Political observers Malenn Oodiah and Catherine Boudet comment on the mushrooming of political parties in Mauritius. While Malenn Oodiah believes the emergence of new political parties is a reaction to the vacuum felt by a section of the population, Catherine Boudet deems it normal that new voices will emerge, calling for change.
Definitely, since April this year, we have witnessed the mushrooming of new political parties: Union Populaire, The Liberals, Parti Justice Sociale, Ensam, which all have in common the fact that they are extra-parliamentary parties, i.e. they have emerged from the civil society with the ambition to renovate political practices, and their leaders do not form part of the traditional political elite. This seems to be quite a healthy trend in the life cycle of Democracy. When a political system becomes rusty and does not find its way to self-renovation, some new voices will emerge from the society in order to push for change.
> How do these parties contribute to our democracy?
Even though those emerging parties pretend to challenge the traditional parties from outside, they have constituted themselves in an elitist mode, as the initiative of a few individuals. They are not the product of mass mobilisation. They still have to pass the test of elections in order to see whether they truly convey the aspirations of the population. A political party’s role is to ensure that it represents the interests of a segment of a population (its electorate) and make sure that these demands are dealt with by the State.
Regarding the new emerging parties, they seem to be ‘catch-all parties’ which have not emerged out of a popular mobilisation to defend such or such cause, but are instead proposing their own political vision, in the hope that this vision will attract people. In this respect, they are still perpetuating the old top-to-down political model which they are criticising. However, those emerging parties are blowing a new healthy breeze on the political culture. At least three of them have produced manifestos long before elections (which is totally unusual in Mauritius) intending to propose new political practices, new political ethics as well as society projects, while traditional parties prefer to rely on ‘photographic representation’, i.e. requesting people to follow their leadership in terms of faith and adhesion to the personal charisma of their leaders, not in terms of ideas or projects.
> While earlier, unsatisfied masses of people used to protest and eventually form a political party with one of the founding fathers becoming the leader, we are now witnessing the formation of political parties by one or very few individuals, to which they are expecting other members to adhere to. What’s your take on this change to a top-down political party?
Actually, those emerging parties are still operating in a top-to-down logic. Interestingly, they have all mushroomed at a strategic time, when there was a glimpse of hope that elections were ‘behind the door’. As this strategic timing now seems to be stretching from a few weeks to a few months, they will have more time to prove that they can shift from a top-to-down logic to effective political mobilisation.
However, those new parties have to develop political tools which are adapted to the requirements of their time. We cannot expect them to use the same mobilisation strategies as in the 1970s. Nowadays Mauritius has become an elitist society, Mauritians like to be on the side of the winner. The repressive laws have efficiently curbed mass protest, clientele practices are so deeply rooted that people prefer to solve their personal problems addressing themselves directly to politicians and ministers on a personal (clientèle) mode rather than to fight for collective solutions. These are structural issues which have to be tackled by the emerging parties if they want to succeed.
> Will these new parties last long on the political scene? Do they stand a chance against the existing major parties? Or do you think there are new and/or small political parties which are in fact the mouth piece of the big political parties?
These emerging parties still have a trial period of a few months, maybe a bit more than one year, before the General Elections takes place, to attract an electorate. If they fail to do so, they will just vanish in the political jungle. Given that broad political mobilisation no longer seems to be fashionable in Mauritius, the most probable scenario is that some of these new leaders (or ‘leadeuses’) will manage to make their way to Parliament on an individual basis. Then the question remains: do they have the necessary tools to operate the change they are advocating for? Under the current electoral system, free political participation is heavily curtailed by institutional lock-ups. For instance, the political agents of major parties are officially given a huge role during elections by the electoral law itself, which favours clientele practices.