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LALIT'S comments on the By-election


LALIT takes note of the irony in the first-ever Code of Conduct being signed and then followed by the worst abuses of the electorate ever. The irony was made sharper by the knowledge that the election was necessary only because a seat in the National Assembly had been declared null by the Supreme Court because of an ex-Minister's being found guilty of "corruption" and "bribery" during the 2005 elections.

We accuse the major political formations of both bribery and communalism in this election, of limiting the campaign to a power struggle, and of avoiding all debate on the disastrous effects of the economic crisis of capitalism.

"Victory" went to a grand coalition of the Sun Trust, the Labour Government, the Voice of Hindu, the All Vaish Congress and Messrs. Somduth Dulthumun and Mario Flore. This grand coalition had been carefully built up as the only challenge to the other team, the one found guilty of electoral fraud. The losing team, whose program was to defend Ashock Jugnauth's electoral fraud, consisted of Ashock Jugnauth himself, the MMM and the "croupion" that's left of the anti-Independence party, the PMSD. It is, itself, a pasted together communal grouping in the first place.

What a choice electors were confronted with!

But how did it happen that the electorate was presented with this as the only choice? How was this form given to the campaign? How did the Union Nationale (worth about 0.5% of the electorate) and the MSM (not double figures, on its own) so quickly become the only two choices? Even as the country veered into one of capitalism's catastrophes, all serious debate was carefully excluded from the visible campaign. Even as several thousands of workers, on the eve of the elections, held in Rose-Hill the biggest workers' demonstration since 1980. All the debate going on was hidden. Even as thousands of people are already beginning to challenge the hideous logic of an economic system in crisis.

Clearly this choice suited both Ashock and Pravind Jugnauth. Clearly it suited the MMM and the Labour Party. They have an advantage in making themselves one of the "big two". But, we agree with what Yvan Martial said on MBC TV Monday 2 March about the role of the media in this. The media was in large part responsible for giving this "complaisant" form to the campaign, and defining reality in a way that both masked debate where it existed and stifled it by highlighting the ludicrous "family row" aspect. In fact, the media defined reality so that corruption seems inevitable to each elector in the voting booth: you have to choose, the media implies, between the candidate found guilty of fraud OR the one who was VPM in the very Cabinet when the fraud was organized, and whose by-election campaign was even more "corrupting". Day after day the media structured air-time into a "duel" between these two corrupt, communalist and politic ally empty men, backed by Labour and the MMM. Day after day it organized the very lay-out of its pages into a two-only choice. Meanwhile, ironic ally , editorialists in their opinion columns often quite rightly deplored the lack of debate in the context of so grave an economic crisis. They did this even at the very moment that they managed to avoid covering any of LALIT's public meetings (quite a feat), leaflets (also a feat), press conferences, and door-to-door campaigns (another feat). At least three opinion makers suggested the possibility of a vote for LALIT in opinion columns. Even while their readers were presented with only two apparent choices and, in some cases, had not been informed of LALIT's candidate's existence ever. The structuring of the by-election into a feudal duel between the two corrupt forces continued, unaffected even by opinion articles by editors.

The third in the election results was Cehl Meeah with 292 votes. His electoral tactics do not differ from those of the two coalitions, but parody them. Even his public statements were that he will bring in billions of rupees and he will give people jobs abroad.

And in fourth position is LALIT's candidate. An honest man, politic ally sound, and experienced, a man representing LALIT's program to face up to the economic crisis by means of building the political will and clout necessary for transforming the development strategy for job creation; and with its program to oppose fraud and corruption. We got 217 votes. Which means at least that there are a full 217 people in Number 8 who can be proud that they are intending to do something against the impending economic crisis and that they stood up by their vote against corruption and against communalism.

LALIT's door-to-door campaigns and its public meetings, its leaflets and program, formed an ideal contrast to the rot that has set into the rest of the electoral system. And during our campaign, we observed precisely how the corrupt parties corrupt the electorate. We found that it is not every individual who is corrupted. One person in a family is corrupted, and it is then his personal role to daunt the rest of the family. So, an agent or MP gets given money (where does this black money come from ?) in order to get control over some relatives or contacts in the constituency. He can keep it, if he can daunt them in other ways. Or the money can get used to pay off a contact's debt (of, say, Rs 4,000 to the "labutik"), or for exhorbitant "rent" (say Rs 10,000) for a place for an evening meeting, or as a simple hand-out of money to an "agent" for "manze-bwar". Once the money is paid, all members of the family, often the extended family, are effectively silenced by the one who took the money. The rest of the family know about the corruption in some cases, and submit to it, often with heads bowed, while in other cases, the money is taken behind the backs of the rest of the family and all they know is that their uncle or brother somehow forbids them through threats, fights, rumours, communal comments from participating in the campaign of any other formation, or to abstain on Polling Day, like 25% of the electorate did. That's how it works.

As the economic crisis worsens, ordinary working people in Mauritius will increasingly be thrown into very grave social disorder. The flimsy compartments that divide our lives into the work-place, the family, politics, society will all be torn apart to expose the cruel exploitation that is there underneath it all, all along. Wage slavery will be exposed for what it is: a modern kind of slavery. And this is what explains the immense size and the clear and disciplined demands of the huge trade union demonstration in Rose-Hill organized by the Konfederasyon Sindika Sekter Prive on the eve of the by-election. There are now clear signs that the fragmented trade union leadership is beginning to realise that the impending economic crisis will affect adversely thousands of workers and poor people: this is no time for bureaucratic rivalry and conflicts. But a purely trade union platform will not be sufficient: we need a whole movement with a political platform and concrete propositions, and this is precisely what LALIT has been working on for quite a while now.

Times are changing.

Ram Seegobin


5 March 2009