Parliament, the only bit of the bourgeois State that emanates from elementary democracy (as opposed to coming from the remnants of monarchy), is today in crisis as everyone can now see live on TV.
In fact, the National Assembly is the only elected bit of central government. Once every five years (or often – fortunately – less than five years), we elect MPs. We soon find that, as members of the National Assembly, they have little power. That is why in LALIT we recognise that it is an “elementary democracy”, no more. But though elementary, it is nevertheless precious. It’s all we’ve got. So far … And it is under threat.
Parliament, the elected legislative arm of Government, is an institution that is very weak relative to the executive. Government’s web-site – appropriately, if sadly so – puts the National Assembly in its “Government Directory” under a heading “Other Institutions” after Ministries, then Departments and then Parastatal Organizations! And, that’s not the end of it. When you open “Other Institutions”, the National Assembly falls between the anti-corruption commission ICAC and the National Audit Office!
The Cabinet remember is a series of “nominated” administrators loyal to the person who nominates them. This is true even though they are nominated from amongst those elected. It used to be the King or Queen that did the nominating, then the Governor General, and now it is the elected Prime Minister. The elected Prime Minister, too, is a nominated person. It used to be the King or Queen that nominated him too, but now it’s the President. He is nominated, although he, like other Ministers, is an elected MP.
All this to say the power of the Legislative Assembly is miniscule, and increases only when there is popular mobilization outside in society, and it needs to be mobilization of immense proportions.
It is after all the institution that the bourgeoisie, the capitalist class that bourgeoned in the 18th Century and took power in Europe at the end of that Century, as it ousted or pushed into a corner the Royal Court and its Cabinet, set up in its own interests. Modern cabinets contain the vestiges of Royal cabinets. Modern Prime Ministers, the vestiges of Kings.
All this to say that the one little bit of democracy we have inherited from our forbearers – the National Assembly – has hit crisis. This crisis is, no doubt, the direct result of the rich getting richer and the poor, poorer. It follows the way in which the entire country is being sold off, acre by acre, to millionaires and billionaires from abroad, while working people are being excluded from any control, however little, that they may have had over the economy, through being part of its productive machinery. So, the entire working population is being driven back to the levels of political impotence that characterized indenture of the 19th Century and slavery of the 18th Century and up to 1835. Economic reality is the pressure that is imposing this new autocracy, which is taking on all the trappings of a new colonization of the country. And one of its effects, in turn, is to cut back the scope of the very little democracy we ever had gained after over a 100 years of struggle, and that is, at a national level, embodied in Parliament.
This relative weakness of Parliament today is what allows desperate men in it, genuine political desperadoes, to take the institution hostage in the way that they have been doing for the past two or three months. This in turn causes it further weakening.
Who are these desperate men?
They sit on the Government benches, and they also sit on the Opposition benches.
One of the factors that makes the Government parties (MSM and ML) and the five Opposition parties (PMSD, MMM, Labour, Mouvement Patriotique, and Reform Party) so desperate is that they all have the same economic policies. So, what remains to fight about? Very little. So they just do their macho billy-goat head-butting, and worse.
If they do not wage these macho fights, they do not exist! And they are prepared, in this macabre theatre of televised Parliament, to inflict destruction on the little half-circle of democracy that we have fought for 100 years, and to precipitate its collapse even – so long as they get to vie to keep, or to grab, power.
And the one woman actor in this macho assembly of desperate men fighting so crudely and rudely, is the Speaker, Maya Hanoomanjee. She takes on the role of a male macho, too. And given the pointless fights between Government and Opposition, on the one hand, and amongst the warring Opposition Parties, on the other, the Speaker’s role has become central. So six weeks ago, on 4 April, there was, without surprise, a motion of no confidence against her. When Deputy Speaker, Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, took over, he was, if anything worse at keeping a semblance of rationality, let alone order, and the entire Opposition did a walk-out, after the expulsion of MMM leadership.
There is an irony here: just at the very moment in history when there is, curiously, an interesting positive development – direct TV broadcasts of the National Assembly – we have nothing to watch but desperadoes doing their utmost to force the collapse of the National Assembly as an institution.
Usually, so long as a Government is strong – and this one, though numerically strong, is politically very weak indeed – the Speaker can afford to be impartial, and gracefully so. No problem! But the Lepep Government is so completely incoherent, so lost in the woods, so weakened by the surprise resignation of the PMSD after 2 years in the alliance, that today Ms Hanoomanjee has found herself becoming less and less gracious, less and less impartial. She was, as we all know, a Lepep Alliance candidate who did not win the election. She was named Speaker partly because she was an unlucky candidate, partly because she is a woman (in the context of a dire lack of other women elected), partly because of her being a relative of the Jugnauths. Once in office, she has not managed to transcend any of the three limitations. She continues to act like a political appointee, she remains a woman chosen not for her skills at presiding which are atrocious, and she remains a family member, even attending the Clarisse House Government party because she is … family.
A biased Speaker is not helpful. A huge proportion of Parliamentary Questions, for example, are just not replied to at all. The Speaker should pull the Ministers up on this. But it is not a reason for the Opposition members to act the way they are – swearing, threatening, insulting, shouting. They seem unable to control themselves, as they vie for the limelight against the other four Opposition parties, and as they vie for the new TV camera coverage. the worse the speaker is, the worse they behave, and the worse they behave, the worse the speaker becomes.
Usually, if your sports team is doing well, you don’t need to attack the referee, even if he is biased. You prefer attacking your adversary. It is the same, it seems, for the poor, befuddled Opposition Parties. They are so weak, so divided, so desperate, that they have concentrated a good deal of their attack against the Speaker, instead of against the Government. And this is what culminated in MP Shakeel Mohamed of the Labour Party proposing his motion of no confidence.
Things degenerated that day in Parliament for another reason. MP Bérenger of the MMM is no longer Leader of the Opposition since the PMSD resigned from Government and has more MPs than the MMM. So, the MMM raised its tone, began behaving really badly in Parliament so that, when Bérenger did his walk-out, the whole Opposition, including the PMSD, would be forced to follow suit, causing Bérenger to have one additional minute of glory as “leader”. Everything seems to have been reduced to the level of this kind of childishness. To the level of this “macho”-ness.
The National Assembly is now being watched by the public. Even if it is still in two languages that people neither speak with the fluency of their natural language, nor understand (either at all or with the precision of a mother tongue). But their cinema goes on.
So really, it is important today to have a program that puts on the agenda more democracy, and this in the context of challenging the bourgeoisie’s power, and of demanding working class power. The bourgeoisie has no interest in maintaining or developing democracy. Only the working classes have.
We need to organize politically, with a program to control the whole of the economy – that is to say over the land and capital – and to do this, we need proper democratic structures. This is what will represent a working class republic, which was the theme of LALIT 2017 Labour Day celebration.
16 May, 2017