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Date: Wed, 22 Feb 1995 00:20:58 -0500
Sender: AFRICA-N Africa News & Information Service <AFRICA-N%UTORONTO.BITNET@UBVM.cc.buffalo.edu>
From: Faraz Fareed Rabbani <frabbani@epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: 'The Indian Ocean Newsletter': No. 657: February 4, 1995 (fwd)

Opposition running before the wind

The Indian Ocean Newsletter, 4 February 1995

The success of the two opposition candidates of the alliance of Navin Ramgoolam's Labour Party and Paul Berenger's Mouvement Militant Mauricien in the parliamentary bye-election on January 29 is writing on the wall, a clear warning from discontented voters to prime minister Anerood Jugnauth. Reeling under the blow of seeing the MSM-RMM (Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien-Renouveau Militant Mauricien) government coalition candidates defeated, Jugnauth had still not made any public comment on the ballot results two days after the polling stations closed. And former industry minister Jean Claude De L'Estrac remained holed up in his home, presumably wrapped in the bitter mantle of his personal defeat and reportedly accusing electoral commissioner Raj Dayal of "complicity" with the opposition. The electoral outcome is absolutely clear -cut, requiring no appeal to a higher jurisdiction: MMM's Berenger was re -elected to parliament with a comfortable 45 percent of the valid votes (representing nearly 59 percent of registered voters), whilst his Labour Party running mate James Burty David who was also elected collected more than twice as many votes than ex-minister De L'Estrac (who received less than 18 percent of valid votes), leaving the former ambassador in Paris Ms. Shirin Aumeeruddy -Cziffra trailing the field miles behind.

The government coalition managed no more than an average 20 percent of votes in the bye-election and staggers out of the shambles weakened by a ballot which was nevertheless a national test, whatever some grouches may try to claim. For RMM, led by De L'Estrac and deputy prime minister Prem Nababsing, the upset is of size, since the youthful RMM (and splinter group of MMM) was competing in its first-ever election. The electoral results rub salt in its ambitious leaders' wounds: RMM is no more than a small back-up unit for Jugnauth's MSM. The bye-election will also have repercussions within the Parti Mauricien Social Democrate (PMSD, right-wing) where the candidate came in fourth. The battle is expected to resume against PMSD party leader Xavier Duval, who had insisted on the party putting up a candidate although his father, former minister (and party mentor) Gaetan Duval, favoured voting against the government coalition and in favour of the LP-MMM alliance. For the next general election, PMSD members are likely, with the tacit agreement of Duval Senior, to seek some sort of informal alliance with the opposition. The arrangement might take the form of putting PMSD candidates on the LP-MMM joint voting ticket but retaining an LP banner.

From the results of the bye-election, the LP-MMM alliance can now deduce that it would come out with a national majority if a general election were to be organized today. However, this "sanction vote" against the government does not necessarily imply total voter confidence in the capability of the LP-MMM alliance to govern efficiently as in point of fact, there are several handicaps stacked against it, such as the lack of a real alternative economic programme, a potential prime minister (Navin Ramgoolam) who seems to be living on the past successes of his father, and an MMM leader (Berenger) who has always been much more impressive in opposition than in power. Nevertheless, the opposition's strategy for the coming months is all laid out: step up the pressure in a bid to force the prime minister to call an early election, this year. According to the constitution, the next elections should be held in 1996 but there are several constitutional "loopholes" which could allow this date to be pushed back to 1997.

To make the most of its advantageous position, the LP-MMM alliance will probably call not only for an immediate general election but also for the prior modification of the electoral law (in particular, banning some abusive practices and limiting campaign expenditure). The alliance will call on the government to give the electoral commission the power to enforce the law and it makes no secret of its suspicions towards electoral commissioner Moossun (appointed by the prime minister on a renewable twelve-month contract) whom it may ask to be replaced.

None of which is likely to force the premier's hand, especially as he appears to be carefully turning his back on the chill wind blowing. This will mean that if the alliance really wants to bring the general election closer, it will have little choice but try to make the country ungovernable. First, no doubt, by resuming its guerrilla tactics to block parliamentary activities in the next session (commencing March 21). For the purposes of their anti -government vendetta, opposition MPs can be expected to use all means at their disposal, to resume their tough criticism on the way the government awarded some commercial contracts, and to feed the fires of popular discontent over alleged "affairs". The alliance will probably not stop short of alerting its supporters and militants. On this point, Navin Ramgoolam's recent references to the political situation in Bangladesh could well be a pointer to the future behaviour of the Mauritian opposition: in Dacca, opposition MPs boycotted the parliament for ten months, then resigned en masse on December 28 1994, demanding that early elections be called and prepared by a non-party caretaker government.