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For a Free and Democratic Society

Every citizen must realise that whatever our job or occupation or responsibility, we are the trustees of our democratic order and we should never violate that trust

By Sada Reddi

The perception that a general malaise is gripping the country is not very far from reality. For the population, there is no longer a single doubt aboutthe urgent need to address various failings confronting the country. But the big question that remains is: how do we do it? No one has a readymade solution, but there is a vast amount of experience that should be tapped to forge a new direction for a free and democratic society.

The parliamentary system, albeit a restricted one, has been in place since the 1886 elections. Our citizens have assumed that parliamentary government and state institutions will keep on improving with time, but they seem to have suddenly discovered that it was wrong to assume its linear development would be maintained. They have now come face to face with the unsuspected hidden dangers that have burst out in the open and are trying to turn the clock back. They also realize that institutions also decay and perish unless they are revitalized and revived and given a new lease of life.

The statistical expression of the malaise can be easily found in the rising inflation, the depreciation of the rupee, growing indebtedness and balance of payments deficit, unemployment, and poor governance. The recent report of the Director of Audit shows the waste of public resources and public money collected in the form of taxes. The Extended Programme has been such a failure that the authorities are afraid to reveal that about only 2% of the 3000 or so candidates examined have probably attained the necessary level at the examination. Now has been added to the growing list of grievances the (mal)functioning of the parliamentary system and of most of our institutions,and therein may lie the many ills of society.

Political scientists would surely probe the issues affecting our country and reach a different conclusion but reflection and action by society have to start right away pending further action and measures to be taken at a later stage. It has been clear to many social scientists since a long time that our democratic system has been sliding towards a patrimonial system for the benefit of a new corrupt oligarchy,for very often underlying ethical principles have been violated with impunity.

Laws, procedures and conventions

Nevertheless, on balance, barring some weaknesses, the system has worked more or less satisfactorily for a long period of time and several conventions informing it were respected. Those principles and conventions were derived from a long tradition of parliamentary government inherited from the Westminster model. We may have forgotten that a parliamentary system is not merely a series of laws and procedures inscribed in our Constitution. Rather, it is also grounded in a number of conventions that have to be observed and respected if we want the system to operate usefully and efficiently and above all democratically.

It is true that in the past conventions have often been flouted and ‘To hell with Erskine May’ had been hurled at the President of the Legislative Council. This is not surprising for it took time to learn and get a good grasp of parliamentary skills; it seems today the learning curve will take a much longer time what with our present political culture or the lack of it. This is evident during most sessions of the National Assembly. Even worse, independent institutions are being disparaged and the principle of the separation of powers is being thrown to the winds while a section of the police force on which the public could rely for protection has fallen low in their eyes. Read More… Become a Subscriber

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 14 April 2023

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