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Elections II: Dangers of the Ramgoolam-Bérenger “2nd Republic”


According to the written Agreement between Ramgoolam and Bérenger, they intend to institute, should they be elected with a three-quarter majority in the coming elections, a “2nd Republic”. There are three key things that will demand a very strong opposition both inside Parliament, which is why LALIT is standing as an Opposition, and outside, which we are already doing:

1. A looming authoritarian, if not totalitarian, Government that intends to impose the will of the capitalist class and the IMF, both of whom openly call for this kind of “strong government”, in order to force unpopular measures on to the working people. They intend to go ahead with privatization and austerity measures. Preparing for this, even the Labour-MMM demagogy has changed. On three occasions, Navin Ramgoolam refers to the MMM and Labour as both being “social democrat” parties, thus accurately placing them in the old PMSD’s spot on the spectrum. Even the socialist verbiage is thus buried.

2. An electoral reform that prolongs the Best Loser System by maintaining the communal logic in the electoral system, whereby they plan for party leaders to nominate some MPs on communal grounds.

3. A constitutional amendment that intends to transform the present democratic system from a Parliamentary system to a semi-Presidential one, in the context of what they call a “Second Republic”.

It is perhaps this third point, the Second Republic that represents the worst dangers. And it is as though the people of Mauritius, in their wisdom, already know it. It is not surprising that Navin Ramgoolam did not breathe one word about the Second Republic in his long speech at their 12 October Public Meeting. Even Bérenger was very peremptory in his references, making out that the 2nd Republic was somehow in the interests of “national unity”.

Much of the debate so far on the 2nd Republic has been over power-sharing between Ramgoolam and Bérenger, i.e. between the putative future President and putative future Prime Minister. Which head will be the more powerful political of the proposed two-headed monster? Whereas the real problem is what effect the change they are proposing will have on the degree of democratic control that the people will have over those in power. What democratic control will people have over a future President with power, over the Prime Minister? A President elected, as they propose by universal suffrage for 7 years, and with new strong powers, will not be accountable to anyone. That’s the truth of the matter. Even Parliament will have no control over him. He will have the power to preside over the Cabinet, address Parliament at will, and if ever he does not get his own way, he can just dissolve Parliament, and stay in power himself in the meantime. In the present system, with all its shortfalls, the Prime Minister is constantly summoned to explain his decisions and his actions before Parliament.

When Bérenger tries to defend their proposed 2nd Republic, he often claims, as he did in the Public Meeting that it will consolidate national unity, and we know very well what he means. He means that the new Republic will ensure “a communal balance”. This means that any political or economic conflicts in the country, and under capitalism they are by definition constant, will immediately produce communal polarization as people are gathered around the two separate seats of power. It is a nightmare scenario. It will be a permanent danger that will raising its ugly head again and again, as Parliament gets renewed, while the President still has two or three years to go, and then when he later comes to time-up, the Prime Minister is still there, so the choice of new President is pre-determined by community. We risk being locked into communal traps much worse than were ever laid by the bad-enough communal Best Loser System.

The powers of nomination that President Ramgoolam will have, if their scenario comes true (naming the Police Commissioner, the Cabinet Secretary, PSs, Central Bank Governor, MBC heads, etc) will risk consolidating the Labour State that already represents an obstacle to democracy, even when controlled by Parliament, which the President will not be. It is just nonsense to claim that the present President (with no real political powers) already “has” these powers that, in the proposed Second Republic, will be in the hands of a man elected by universal suffrage of the entire country as part of a power-sharing exercise in which he represents the Labour Party, the stronger partner, as well, Bérenger persistently claims, as some kind of communal base. What is really planned to happen is for Parliament to lose its central role in holding the Executive (PM and other Ministers) to account, Parliament which is directly elected by us and in which MPs are under some social control through the Constituency system.

The planned 2nd Republic, the power-sharing and all, corresponds more closely to the personal ambitions and the partisan interests of the protagonists, Ramgoolam and Bérenger than to anything else. It is certainly not an “increase in democracy”, as they claim. It is the exact opposite. What is happening is that there is an institutionalization planned of the balance of political forces that exists right now between Labour and the MMM. And it is impossible to predict what this strange system they plan will throw up when the political balance of forces changes.

To make matters worse, thrown into this muddle is the fact that they will have introduced some proportional representation before changing the nature of political power. So, if the people, in their wisdom, later discover that the hair-brained scheme Ramgoolam and Bérenger instituted is causing dangerous problems in different circumstances in the future (let alone in the existing ones), then it will be very difficult to get a new three-quarter majority to re-change the Constitution. In fact, the aim of proportional representation is to make big majorities in Parliament very difficult to attain; the bourgeoisie prefers it this way, of course. Even trying to get out of the communal strait-jacket of the prolongation of the Best Loser System, by party leaders’ nominations, will have become difficult to legislate away.

In conclusion, we can only say that the degree of arrogance of Ramgoolam and Bérenger is breath-taking. They not only assume winning the general elections, but they have to get a three-quarter majority in Parliament otherwise their entire scheme falls flat, and Ramgoolam (together with his assistant Cuttaree) absolutely has to be elected afterwards, otherwise it will all have failed .