Incidents ahead of by-election as parties weigh up stakes

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The small parties could end up being the biggest winners in the by-election

With the Nomination Day only a few days away, the electoral campaign is intensifying in Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes. The mainstream political parties have gotten back to their antics in the streets of the constituency that is likely to become a fortress for the opposition in the future.

Earlier this week, an incident in the streets of Quatre Bornes reminded us of some of the major issues at stake during the by-election that will be held on 17 December. A supporter of the Labour Party got into a heated argument with Roshi Bhadain, leader of the Reform Party. For Bhadain and Arvin Boolell, the Labour Party candidate, this is proving to be a particular tense campaign for a number of different reasons.

For Bhadain, it is a question of having put all his eggs in one basket. Having travelled around the island as he set up the Reform Party, he is now permanently in Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes and is focusing his campaign mostly on the Metro Express. Even if he manages to disrupt the political status quo in the constituency, it remains to be seen whether it will be enough to get him over the line. If not, the Reform Party will have no representative in parliament until the next general election. That will be a major blow for Bhadain and his allies who were initially hoping for a united opposition and an easy victory in the self-provoked by-election.

Boolell is also risking a lot during this campaign. Having previously been undefeated in an election for almost two decades, back-to-back defeats could spell the end of any leadership aspirations in the Labour Party. However, there is no guarantee that a victory would benefit him in the long-run either. Navin Ramgoolam, leader of the Labour Party, is currently parading around the island after two years in the wilderness. He is likely to use a victory as a platform to launch his own general election campaign with Boolell only serving as a foil.

The stakes are slightly different for the Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate (PMSD), the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM), and the Mouvement Patriotique (MP). Xavier-Luc Duval, leader of the PMSD, came out on top in the constituency in the 2014 general election and remains a popular figure in Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes. However, there is no guarantee that this will rub off on Dhanesh Maraye, the party’s candidate for the by-election. In their social media campaign, the party is trying to play on the fact that more than the PMSD’s candidate, Maraye is “Duval’s candidate”.

On the other hand, the MMM is still playing catch-up after it suffered defeats in the last three general elections and the only two by-elections since the turn of the century. The party also lost the only elected MP it had in the constituency in Kavi Ramano when the latter left for the Mouvement Patriotique. They also decided not to field MMM veteran Vijay Makhan in the by-election going with rookie Nita Juddoo instead. While a victory could stop the party’s worst losing streak in its history, a defeat could finally force them to review their electoral strategies.

The Mouvement Patriotique will also make its official debut in an electoral bout with its candidate, Tania Diolle. However, the party has been plagued by its own difficulties since its creation a couple of years ago, having lost several of its founding members. Alan Ganoo, president of the party, was also the most prominent voice in asking for a single candidate for the opposition, opening the possibility of backing someone else. For the party created after the last general election, it will be the first test of its ability to survive ahead of the 2019 general election.

The ruling coalition of the Mouvement Socialiste Militant (MSM) and Muvman Liberater (ML) remains unlikely to field a candidate. That electoral strategy, of letting the opposition tear themselves apart, could work in the short-run but would likely prove detrimental for the next general election. The government currently has no MPs in Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes, with the three candidates it fielded in 2014 now in opposition parties.

The biggest winners could end up being the candidates from smaller parties like Jack Bizlall and Kugan Parapen. While any possibility of an outright victory in the constituency remains extremely difficult for them, they are likely to take away a significant amount of votes from the mainstream parties and build up their electorate ahead of possibly bigger challenges in 2019. 

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