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Prime Ministership: The race is open for the challengers

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Prime Ministership: The race is open for the challengers

By Kervyn Babboo

In theory, there are about 2 years before the next general elections are due. Given how disjointed the opposition is currently, it is not preposterous to vaticinate Pravind Jugnauth could call for the polls well before then, like a bolt from the blue.

Even though the present government is being vociferously maligned, and his own leadership at the helm of the country is inveighed in perpetuum.

‘In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity’- Sun Tzu. Scandals galore have marred his tenure as PM. Wakashio, Covid procurement, Angus Road, Kistnen case, Sniffing, a spiraling drug problem and others.

Pravind Jugnauth has constantly and successfully sailed through these scandals, which could have crashed any regime. It has to be admired how the most unpopular government in our post-independence history has managed to use their loaf to wangle their way out of this quagmire.

In many ways thanks to the inchoate opposition parties. Is Pravind Jugnauth’s reign as PM of Mauritius destined to perpetuate, despite leading a conspicuously incompetent government in office?

Can any of the leaders of the parties in opposition garner enough support and following to mount a vigorous challenge? Could a new, charismatic leader emerge, who could radically revolutionize the archaic system with his/her novel ideas? Let us look at the potential candidates for the Prime Minister’s job from the opposition parties.

Labour Party

Dr Navin Ramgoolam

He has been leader of the Labour Party since 1990 (32 years) and prime minister for 3 mandates (1995, 2005, 2010). Experienced politician with recognised leadership qualities, his best spell as PM was 2005 to 2010, when substantial development occurred in the country.

A new, modern airport was constructed and the road infrastructure was expanded. The economy was in good health, despite the global inflation of 2008. He has suffered 2 successive electoral defeats since (2014 and 2019), for which he has to shoulder major responsibility.

Though victorious in many of his legal cases, this has not totally absolved his misdemeanors. Many still begrudge him for bringing the party and the country into disrepute with a myriad of scandals: the contents of his ‘coffres-forts’, the unaccountable Rs 220 million, Roches Noires incident, the sleaze, the braggadocio, the smugness, katori.

And his positioning to be PM again is being further jeopardized by the DPP in his court case.

It is delusional for Dr Ramgoolam to believe that his party and him still command a large following and approval from the Mauritian population. He insists, rather arrogantly, that his Party should be the locomotive of any political alliance and he should stand as PM.

At 75 years old, he has lost his mojo and many within the party affirm he needs to retire. He is more a liability than an asset to the party. He has done his time and needs to groom a new leader.

The recent exercise to instill new blood into the party through appointing fresh faces, though long overdue, has created some unrest.

Gen Next (as they are pompously referred to) has conferred prominent positions to young and promising professionals like Avinash Ramtohul (who holds a doctorate in Information and Technology), Ritish Ramful, Fabrice David, Raviraj Beechook…But many ‘old’ faces like Anil Bachoo, Lormesh Bundhoo, Rajesh Jeetah, Suren Dayal to name a few, are still occupying important posts in the Bureau Politique.

The much-appreciated Ezra Jhuboo exited the party, arguing changes in the party did not go far enough and are merely cosmetic. Labour needs a major overhaul, not a piecemeal facelift. Ramgoolam faces a big task to bring back unity within the party.

Dr Arvin Boolell

Having inherited a heavy patronym, young Arvin Boolell had everything going for him. Charismatic, blessed with good looks, impressive oratory skills, Arvin Boolell’s popularity transcended his constituency (No11) to gain national appeal.

A victim of circumstances and conjecture, he witnessed the party’s reins being granted to Navin Ramgoolam in 1990, the son of the Father of the nation. Throughout successive years, Arvin Boolell has had to endure playing second fiddle to Ramgoolam, owing to ‘casteist’ realities.

An attempt to hijack the party’s leadership in May 2015 following Ramgoolam’s disgraceful fall in public opinion, was met with forceful resilience from Ramgoolam and his supporters. Arvin backing down, showed he lacked the killer instinct to vanquish an already battered and bruised Ramgoolam.

Is he condemned to remain in the shadow of an ageing, out-of-touch, political has-been? A few weeks ago, Arvin Boolell was named ‘Director of Field Operations’ for the party; which prompted the sarcastic remark from Maneesh Gobin ‘Arvin Boolell is the Sirdar of the Labour party!’.

Not to mention his name was amongst the last to be announced by Ramgoolam at the party conference. How much more humiliation can this man take? To be honest, Arvin Boolell is in the band of politicians whom the youth do not relate to.

His outdated political discourse and political vocabulary is in dire need of rejuvenation. Arvin Boolell has recently reiterated his dream to become leader of the Labour Party (and de facto position himself as potential PM). His aspiration might remain just that. A dream. Never fulfilled.

And the others…

Shakeel Mohamed: The youthful and dynamic Shakeel has a few electoral wins under his belt and is an energetic parliamentarian who’s given the government and the Speaker a hard time. He has intermittently been vocal against Ramgoolam, questioning whether he is fit to still lead the Labour party in the wake of heavy electoral defeats and the ‘casseroles’ he trails. Shakeel’s ambition to occupy a prominent position in the party is pretty clear, and his push for Ramgoolam to appoint a Deputy Leader has so far met with staunch resistance from the latter. For how long will the man with the impeccable mane play game and remain tame to avoid shame in the name of party?

Ritish Ramful: Very popular in Mahebourg/Plaine Magnien, where he got elected despite his party suffering defeat nationally, this shopkeeper’s son is slowly making a nest for himself. Appreciated by his peers for the way he handles pertinent issues and tackles the government, the son-in-law of the former President of Mauritius –Kailash Purryag has recently been appointed the party’s General Secretary. Not sure whether he has the same gravitas and enough charisma to appeal to the majority of Mauritians in a PM role.

Dhaneshwar Damry: The new blue-eyed boy of the current leader who, according to the grapevine, considers him his successor. Though he meets the ‘profile’, his arrival has not generated great enthusiasm amongst members and supporters of the party, who see him as an opportunist gravitating around the senescent Ramgoolam.

Yatin Varma: The one who could have been. Once a blue-eyed boy. Now an outsider, with a flimsy chance. A Vaish, whose father Moonindranath Varma was a die-hard Labourite. As Attorney General, the affable and popular Varma introduced new laws, for example around quick amicable divorce, and had the long overdue PACE (Police and Evidence Act) drafted. Until an unfortunate incident in 2012 triggered his downfall. After successive defeats of the Labour Party, where Ramgoolam could not even get elected, he publicly called for Ramgoolam to pass the baton to a new leader. Which, as we all know, resulted in Yatin getting evicted from the party. His barbaric treatment by the Police in the Uricek affair, has since gained him lots of public sympathy. He is back in the ranks of the Labour Party, but not assigned any meaningful responsibility.

MMM and Alliance de L’Espoir

MMM: Paul Berenger has been the uncontested leader of the MMM for more than 4 decades. He was briefly Prime Minister from 2003-2005. His deft and meticulous handling of economic and political issues are second to none. Though the MMM spent most of its history in the opposition, the cult of personality meant that Mr. Berenger’s leadership of the party has seldom been challenged. A master at ‘communalisme scientifique’ and kingmaker (Prem Nababsing, Ajay Guness and now Nando Bodha), his decision-making hasn’t always been astute. Despite the previous two association with Navin Ramgoolam (2005 &2014) ended up acrimoniously, he is currently flirting with Ramgoolam again.

The Stockholm syndrome! Having ruled himself out of the PM post contest, Berenger believes he has a trump card in Nando Bodha (Rassemblement Mauricien), should negotiations with Labour go caput. Who will succeed him as Leader of the MMM? There is no outstanding candidate truth be told. Nominating his daughter Joana Berenger as party leader would be betraying the anti-nepotism values of the MMM.

PMSD: The PMSD is another party where the son has inherited leadership from his father. Charismatic and having the gift of the gab, Xavier Duval has fared well as Minister of Finance and Minister of Tourism in the past. He is doing an excellent job as Leader of the Opposition. With the Stauffer affair long forgotten, Xavier briefly started positioning himself as potential PM not so long ago, until his ambition came crashing down. The PMSD being a party with limited appeal, mostly confined to some urban areas, the son of Sir Gaetan Duval has a non- existent chance of challenging for prime ministership.

RM: Nando Bodha left the MSM after decades of loyal service to create his own party, the Rassemblement Mauricien. With so many parties on the political scene, support for the RM is infinitesimal. Nevertheless, Mr. Berenger sees the equivocate Nando Bodha as ‘parfaitement qualifie pu etre ene bon premier ministre’. The same Mr. Berenger who not so long ago vituperated ‘le plus grand bluffer c’est Bodha’, ‘Bodha ene catastrophe en termes d’incompetences’, ‘Bodha totalement incompetent’. Politicians!

REFORM PARTY

Roshi Bhadain. Since he relinquished his high-profile position as Minister of Financial Services, Good Governance and institutional reforms in 2017, Roshi Bhadain has been on the warpath to enlighten ‘la population mauricienne’ how members of his previous party- the MSM and the government operate. He was the first person to coin the widely popular Lakwizinn’ on the 24th January 2017.

There is a myriad of words and phrases from his repertoire for which he retainscopyright: ‘Tire la fime depi ou lizie’, ‘Met l’ordre dans zot mensonges’, ’Compensation 4 dizefs’. His insatiable penchant and reputation for perusing is unfaltering. Safe City, the Metro, Cote D’or are all mere boondoggles according to him.

His self-confessed mission is to expunge corruption and the chrematophilic culture ingrained in the Mauritian society. Roshi has been relentless in denouncing this government through nifty use of social media (explanation videos and press conferences regularly posted on Facebook, shared through WhatsApp).

His endearing style, factual appraisal, forensic dissection of multi- layered issues, his interspersed quips & jocular punch lines, all delivered with sincerity and honesty in simple layman language, have garnered extensive praise and admiration. But where do Roshi Bhadain and the Reform Party currently stand in the Mauritian political arena?

Whilst his acumen for meticulous analysis and sagacious communication are recognised, some would argue that his pedantic approach is reflective of a pessimistic harbinger and agitator. One example his detractors would avouch is the kerfuffle surrounding Consent for Vaccination against Covid-19.

Though he raised a totally valid point, it was viewed as the futile theatrics of a wet blanket to thwart the vaccination programme. Bhadain’s bravado and intrepid stance is sometimes misconstrued, rightly or wrongly, as the behaviour of a brazen brat. His perceived arrogance was denounced during the dismantling of the BAI and Dawood Rawat’s empire. Is he inherently arrogant or is it the demeanor of a self-assured, self-confident man? His decried peevish predisposition and impulsiveness, was evident during his public spat with the equally impetuous and petulant Shakeel Mohammed on air some months ago. In his defence, many would argue that this is just a foible and his waspishness is usually ephemeral: Roshi and Shakeel seemed to have ironed out their differences, as evidenced by their convivial mien during a debate on private radio recently.

However, Roshi does not seem to show the same magnanimity when it pertains to forget and forgive Pravind Jugnauth and his plutocratic entourage! From the infamous ‘baise-main’ to absolute anagapesis!The good relation between these two kiboshed acrimoniously when, reportedly, Pravind gazumped Roshi to a more coveted position in the then government.

Roshi Bhadain took umbrage at this effrontery from the taciturn Pravin, whose vacuous smile is as frustrating as watching paint dry. The vindictive junior Bhadain and Jugnauth can’t see eye to eye since.

Roshi Bhadain created the Reform Party with a view of modernising Mauritian politics. The aim was to rally people, especially the youth, who wanted to bring about change in the way politics and the economic affairs of the country are conducted.

To eradicate the culture of nepotism, corruption, communalism which have marred national politics for decades. The reformist animus appeals to many who dream of a novel way of doing politics, of transforming the mindset of people and inculcate values and ideals like working selflessly for the greater good of the country, where fairness and meritocracy would prevail.

The Think Tank of the party has brainstormed 300 revolutionary, progressive ideas and has laid out their vision for the future of the country. Reform Party managed to gather an impressive 4,000 people in Mahebourg last month. Notwithstanding, it must be acknowledged despite all the positive feedback and support amassed, the Reform Party is largely viewed as a one-man show. Professionals and people of goodwill who are in the party are rarely at the forefront, are seldom heard…until recently.

The lack of exposure and locality of the other members schlep this question: what is the Reform Party without Roshi Bhadain? Can the other members of the party rise and show their mettle? It is reassuring to see other members of the Reform Party like Hansley Peeramallee, Vinesh Moheeputh, Veer Deehoo and Hussain Mangalkhan presiding over the party’s press conference recently with great ease and confidence.

The Final Word

The country, more than ever, faces a leadership crisis. Chatwarism is the new epidemic and has infested several spheres of the establishment. Only a powerful leader with integrity, honesty, intelligence and oodles of charisma can galvanize the population, especially the youth, in overhauling systems and practices in place.

The political scene has long been crying for renewal and rejuvenation. Do we continue trust the experience of political has-beens like Ramgoolam, Berenger, Boolell or is there an imperative need to make way for fresh blood? To the Reform Party’s catchy slogan ‘Ni Navin. Ni Pravind’, I would add ‘Ni Arvin!’ Roshi Bhadain can be a divisive figure, like all straight talking people are, but there is no denying the man is the kind of visionary leader this country is crying for in the current conjecture. Love him or loathe him, Roshi Bhadain is Prime Minister material. Is there a new face from Labour or the MMM ready to step up? Ritesh, Dhaneshwar, Shakeel, Joanna? Or should we stick to the tried and tested rather than gamble on a rookie?

Prime Ministership: The race is open for the challengers

By Kervyn Babboo

Political Observer from the UK

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