The Labour Party, MMM and the PMSD are joining forces tactically to put the MSM on the backfoot. Part of the reason is that such a combine evokes memories of 1995 when the Labour-MMM alliance pummelled the MSM in a 60-0 victory. And this time they have the PMSD on board too. Another part of the reason is that the MSM itself is proving to be inept when it comes to dividing the opposition parties. On the one hand, the prime minister, Pravind Jugnauth, is trying to drive a wedge within the opposition by implicating MMM Leader Paul Bérenger in the St. Louis scandal, while simultaneously his own speaker, Sooroojdev Phokeer, is driving the opposition ever closer together by bludgeoning its members week in, week out on national television.
What is less obvious is that the gulf between the MSM and everybody else is growing for another, and in the case of Mauritian political history quite unprecedented, reason. On the one hand, the elections are due in 2024 and in the meantime the MSM has a comfortable enough majority not to fear any existential threats. They don’t need the PMSD MPs. Labour is their main rival to see off. And they don’t need the MMM either; they can get by without courting it or dealing with the complications between the MMM and the MSM’s exclusively ex-MMM satellites. So the MSM government feels no need to court this or that bit of the opposition.
What is new in 2020, however, is the reason why all three opposition parties are coming closer together. Normally, recent decades in Mauritian politics have witnessed a strange malady whereby governments have usually faced oppositions where this section or that has been dying to jump ship into government. Today, this temptation seems to be missing entirely as well. The distance between the MSM and everyone else is growing because it seems nobody else seems interested in joining the MSM in government. This is what’s new.
The reason for this is that the economic situation in the country is not really as unprecedented as it’s being made out to be. That would be underestimating the recurrent choice of the political and economic elite of the country to resolve crises by inflicting pain on the people.
This is not the first time that the spectre of mass unemployment has raised its head. Between 2000 and 2005, no less than 74,000 jobs (a number actually larger than the 60,000 more layoffs the government expects in 2020 to bring unemployment to a total of 100,000) were lost in sugar and textiles in a wave of closures, bankruptcies, mass layoffs and ‘restructurings’. That helped turn the then-MSM-MMM government into a one-term government. Today, the cause may be unprecedented (a global virus) but not its effect (a spike in unemployment). This is actually the second time that Mauritian capitalism has crashed in as many decades and is dependent upon the state to bail it out. This time round no opposition party really wants to be dragged down by this current train wreck, much less govern or be implicated as a powerless ‘junior partner’. Much better to look on as the MSM commits political hara-kiri through a combination of inept policies, redesigning laws to deliver mass unemployment, printing money and flushing the system with public funds fuelling inflation, all the while accumulating one scandal after another.
Hence the strange situation we find ourselves in: the government is not interested in the opposition, nor does anybody amongst the three parties in the opposition seem to be interested in the government either.