When the village electoral campaign is over, and when “the State” via the political parties, those in Government and also in the Opposition, accelerate their attempt to get an iron grip on neighbourhood democracy by taking control of the ensuing District Council elections, it is a moment to stand back and evaluate the importance of the village elections and, in particular, of the electoral campaigns. The fact that District Councils that emanate from the Village Councils are corrupted right from the time of the election of four District Councils, now in action, does not mean the village elections were. If you are interested, there is a fictionalized account of the anatomy of the process of corruption that takes place in the novella “Teddy Rant dan Distrik Kawnsil” (LPT).
The positive effects of village council elections are many.
Conceptualization of one’s social and economic geography
First, in each of the 130 villages, there are two, three four, five, even more teams, called “lekip”. Now each of these teams has its candidates, up to nine, and also those in the team who are not candidates. Anything from 20 to 150 people are in a “lekip”. During the campaign, each team has, in order to exist, to develop amongst its members, a concept of the particular village. Its geography, where it begins and ends on all sides. And this geography means giving representation to all the parts of the village. So, no chauvinism about “who lives on the Royal Road” can take over, and, of course, no communalism will be helpful, when the team must, needs be, get votes from all in the village. And the team has to think of projects for not just men, but women and girls, who also vote. And the poor being a majority, as everyone in any team soon finds out, the needs of the poor need to be made paramount when choosing candidates. This way democracy is always an ongoing challenge to capitalism, a system where an elite takes all the capital and keeps all the land.
So, the village elections conceptualize one’s social and economic geography. And this kind of learning is not available in books. It comes from one’s neighbourhood. And so, through the process of village elections, we find that a certain wisdom has developed in the rural areas, especially in political spheres, that the urban, more centralized elections have not developed. But, of course, could develop, should we be able in urban areas, to introduce equivalent elections, by small “wards”.
Once conceptualized, a village team then finds that there is a necessity to find agreement during the electoral campaign, on what changes are possible in the future. This means developing a common understanding, or “a program”. And this, the ability to agree collectively on a program, is what separates humans from all other species. We can plan a different future. Ah, the joy of neighbourhood electoral campaigns. This is what is at the heart of the joyful atmosphere, when everyone is in a team. You need to have demands, a program, that unifies those you want to unify.
Programs thus have two parts, once the preliminary conceptualization of village society is shared: simple, immediate changes, and aspirations for building a different future. Village electoral campaigns do both.
The production of a program for simple but urgent change
It is only the teams in a village election that get to put together a shared understanding of urgent needs: where a new pedestrian crossing is essential because of a new shop, or new parcelization of land; where a bus stop is in a dangerous place; where there is no proper sidewalk; where a bicycle lane could easily be built; where there is no lighting at night; where during the rainy season, there is flooding and drains are needed. And simple events: we will organize a bicycle tur-de-lil for 18 – 20 year olds. We will organize a petank tournament, a karom tournament, every year, one each for men, and one each for women. We will organize readings by Mauritian writers. We will organize a creative writing workshop once a year. We will organize a yearly session on using colour in painting, or in how to make a video-game. Then work out how to rally the necessary resources, by inviting people to give their time.
The elaboration of a program for social change
A good team will go further. It will conceptualize a new system of one-way streets that unite different sections of the village, or link the seaside to the rest, or those on the mountain edge to the rest. And even further. They will act as, and offer to act as, “the voice of the village” on the big issues: how to replace all the asbestos housing in the village by lobbying the central government to do so; how to create new jobs to replace those dead-end jobs in tourism by forcing the sugar estates to create a food industry and the hotel bosses to start a fishing industry – with local food preserving and processing plants, and how to make all food in the country “bio”, thus exportable as well.
And then, the final part of a program, after the conceptualization of village society, and the short and long-term programs, is the how-to party of it.
Like trade union for village people
The Village Council should be, a team can argue, like a trade union for villagers. What it cannot do – with that tiny budget, and no real freedom to act this is just about everything – it can, nevertheless, cause to happen. And this is what the value of village elections. Village Councils can call for independent and bigger budgets. They can club together and put pressure on the central government.
All this explains why LALIT fought so hard against the abolition of village elections and village councils that the MSM-MMM-PMSD government brought about in 2002-5. This also explains why we want the elections to go back to being once every 3 years instead of 5 years. And also why it is important that every citizen has the right to stand for village elections. Any clause in a work contract that prohibits it, must be considered an illegal clause. The only people who should be barred are those employed in positions of power by the District Council – its inspectors, engineers, and senior clerical staff – as this might interfere with local democracy.
All this also explains why urban dwellers need to fight for smaller wards, each with a ward council.
There is a great deal of urban-dweller-chauvinism, expressed unabashedly in the Press, about the village elections being folklorique, and mocking the symbols used by the teams, and generally making fun of people from lakanpayn, of those who use hoes and sickles. There are also constant attempts by the mainstream parties to teleguide teams, and to corrupt them. But both fail to make an impact on the dynamic, positive forces that the village elections set into action in society.