KELVIN SUDDASON

Krwar, Mauritian Kreol for ‘believe’, was Oliver Thomas’ campaign slogan as an independent candidate at the November 2019 General Elections. The political maverick wanted us to believe in the power of grassroots politics, enough to vote for an independent in Constituency No. 20. Beau Bassin-Petite Rivière.

Thomas’ campaign, largely present on Facebook, was centred around persuading voters (especially young voters) that a new type of political representation was possible. A mode of representation founded on authentic, bottom-up and constant exchange between voters and elected representative. This was a monumental challenge but his political stance was well-received, perhaps even to the surprise of many. Thomas managed to convince (some) Mauritians to believe in his political objective. He ran a largely commented and successful Facebook campaign parallel to his door-to-door campaign in Constituency No. 20. He ended up ranking 11th, winning 3890 votes, representing 12% of ballots cast (Electoral Commissioner’s Office – Detailed Results By Constituency). Despite the low plebiscite on November 7, 2019, Thomas has managed to continue giving hope to many. His #Krwar motto really seems to have struck a chord. At least until last week…

In a surprise move on August 4, Thomas announces via a Facebook video that he has big news: he is joining a mainstream political party, leaving his followers with a cliffhanger-style teaser, confessing that he would soon reveal whether he was joining the Labour Party or the MSM. In a full-page interview on August 9, Thomas announces that is joining “le MSM parce qu’il m’a démontré qu’il pouvait être un parti de proximité”.

Notwithstanding the flux of negative responses on his video on August 4, the interview is published five days later and shared on Facebook, largely by the youth, and Oliver Thomas rapidly becomes a meme. Irrespective of the different types of responses, the backlash is clear: number of his followers have lost hope in his political argument, and now choose to #PaKrwar.

In his full-page interview to 5-Plus, he says “que les autres me critiquent est tout à fait normal. C’est une revendication de leurs émotions. Je leur dirais de ne pas voir uniquement le côté critique et s’arrêter là. D’être ouvert à la personne et de l’écouter expliquer pour elle fait cela.”

I am one of those who have lost hope. And like many of those who now choose to #PaKrwar, our criticism is not an expression of our emotions. Not that emotions are not valid arguments in political persuasion – he should know for running a political campaign on one of the strongest rhetorical devices, pathos (the use of emotions), by centering his entire political argument around hope.

To pre-empt being referred to as an emotional (thus implied non-rational) political commentator, I paid heed to Thomas’ invitation and really tried to hear the argument motivating him to join the MSM. His argument can be summed up as follows:

1.His constituency cannot remain unrepresented in government

2.Without being in Parliament, he cannot help his constituents

3.Thus, he must join government to ensure adequate representation of his constituency

In rhetoric (the study of persuasion), this is called a syllogism, a sequence of two premises that leads to a conclusion through deductive reasoning. While the argument is somewhat argumentatively logical, it is nonetheless fallacious. Here is why:

His constituency cannot remain unrepresented in government

He a) has no constituency to represent simply because he was not elected and b) cannot reasonably argue to speak on behalf of the electorate of Constituency No. 20. His 3890 votes represent only 8.7% of the 44,504-voter electorate in Beau Bassin-Petite Rivière. In fact, the Beau Bassin-Petite Rivière electorate is very much represented in Parliament, notably through their three elected MPs. The fact that all 3 are opposition MPs does not equate to no political representation at the level of the state. Perhaps amongst the many things he says he has yet to learn is also to understand how political representation works in our parliamentary system.

Without being in Parliament, he cannot help his constituents

He can help the constituency of Beau Bassin-Petite Rivière and his supporters by acting as an extra-Parliamentary force, using to his advantage his commendable social media communication skills to draw attention when and where it must be drawn, as he had been doing so far.

Thus, he must join government to ensure adequate representation of his constituency

Notwithstanding the fact that he has no electoral constituency to represent, political representation does not materialize only through a seat in Parliament – there are numerous ways to effect political change that do not require an electoral mandate. Moreover, even an opposition seat allows for political representation in the traditional sense so the argument of joining the governing party rather than an opposition party does not hold.

Riddled with contradictions

So far, I have tried to understand his justification for joining the MSM and kept emotions out of it. Let me proceed to argue why Thomas should not perceive criticism from his followers as mere claims of emotions. Our collective deception, albeit expressed as an emotional argument of distrust, is very much rooted in one simple, rational and reasonable argument: Oliver Thomas’ political rhetoric is now riddled with contradictions. And contradictions instill distrust.

Contradiction 1: He opens the interview with the claim that “dans ma carrière politique, je dois avancer et pas forcément pour ma carrière politique. Il y a 3890 personnes qui ont voté pour moi.” At the sixth question, he says “Je suis rassuré et ferme sur ma position. It’s the best move for me.” Whose interests are really at stake here, we ask.

Contradiction 2: Responding to the third interview question, Thomas says “moi, je reste présent sur le terrain no matter what, ce sont juste mes affiliations qui seront gouvernementales.” Given the current political context, it is reasonable to argue that one can either be connected to the people of Mauritius or show reverence to the government. Does Thomas need a reminder that the Alliance Morisien only received a mere 37% of the votes cast? Take away the vote banks of the ML, Plateforme Militante and Mouvement Alan Ganoo, take into account the level of voter abstention and one must soon realise the approximate level of representativity of the MSM as a parti de proximité.

Contradiction 3: His whole political language has dramatically changed, from political ideology to political strategy. In his interview, Thomas now talks about institutional “leviers de pouvoir”, “calculé toutes les options possibles”,emmener un représentant en plus au Parlement”, “cela se jouait donc entre le MSM et le PTr”, “un peu plus de chance de m’épanouir dans ce parti [MSM]”, and being “à 95% sûr de ne pas participer aux municipales” because “il est plus facile pour moi d’agir en dehors pour l’instant au niveau municipal afin de pouvoir ensuite construire au niveau national en 2024.” Even though he mentions that his long-term objective is to influence decision-making towards a greener socialist-democrat political agenda, his immediate concerns seem truly rooted in political strategy, making choices based on political probabilities, with ideological concerns taking a worrying back seat.

These contradictions (amongst a few others) provide ample basis for a rational response from his followers. Their criticisms are not mere expression of emotions. They are rational arguments using emotions (of distrust mainly) to convey an informed response on the basis of his claims and contradictions. Today, more than ever before, political dissent from citizens cannot be reduced to a “revendication de leurs émotions”; such arguments conjure a worrying déjà-vu. Thomas, who ambitions to become a politician in Parliament, has perhaps already achieved his objective of becoming a politician. Just like the rest of them. In that, I #Krwar.