Earlier this week, it was revealed that Showkutally Soodhun, vice prime minister and minister of housing and lands, made disparaging remarks that have been vehemently criticised for their racial undertones. The authorities have announced that an investigation is underway and in the meantime, Soodhun remains on the front bench of the government. There are a few reasons that could explain the current state of affairs.
The video of Soodhun making those comments was filmed a few months ago when inhabitants of Bassin met with him to discuss a National Housing Development Company (NHDC) project in the area. The inhabitants of Bassin are strongly opposed to the project for a number of different reasons, ranging from the value of their real estate in the area to the negative connotations they believe are attached to NHDC projects. In the video, Soodhun is heard claiming that most of the people coming to the NHDC project would be from a particular ethnic group and levels some criticism towards a different ethnic group.
The Soodhun conundrum
The vice prime minister has been involved in so many controversies since the beginning of the tenure of the Alliance Lepep that it looks like Soodhun is a man that can’t be moved. From the death threat against Xavier-Luc Duval, leader of the opposition, to the Qatar incident and the allegations regarding his suitcases following a trip by private jet, Soodhun is still weathering the storm. It would be fair to wonder how he is managing to do that.
The representation of the Muslim community in parliament plays in his favour. The self-proclaimed minister of Islamic affairs is a prominent member of the government and replacing him would prove particularly difficult. The closest in the hierarchy that could make his way to the front bench is Minister Anwar Husnoo but he is not a member of the majority partner in the coalition, the Mouvement Socialiste Militant (MSM).
Soodhun’s close ties with Saudi Arabia, which have often gone too far as in the case of the communiqué condemning Qatar, could be another reason. Saudi Arabia is currently revamping its economic strategy and Mauritius rarely baulks at the idea of wealthy trade partners.
From a short-term political perspective, sacking Soodhun could cause another by-election and that would probably spell the end for this current Alliance Lepep government. Given that Soodhun probably still has support within the government ranks, his departure could also lead to more resignations and we could end up in snap general elections.
Setting a precedent
With the number of scandals plaguing this government since it came into power, removing Soodhun could lead them to setting a precedent from which they might not be able to come back.
Among those involved in scandals, the only one to have resigned from the National Assembly so far is Ravi Yerrigadoo. That was a lucky way out for the government given that Yerrigadoo was not an elected member of parliament. In most cases, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth and Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth before him, were unwilling to take drastic measures.
Raj Dayal is often considered the most significant casualty, having lost his ministerial portfolio. However, more than 18 months after the Bal Kuler controversy, Dayal is still in parliament and earns his salary as an MP. It’s been so long that even the opposition have stopped giving him a hard time.
Unfortunately for the country as a whole, Dayal is one of many that have gone relatively unpunished. For example, we are still waiting to hear from the fact finding committee on Vijaya Sumputh to learn of the role of Minister Anil Gayan in her appointment and salary hikes. The latter has since been moved to the Ministry of Tourism.
Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, deputy speaker, has remained relatively quiet in parliament – even though he asked for an increased per diem for his travels – following his audition at the Commission of Inquiry on Drugs. Roubina Jadoo-Jaunbocus is in a similar situation and both have been left alone by the prime minister.
In recent weeks, we’ve also had to deal with the cases of MP Ravi Rutnah, with his sexist comments, and MP Kalyan Tarolah, with his sexting from parliament. Both are still earning their income as members of parliament even though the latter is facing a police investigation. On the other hand, if we go back to last year, the country also had to deal with the Euroloan scandal involving Minister Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo. There was also the accident of MP Thierry Henry – that led to the death of an individual – when the Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate (PMSD) was still in the government.
Taking all of that into consideration, punishing Soodhun for his despicable comments would open the floodgates and this is arguably something that the prime minister would like to avoid at all costs.
With the prime minister failing to react promptly, there have been a couple of defence strategies that have already started to show from the government side, in a bid to get Soodhun out of trouble.
The first strategy is similar to what Soodhun is currently doing for the accusation he is facing for making a death threat. He acknowledges the remarks but just plainly dismisses them as having no value. His reaction to the leaked video so far has been to simply argue that he is a man of faith and he was not trying to stir up racial hatred.
The second strategy is the one that has been adopted by Ivan Collendavelloo, deputy prime minister. In a statement to the media, Collendavelloo put most of the blame on the person that filmed the video and shared it. He also condemned the video as a political tool during the by-election campaign, even if the government – which has the most to lose from the video – does not have a candidate in Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes.
At this point in time, it looks like Soodhun might just get away with it once again. If not, it could be the whole political landscape that is shaken up in the next few weeks.
On le croyait invincible et intouchable après que ses nombreuses frasques qui ont défrayé la chronique depuis le début de son mandat et qui sont passées sans qu’on le sanctionne. Mais Showkutally Soodhun s’est résigné à donner sa démission d’un «commun accord» avec le Premier ministre Pravind Jugnauth, après qu’une vidéo dans laquelle il tient des propos à relent communal a été publiée. Retour sur le scandale qui a fait tomber le n°4 du gouvernement.