Earlier this month, the Mauritius National Assembly orchestrated the third edition of its youth mock parliament. Following a rather questionable selection process, 76 participants, aged between 14 and 23 years old, were picked out to act like our Honourable Members of Parliament for 2 days.
At first blush, looking at the National Youth Parliament’s website, its main objective appears to be: “for young citizens to be provided with a platform to discuss issues of national and international importance in a parliamentary setting with a view to strengthening democracy”. The term “democracy”, from the Greek words dēmos ‘the people’ and -kratia ‘power, rule’, fundamentally alludes to the concept that the people have the authority to deliberate and decide legislation, or, in the local context, that they elect a parliament to do so within the frame of a Westminster system of government.
Essentially, the grounds on which an individual would be allocated a seat in the National Assembly Chamber ultimately depend on the people. However, in the last 3 editions of the National Youth Parliament, participants were picked through an enigmatic selection process – this, in my view, defies the very premise of a representative democracy and what it entails. Of course, it would be absurd to have free and fair general elections for the sake of preserving objectivity in a youth parliament. The bare minimum, however, would be to have a reasonable degree of transparency in regard to the criteria of selection, the selection committee and its modus operandi (if there is one), and those responsible for setting the said criteria. If you ask me, this is cause for concern – are the principles of meritocracy adhered to in this situation, were participants selected only by virtue of their political or parliamentary calibre; were other metrics also considered? Naturally, I have no definitive response to those questions and do not possess the grounds to discredit or pass judgement on the individuals who eventually made it to the NYP, but it is quite ironic that laureates; the supposed future intelligentsia, were recently urged to return to Mauritius, and “give back” to a country where the credibility of meritocracy and democracy is perpetually challenged.
The dictionary definition of the word “apolitical” is “not interested or involved in politics”, and according to the NYP’s web page, one of their demands is for participants “to understand that the National Youth Parliament is apolitical.” There exists an obvious fallacy in this statement; a parliament, even if it is a model parliament, intrinsically deals with the public affairs of the country. In other words, an “apolitical parliament” should not be called a parliament, but rather a platform for discussions and whatnot, as you would normally have in a General Paper classroom, the only difference here is that those arguments take place at the chamber of the National Assembly. As a matter of fact, that is exactly how the National Youth Parliament is described on their website: “A platform for the youth to debate on issues of national and international importance in a parliamentary setup.” To be honest, I find it ridiculous to call the NYP a “parliament”.
The NYP could be an “apolitical” programme, in the sense that it does not have an affiliation to a certain party – this should not require an explanation, given that the programme is held by the legislative branch, which in itself is not a political entity. The ambiguity around what “apolitical” means in this context does give rise to some questions though; does the selection process take into account the applicant’s apparent political affiliation or their divergence from specific, perhaps mainstream ideologies? It would be highly undemocratic, almost authoritarian, if this were to be the case. I staunchly believe that engaging in any conversation about “national and international issues” is political, considering that policy change, financial control, or whatever it may be, is directly connected to and can solely be pragmatically amended via politics. As I see it, this idea cannot be overlooked and should cardinally be inculcated in the minds of young people, who appear to be justifiably nauseated by the current state of politics – if not, there will be no room for ideological conviction in the future political arena.
My former duty as Youth Ambassador was to speak for and closely collaborate with the youth. Given my portfolio in education, which is particularly pertinent to young people, this had been pointed out to the National Assembly staff by another Youth Ambassador.
As a person who is politically active and wants a better political representation of young people, I lodged an application for the youth discussion platform; the following verbatim extract from my submission further elaborates my motivations, which could be described as contentious:
“Patriotism; love for the Mauritian people, for nature and for humans. I believe that by virtue of its influence over everything and everyone, any social matter can be addressed, but most importantly, settled using politics – within a democratic framework, of course. From my personal standpoint, active involvement in politics, in any way whatsoever, is essential to being a responsible citizen… I find that the NYP fosters my very own and young people’s need to have their voices heard, in an official and formal setting. Unfamiliarity with the historical, cultural and political facets of our island’s evolution has prompted a certain sentiment of “laisser-aller” towards young people’s identity as Mauritians, and their potential to make a difference. This, in my view, is a threat to a functioning democracy and should be approached by having a better representation of the younger generation in the political world.
I received no response whatsoever, not even a letter of rejection – given that we are talking about the central institution of our democratic state. It is honestly frustrating that the most basic etiquette is not respected. On investigating the matter, I was met with much nonchalance from Parliament officials to provide some sort of sensible explanation; after my inquiries questioning the ambiguousness of the process of selection, I was told the following by a Management Support Officer:
« Mo pa kapav dir ou bann kriter la…se bann sef la ki desid sa…non mo pa kapav dir ou kisannla fer seleksyon la…mo pou pran ransegnman ek bann dimoun konserne e fer ou kone si ou finn selekte. »
As you can probably tell, the officer in question never got back to me; to this day, I still have no idea who the above-mentioned “sef” and “dimoun konserne” are. As if things were not disconcerting enough, the case only gets more confounding from here; as the training sessions for the NYP began, it came to my attention, as reported to me by someone who was involved in the National Youth Parliament, that a high ranking official allegedly implied that I, as well as another Youth Ambassador, would have been formally reported to a certain Ministry if we did not put a halt to our investigation (the latter did not specify which Ministry he would have approached – I assume that the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Recreation would have been involved since the National Youth Ambassadors Programme acts under its aegis), on the grounds that we had no right to question or enquire about the selection process within our capacity as National Youth Ambassadors.
Since then, I have resigned from said position, on account of the programme’s apoliticism and immoderate restraint and control over what can be said and done as a Youth Ambassador. As already established, the transparency behind the dynamics of the said selection process is almost non-existent, and from my understanding, cannot be further brought into question – I should not even elaborate on how dystopian this seems to be; should we blindly have faith in the Parliament Office and not dare to doubt it as if it were divine? Does the office in question work in mysterious ways? Are their ways higher than our ways and their thoughts higher than our thoughts? As it happens, this scenario reminds me of the novel 1984, by George Orwell, hence, I wonder if there is indeed a Big Brother at the bottom of this or if the latter served as an inspiration. Anyhow, after having gotten in touch with an actual Member of Parliament, I have been informed that some parliamentarians will be looking into the matter.
A few of “the national and international issues” put forward in the NYP via the Order Papers include;
- Urgent and efficient actions be taken by the Republic of Mauritius at national and international levels to combat climate change and its devastating impacts
- Practical and comprehensive strategies to be implemented to empower a multi stakeholders’ approach in harnessing the power of renewable energy from rhetoric to action such as to accelerate sustainable development in Mauritius.
Needless to say, the above holds significant importance, surely, some more than others. Regardless, if the Youth Parliament really is about young people, as it claims to be, the obvious thing to do would be to grant them the freedom of choosing relevant topics of discussion themselves. Having said that, this is not the case at all – instead, the themes are entirely cherry-picked by the organiser and imposed as “national and international issues”. These subject matters strike me as being particularly anodyne, mainstream and manageable, but what about more controversial topics, which might be more pertinent to the youth? – some issues which I believe should be addressed are brought up below;
- The complications associated with an academically-oriented educational system, the laureate scheme in particular, and what amendments should be made to foster a holistic approach to learning;
- Concrete and practical measures to be taken with respect to climate change and viewed from the perspective of political ecology;
- The repressive and oppressive nature of actual drug policies and reforms thereof, reviewing the Dangerous Drugs Act and having a focus on human rights and public health
- The rights and emancipation of marginalised groups; disabled persons, the LGBTQ+ community and people who identify as women (which is particularly relevant this year, since the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Leader of the Opposition, Chief Whip and Opposition Whip were all men in the youth discussion platform – to put things into perspective, 3 of the 7 positions cited were occupied by women in the 2nd edition of the programme, in 2019)
- The communalist aspect of the electoral and best-loser system – what alternatives can be implemented to address this situation?
At this rate, the National Youth Parliament has very little to do with being parliamentary, democratic and even less a programme to represent young people in the political world, in fact, it seems like a reflection, a replica of the actual National Assembly of Mauritius; a show of eloquence, fabricated accents and dramatic ad-hominem attacks.