Defying expectations

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Perhaps the two people who were even more stunned than the rest of the population about the recent nominations at the head of the state are the newly appointed president and vice president, Pradeep Roopun and Eddy Boissézon themselves. They must still be asking themselves the question we are all asking: Why?

But let’s be fair. Barring the Ameenah Gurib-Fakim chapter – and look where that led us – the appointment of presidents has always been done on political grounds and has been seen as a way of rewarding long-serving political party apparatchiks for services rendered to the party. So let’s not pretend to be shocked that that tradition has continued. Let’s also not feign surprise at the fact that the appointments of both the president, the vice president and the speaker, are the choice of one man and one only – the prime minister. The constitution is clear about that.

The problem is elsewhere. Before 2014, the constitution was complemented by an unspoken, implicit code of ethics and decorum which made the choice of the speaker, the president and the vice president uncontroversial. The president is the image of the country both nationally and abroad. So though the people who occupied these positions in the past have been party people, their choice was guided by other, wider, considerations. Nominees were generally national high calibre figures who were well read, having gravitas, decorum, previous public exposure and a set of skills required to handle the position they were called upon to occupy. Most of the time, the choice was announced with pride during the election campaign. No defeated candidate was ever fished out to occupy a higher position than s/he failed to obtain through suffrage. That would be considered an insult to the electorate.

“The nomination of political party men is nothing new. What is new is that the implicit code that pertained so far regarding the kind of people chosen and the way they were announced has been thrown out of the window.”

So no one remembers any protests about the nomination of Cassam Uteem by Paul Bérenger to the Presidency where, incidentally, he was kept by Navin Ramgoolam! Nor was there any objection to Kailash Purryag, who had been nominated by his own Labour Party to later be asked by the MSM to vacate his position barely three years later to make room for Gurib-Fakim. For as long as meritocracy was respected, the person nominated was seen to be a good representative of the country and the traditional procedure followed, the opposition would be happy. Many a time, the opposition was so satisfied with the choice of the person to serve as president, vice president or speaker that it had the elegance to second it, thus giving the nominee more legitimacy.

The real problem today is that Pravind Jugnauth has pushed the limits of the system to their extreme, literally sticking to the constitution and doing away with the code of ethics traditionally in place. So, cracks in the constitution have started to appear.

What Jugnauth has done, in other words, is to strip off the veneer surrounding what has normally been a consensual, solemn occasion requiring the blessing of the National Assembly and impose his own surprising choices at the eleventh hour, leaving no room for discussion. The nomination of political party men is nothing new. What is new is that the implicit code that pertained so far regarding the kind of people chosen and the way they were announced has been thrown out of the window.

So instead of the usual national unifying exercise, the government and the opposition have found themselves at loggerheads, with accusing fingers starting to point at the constitution.

You can’t legislate everything. You can’t change the constitution every time something goes wrong. If the spirit of the law is not respected, no law is enough to safeguard us against nepotism, mediocrity, the erosion of state institutions and even dictatorship. That is unfortunately the harsh reality.

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