The tail wagging the dog

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The distinctive aroma of reconciliation has been wafting through from the Treasury building after a week-long media orgy where various publications had to grind out endless stories about whether Finance Minister Xavier Duval would stay with his coalition partner or leave government. As the country limps back into business as usual, all the speculations are swatted with the line we so expected: The minister of finance did not mean to challenge or blackmail the prime minister and the latter is very happy to work with the former and he had no intention of wooing his ally’s members into his party. The Labour Party Secretary General Kalyanee Juggoo – after causing so much damage and shooting her mouth off as only she is capable of doing – seized the opportunity to declare her love for Xavier Duval.

So, move along. Nothing to see here. No one can match the prime minister’s and his minister of finance’s repertoire of artful brush-offs. However, these meticulously crafted pseudo-denials do stand the test of credibility because, if you analyze the events prior to the meeting of the two leaders of the coalition properly, there isn’t a single statement uttered by Duval to suggest that he was leaving the government. He smiled through the intense courtship period by the opposition without giving any inclination as to where his heart stood. Basking in the euphoria of being desired, he said nothing, did nothing. Why should he? By keeping his mouth shut, he entertained the ambiguity, nourished the nascent hope of an even more unnatural possible alliance and thus kept the opposition off his back for the whole budget discussions. What a feat!

Even in the Michael Sik Yuen episode, Duval’s statements were measured and ambiguous enough to accommodate a possible face-saving brush-off if necessary. Rumours that he may have asked for seven investitures from the Remake remained just that – rumours. If he did ask for that many, it meant he wasn’t taking the whole issue seriously in the first place. The PMSD does not have seven people to field even if Duval included those who were associated with the drug dealer Cindy Legallant, those who are out on bail and those who drink their cough mixture on the rocks! So all in all, Duval came out of this whole saga pretty much unscathed while the opposition – shooting from the hip – lost its shirt and showed the extent to which it was prepared to go to get to power. Paul Bérenger has to lie low for a long time before we forget the despair he has displayed.

The most worrying part about this whole episode is coming to terms with the realization – yet again – of how much power tiny parties wield when coalitions become a hotchpotch of the most insane combinations to steal our vote.

For a party with a generous 2% following, two elected members, one best loser and one worst loser, the party has not done too badly at all. Two ministers and two private parliamentary secretaries! As for the MSM with less than 4% support, the 50-50 mandate they have managed to negotiate is stunning. Half-way through the mandate at best, we are likely to witness the same scenario of the tail wagging the dog.

So, how much decision-making power do we as voters have and how much power do those who negotiate on our behalf for their own selfish interest have? How much of that power do they give to the parties few of us vote for? The answer to that question is a terrible verdict on our democracy.

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