Politics: Democracy thrives amid the intrigues
For a small country that presents itself to the world as a stable democracy and safe haven from the volatile African mainland, Mauritius has a surprisingly turbulent and intrigue-ridden political scene.
Their differences tend to have less to do with policy than with personalities, electoral calculus and jockeying for power.
The latest chapter of this opened soon after Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam’s Labour party won the 2010 election and formed a coalition with the Militant Socialist Movement (or MSM), headed by Pravind Jugnauth, who became finance minister and deputy prime minister.
The pairing was short lived. Mr Jugnauth’s party left the coalition barely a year later after a scandal around MedPoint, a hospital the government was acquiring, which ensnared several politicians and civil servants.
In March of this year, Sir Anerood Jugnauth – his father and the holder of the country’s mostly ceremonial presidency – quit too.
Sir Anerood is credited with the Mauritian “economic miracle” when he was prime minister in the 1980s and 1990s and again in 2000-2003.
The ex-president has now set his sights on re-creating the alliance his party had with the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) party, headed by ex-prime minister Paul Bérenger, and wresting power from Mr Ramgoolam.
In a country where ethnic Indians form a majority and mixed-race Creoles are the second-largest group, Mr Bérenger, as a white Franco-Mauritian, could not govern the country without a coalition partner.
That is why he needs Mr Jugnauth’s MSM, which started life by breaking off from the MMM.
While the two parties were initially confident they could oust the prime minister, Labour has held on to its small majority, and succeeded in attracting three opposition MPs to join its ranks.
“It’s mostly sound and light,” one long-time foreign observer of Mauritian politics says. “Bottom line, Mauritius is pretty stable.”
Political plotting is not confined to opposition ranks. Mr Ramgoolam has sought to divide his opponents and tempt Mr Bérenger’s MMM with the prospect of constitutional and electoral reform.
The proposals include moving from a Westminster-style system to a more presidential one, and amendment of the “best loser system”, which strengthens the representation of minority groups in parliament.
Both reforms could, if agreed, favour Mr Bérenger’s party and his position personally. The MMM tends to win nearly half the votes but fall short of an outright majority.
A stronger presidency would give Mr Bérenger and Mr Jugnauth senior two powerful posts to divide between them if they were to win power.
However, thus far, the politicians have failed to reach consensus on the detail of any such reform. Amid all this, the opposition has continued to criticise the government for what it claims is pervasive corruption and cronyism in the ruling camp.
“Since 2005, much has been corrupted, and everything stacked with petits copains – the boys and girls,” says Mr Bérenger. “If it carries on for another one, two or three years, everything will have been corrupted.”
Another opposition spokesman criticises what he claims are politically motivated appointments both in important ministries and at institutions of national economic importance, such as Air Mauritius and Mauritius Telecom, which he says are hampering the economy.
Outside parliament, Mauritians have watched their politicians’ power plays with mixed emotions.
Some worry that the squabbling parties are failing to groom a new cadre of leaders who can guide the country through what are likely to be difficult times for the economy.
“It’s all about Ramgoolam, Jugnauth and Bérenger, says Deepa Bhookhun, a journalist with L’Express, a Mauritian newspaper. “Bérenger is 67, Ramgoolam is 65 and Jugnauth is 82.
“After them, we don’t know what will happen.”
Source: Financial Times
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