Mauritius has a problem

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In the absence of any real distinction between parties, our political scene ceases to be about ideas and becomes a clash between egos, according to the author. People support the leaders because they want favours…

Last week in Mauritius, a 68-year-old ex-Prime Minister swore that he would never ever leave his position as leader at the 80th anniversary of a political party. In Uganda, a luckier president had the opposition leader arrested the day of the elections and successfully held on to his own throne. If you don’t think that the latter is something that could ever happen in the country, you probably haven’t paid a lot of attention to news over the last decade.

Mauritius has a problem. And to solve it, we must first acknowledge that it exists. The truth is that our political parties, save for the people in them, are virtually identical. If you don’t believe me, try this exercise: without using the names of any politicians, name three issues on which the major parties differ. Can you do it?

We’ve got so used to this state of affairs that few of us even realize how odd this situation is. In Europe, in the United States and even in India, their parties have ideological differences – liberal/conservative, socially or fiscally. Yet here, our parties, in the classic tradition of banana republics, are mere fronts for personality cults.

Party leaders are elevated to godhood, to even question them is disloyalty and when their masters leave, the parties crumble to pieces. But corruption and abuse of power aren’t unique to any one party, as recent events have thoroughly demonstrated. They all do it and that’s where blind party adherence gets to be so dangerous.

In the absence of any real distinction between parties, our political scene ceases to be about ideas and becomes a clash between egos. People support the leaders because they want favours, because it’s who their family votes for, because someone in the other party is out to get them and when those leaders or ministers do wrong, they can’t bring themselves to admit it either out of pride or because the leader wields too much power.

“If you’re a young aspiring politician, the desire to become PM is currently a pipe dream, unless you were lucky enough to be born with certain surnames.”

Criticizing your party leader is akin to political suicide and results in an extremely undemocratic system where everyone, but especially the voters, loses. Fortunately for us, the current government is in a singularly good position to fix part of that problem. The solution is simple – the institution of term limits. Starting next election cycle, anyone who has already served two terms as Prime Minister shouldn’t be able to run again.

If you’re a young aspiring politician in Mauritius, the desire to become Prime Minister is currently a pipe dream unless you were lucky enough to be born with certain surnames. Term limits will simultaneously increase the pool of eligible candidates for both party leadership and prime ministership and limit the ambitions of wannabe dictators. When your party leader is no longer the focus of the party, questioning his actions and behavior is not perceived as a slight to the party.

Some people might argue that if term limits had been in place, sir Anerood Jugnauth would not have been able to stand against Navin Ramgoolam in the last elections. But if we had had that safeguard, he wouldn’t have needed to. After two terms, Navin Ramgoolam would have stepped down as Prime Minister and probably party leader.

The reason why this government is in such a good position to pass term limits is precisely because of what happened in last election. They have an overwhelming majority in Parliament and there isn’t a single politician in that assembly who wouldn’t want to have their own chance at prime ministership. This is the country’s best chance at fixing our broken political system and the best chance for this administration to redeem itself from recent faux pas.

If anyone in this government truly wants to bring about real change, this is the best way to do it and the only way this country can experience true democracy.

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