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LALIT in a pre-electoral year 2019 by Ram Seegobin


 When do we expect elections? We can’t guess a date, but there are some things we know for sure. In December 2019 the National Assembly will be dissolved automatically, if the Government has not yet dissolved it before then. This automatic dissolution of Parliament is one of the few things that the MMM-PSM Government did after the 60-0 victory in 1982. So, the furthest away that elections can be is May 2020, if we bear in mind the 150-day maximum delay between dissolution and a new general election polling day. Constitutionally speaking, the nearest that a general election can be, is in 30 days from any day from today onwards.

 Meanwhile, two leaders of the traditional parties, and of the alliances of traditional parties, Pravind Jugnauth and Navin Ramgoolam, both have their futures suspended before the Courts, where they both face criminal charges. Prime Minister Jugnauth is waiting for the Privy Council judgement in the MedPoint conflict of interests case against him. And former Prime Minister Ramgoolam has two very serious cases against him, too: the Roches Noires bungalow case and the case about the huge amounts of currency in his “kofor”. So, the uncertainty about whether they will be locked up or not makes all the usual pre-electoral negotiations well-nigh impossible. This is for the simple reason that the balance-of-forces between parties is hard to estimate when leaders are suspended in Court cases.

 And, in the meantime, the Constitutional amendment on Electoral Reform is awaiting a vote when Parliament sits again in March. In December, Jugnauth did not manage to cobble together a 3/4 majority for his Bill. So, electoral reform will probably become a pawn in negotiations for his pre-electoral alliance, as soon as Jugnauth gets his judgement. If the amendment doesn’t muster the votes, then the Government will have to summon up another Mini-Amendment similar to the 2014 one in order to respect the U.N. Human Rights Committee findings that call on the Mauritian State to either do away with the auto-classification by so-called “community” on Nomination Papers for candidates for general elections or to go ahead with the detested communal classification in the Census, which fortunately the MSM, MMM and Labour refuse to do. But the PMSD, which used to oppose this classification, has recently changed its position.

 The Jugnauth Government is putting a lot of store by everyone in the electorate being very impressed by the launch due in October-November 2019 of the Metro Express. But of course it affects those between Port Louis and Rose-Hill most, not the whole electorate.

 And then, with the abolition of some of part of the fees for Universities that Government funds and with the announcement of a possible increase in pensions, we can also expect the Budget Speech due in June 2019 to announce other measures that the MSM-ML will consider electorally “paying”.

 At the same time, many economists and also the IMF are announcing an economic slow-down – linked with both the fall of sugar prices and Brexit. This last home truth may put pressure for the Government to consider elections before things get worse, rather than waiting for the very last moment.

 What alliances can be expected?

 Of course, all negotiations are pending Court Cases. And yet there will have to be negotiations.

 The bye-election in Constituency No. 18 in December 2017 has, to some extent, established a new electoral balance of forces:

 The MSM chose not to stand, so that indicates it was not confident. But it also means the new pumped up Labour Party does not really get to test itself against the MSM. And the MMM and Mouvement Patriotique lost ground. As for the PMSD and Roshi Bhadain, who provoked the bye-election in the first place, they were the big losers. The PMSD lost its deposit, and after Xavier Duval had begun to position himself as future Prime Minister, he ended up with his candidate coming fourth amongst just Opposition Parties in his own Constituency.

 The MSM-ML alliance in Government has become fragile. There is the ongoing problem of Gayan/Samputh. There is the Collendavelloo water privatization plan, and now the conflict over the gas turbines for the CEB. There are even MSM ministers who openly talk about a possible alliance with the MMM – which means breaking with the ML.

 If Pravind Jugnauth is found not guilty by the Privy Council, he will aim to put his aquittal together with electoral reform on the table in negotiations with the MMM for a new “remake”.

 Now that the PMSD has been stripped of its illusions of making up a future Government with Xavier Duval as Prime Minister after their bye-election debacle, the PMSD has fallen back on its old communalist strategy of defending the minorities and demanding a new communal census so as to maintain the Best Loser system, and now going back to muster a base in Rodrigues.

 Is there a pre-electoral cozying up of Bhadain, Mouvement Patriotique, Platform Militan and Labour Party, as they try to get an alliance put together?

 Bizlall picked up some MSM votes. Most commentators think it was mostly MSM voters’ only choice. Rezistans lost ground.

 LALIT, rightly, did not field a candidate – the enjeu being so limited.

 So what has LALIT, as a party, been doing to position itself as a revolutionary force for socialism?

 In 2018, our priority has been to establish a political presence in all regions of the country, and to do this by mobilizing people around the key issues of control of the land, housing, and in particular around dangerous housing like asbestos housing.

 This mobilization has permitted LALIT to move to a new phase in grass-roots party construction.

 In July, the LALIT symposium on Decolonization to mark the 50 years of Mauritian Independent, has also, in parallel, re-enforced the party’s national centre.

 So, despite our non-participation in the bye-election of December 2017, and maybe also because of it, we have built up our strength as a party during 2018. This is also partly due to the fact that our flagship campaigns, all the ideas LALIT is most associated with over the decades, have occupied a central position in the political scene during 2018:

Here is a short list of some of our programmatic themes that have dominated the news this year:

* The Chagos and Diego issue – a central LALIT campaign – has been at the UN General Assembly and at the ICJ, with all the news focussed on these historical moments in decolonization, anti-militarism, and rights of Chagossians.

* The Kreol Language in Parliament – another main LALIT platform – has been in the debate throughout the year. One MP, Alan Ganoo, responded to our challenge calling on MPs to address the Speaker in Kreol until ruled out of order by her.

* The de-criminalization of gandia, another plank in LALIT’s platform since our Party was formed, has finally become mainstream. Even the Drugs Commission of Enquiry brought it up.

* But more than anything else, LALIT’s ongoing challenge of the governments’ (successive governments’) pro-capitalist economic development strategy based on real estate and land speculation has finally come centre-stage – partly as a result of our persistent work on our campaign on land-and-job-creation-and-housing. Now almost every mainstream economist, and even editorialists, begin to call into question the government’s strategy, or lack of strategy when it just follows the capitalists who dig themselves out of a hole by selling off the land.

 So, 2018 was a year that re-enforced our party structure and also gave us programmatic gains.

 So, how do we now, in LALIT, approach this coming pre-election year of 2019?

 We must find ways of using the electoral campaign to re-enforce our neighbourhood structures, what we call the “pivot” from the housing Joint Neighbourhood and LALIT Housing Committees towards, where appropriate, LALIT branches. Another member (Rajni Lallah) will be writing a paper on this for the site.

 Continue to popularize our program, take part in all debates at the national, as well as neighbourhood, level in order to oppose the government’s economic strategy. At the same time, strengthen the party as the level of its centre.

 Continue to update our program, and at the same time to prepare an electoral platform.

 To make political use of our magazine Revi LALIT for programmatic progress, and for recruitment.

 To continue to use our Web-sayt – including its audio and video sections – to do this same programmatic work – in this electoral year – people being more open to political ideas at this time.

 We also need to prepare our arguments on the pressure that will be brought to bear on us as LALIT members to “unite the left”. We are in favour of course of left unity, but who are these “left” you are talking about, we must ask, and prepare to sharpen our definitions in the discussion that follows?

 We must prepare to participate in the elections by drawing up a list of candidates in all constituencies, and begin to raise some money for the campaign. As we know, we don’t need much money, but we do need enough to bring out thousands of a LALIT newspaper with our program on it.

 And we always bear in mind that, because we are not an electoralist party, all our preparations for participation in an electoral campaign aim to re-enforce our party and our program for the future.  

 So, this gives an outline of our strategy, one we will need to refine as we go along, for this pre-electoral year, 2019.

  This article is a translation of a talk by Ram Seegobin on 2 February 2019 to LALIT party members.