On December 18, 2017, Mauritians woke up to a new reality. The by-election in Quatre Bornes held the previous day came and went. Many are left pondering. A major victory for Arvin Boolell that puts him back into the front line, a disaster for the opposition parties, and a wake-up call to the new and aspiring politicians. While Labour celebrates the victory, one should not forget the high level of absenteeism. Almost 45% did not vote. Was it a sign of disenchantment or indifference?
There are many observations emerging from this by-election. First, there seems to be little room for the new emerging parties to make a breakthrough in the system that is dominated by the traditional parties and political elites. Many attempted to coax the voters with new ideas and more accountability, they were rejected. Second, the electorate seems to have a preference for individuals with an established political record. The novice was left out. Third, a lot of noise was made to get the young more engaged. In spite of a number of younger candidates seeking election, that did not happen.
It is not unusual for an “opposing” party to win a by-election mid-way in the term. Even if the MSM had chosen to field a candidate, the outcome would have been the same. I don’t think the government should panic. The by-election is not a game changer. The opposition parties are in disarray, unable to challenge the government where it matters. Indeed, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth will consolidate his position in 2018 as a result of the by-election, and Labour will emerge as the main challenger.
Politics and the political behaviour of the electorate are not likely to change quickly. There is an established mindset that dictates how things unfold. One could say that the electorate has a short memory. If people really wanted change, the by-election presented an opportunity to elect new individuals with a different platform. But the electorate chose the status quo. It is not a question of not having a choice as it was claimed in the 2014 general elections. The indication is that Labour will make a comeback.
Another important element of this by-election is that the electorate votes for individuals and not policies. Should there be a change of government in the near future, major policies are unlikely to change. Therefore, one does not anticipate a reversal of policies. I don’t think the metro project or the nine-year schooling, two major initiatives of the current government, impacted on the by-election.
In politics, there are no friends but self-interests and some of the candidates must be pondering why they were left out in the cold. There were alliances and promises, in the end, the electorate delivered a verdict which was predictable. There was a lot of rhetoric during the campaign, but little substance on the real issues that matter. If the metro project was the game-changer, the result certainly does not reflect that. Arvin’s father once noted that politics is dirty, and in Mauritius it is dirtier.
It is discouraging to the new parties which fought with a lot of energy and zeal. But at the end of the day, reality prevailed. The political culture is such that the traditional and established parties are closely linked to sections of the society. In simple terms, the communalism is very much part of that reality. Those who spoke out and presented an alternative platform that would take the nation further, failed to convince the electorate. As the country braces itself to celebrate fifty years of independence, a key question that one asks is, has the political system and the political culture changed in the past five decades. The number 18 by-election showed that little has changed. It is more of the same that people are used to. The household names will continue to dominate the political scene for the decades to come. The political elite that has evolved since independence is firmly established and is not going anywhere yet. Mauritians are not ready for a political revolution that would alter the political landscape. This is the reality.
Dr. Ibrahim Alladin