the larger picture’, reproduced in last week’s issue of this paper raises a point which is of interest in our country as well. He rues against ‘an electoral system that only allows the population to choose among different factions of the same rapacious elite every five years.’

Aren’t we in a similar situation here too? In fact, if anything the cans of worms that have been opened have shown that if anything the elite, which comprises both State and non-State actors, has grown even more rapacious. Meanwhile, the population keeps reeling under the onslaught of the rises in the price of the food basket, of the decreasing possibility of access to land or housing at affordable prices because of land grabs by the elite and real estate speculations by their comrades-in-arms for whom they tweak the laws on land taxation and capital gains, and of being forced to pay up for the mistakes, misjudgements and miscalculations of the power elite in the running of public affairs. The latter are responsible but cannot be made accountable in the name of collective responsibility. As the cynic said, ‘everybody is responsible but nobody is accountable.’

So where does this leave us? With empty promises made at election time that the winning party or rather alliance will do politics differently. Not only does this not happen, but the old habits seem to come back with a vengeance, as we have clearly been witnessing. In the case of Pakistan, Kamal Munir points out that the ‘political landscape is littered with corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and army generals. Simply declaring them corrupt does nothing to dent their chances in a system based on patronage.’

And that is why, in the past two decades or so, at the approach of the general elections, the general feeling and popular conversation has been about the need of a troisième force in Mauritian politics. The assumption was that such a third force would be in the form of an entirely new party made up of mainly younger people, as opposed to the aging cohort present in the traditional parties, especially at the leadership level. Such a party, it was expected, would present candidates in all the constituencies as a challenge to the existing parties, thus making a serious bid for capturing political power and, most importantly after doing so, do politics differently.

Is it the manner in which the political parties are financed that prevents the emergence of a genuine, robust third force that will not be bound by patronage concerns? Is the delay in reforming party financing deliberate, so that no alternative can come up to challenge the existing parties? After all, in the name of good governance, they are the ones that have repeated time and again that they will review and reform the financing of political parties. But so far, ‘Anne ma soeur Anne, ne vois-tu rien venir…’

Here we are then, left hanging in doubt about Party 2.0 or 3.0, and have to bide our time for when Party Which.0 will show itself and bring about that radical change promised and that we have been made to wait for.

Ensam Nou Capav, a nascent formation led by Ms Roshni Mooneeram who had no previous political experience, did try to pose as an alternative, but it could not cut any ice with the electorate for long, and has not been heard of since.

Enter the Reform Party launched by ex-Minister, now also ex-MP Roshi Bhadain. Can it morph into that third force that Mauritians are hoping for? Whereas on the plus side is the fact that its leader could claim youthful dynamism and experience as a politician and minister, as well as institutional experience as a lawyer when he was at ICAC, his recent volte-faces have dented his credibility. He is seen as someone who rocked the boat but has left it sinking in a sea of debts that will befall the Mauritian taxpayer. This belies his claim that whatever he has done and is doing is for the good of the country.

Besides, whereas he had hoped that he would get the support of the Opposition as a united bloc in the by-election that he has triggered in Constituency No. 18, standing alone to challenge the Alliance Lepep, this calculation seems now to be misplaced as the Opposition parties will field their own candidates. Another error of judgement that makes his Reform Party become even remoter as a viable option for the electorate. Usually the latter have a short memory when it comes to voting at election time – a fact on which every party banks to win votes – but it will be difficult for people to forget his alleged ‘KGB methods’ of going about. They have not been appreciated for their intrusiveness and brutality. There is also the fact that practically all the people who had been charged in the law courts after these investigative methods were used have not been found guilty of these charges.

Before attempting to reform Mauritius, therefore, there is a big uphill task of self-reform to be carried out, a personal mea culpa if not a sincere public one. New blood is required, sure, but it must be tempered with wisdom, which is not the forte of youth. Wisely it has been said, ‘si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait’.

Tragically, this sends us back to the traditional parties where leadership issues – particularly the process of designating a leader or of succession planning — are preventing their revamping as genuine forces for transforming the country. Any party that has the ambition to transform the polity will have to find the right balance so that strength and dynamism can be channeled in the right direction, based on a larger vision that encompasses more than just the political dimension. Which is the party that can show, and lead, the way to the promised land?

 

* Published in print edition on 11 August 2017

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