Interview with Harish Chundunsing: “The sun is shining for a privileged few”
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Interview with Harish Chundunsing: “The sun is shining for a privileged few”
They can’t even organise one election as they are still dealing with court cases and allegations of mismanagement and rigging and now they want to organise three elections? What is this? Buy one get two free or trwa pou dis or what?
Harish Chundunsing was a journalist, a news director and worked for several publications before he ‘retired’. Today, he is starting a new career in broadcast as a host in a talk show. He has recently published a book on the crash of Air Mauritius. We took the opportunity to talk to him about his book, his career move and the political situation in general.
You have just joined the broadcast media after years in the written press. What is the reason behind this move?
I have so much time and I want to keep myself busy, so a challenge came my way and I thought why not? The first session received an overwhelming welcome and I am very happy. It wasn’t planned. The initial idea was for me to offer training but it evolved into a talk show.
I watched the first programme and you seemed so at ease that one would think you have done it all your life…
I was very surprised myself. I wasn’t expecting this but I gave it my best. Whatever I do, I give my best so I gave it my best with the limited means I had and I am happy with the outcome. I can’t complain. From here, I can only improve. I was given tips by professionals so I will follow those and improve.
This move into broadcast media happens just after another very important move in your career: the publication of your new book: Air Mauritius: Enquête sur un Atterissage Forcé. What triggered the publication of your book?
I must tell you that the idea wasn’t mine. The idea came from my good friend Alain Gordon-Gentil, who called me and told me, “Why don’t you write a book?” I asked him about what and he suggested Air Mauritius and he told me that the story of how Air Mauritius went into administration must be told to people.
Did you have any interest in Air Mauritius before or worked on the subject?
Yes, I have. I recall that in 1994, When Alain was editing Le Mag and I was director of news, we had an investigative piece published on Air Mauritius. At the time, it was about favours given to agents and to political bigwigs.
Did you base your books on the findings of your investigation?
No, definitely not. I restricted myself to the reasons that have pushed Air Mauritius to the stage that it had to be placed under Voluntary Administration – the kind of mismanagement that went on and which brought Air Mauritius to its knees. Air Mauritius was the pride of Mauritius and was quoted on the Stock Exchange. Suddenly, it goes under administration. Why? We owe it to Mauritians to give them the causes that have led to that.
Look, I know that it’s unfair to ask you to sum up a whole investigation that led to the birth of your book but I will still ask you: what exactly went wrong – in one word.
I think the word is mismanagement! Total mismanagement, if you allow me two words.
In your talk show, you will be dealing with political issues and asking your interviewees about their views on the political situation. Today, I have the rare privilege of asking you about your own views.
Well, I think that the political situation is such that it is for everyone to see. I don’t think Mauritians are so disconnected from the situation that they don’t see what is happening. What we are witnessing today is a total decay of power. The abuses are such that there is no other way to describe what is going on other than the “decay of power”.
When you talk about abuses, what exactly jumps to your mind?
Well, let’s take the latest example: postponing the municipal election is testimony to how deep-rooted that decay is. No good-thinking Mauritian ever thought that the government they voted would take away their vote from them for the second time! It is really shocking, the more so that they have done it with such nonchalance as if it was something normal. On top of that, and as the opposition has pointed out, they don’t even deign to explain to you why they took away your right from you.
The explanation is that they are planning an overhaul of the electoral system to organise municipal, village and general elections in one day in order to save money.
This is really dark humour! What they have done in one day is murder democracy in broad daylight! They are squandering money left, right and centre and they now want us to believe that they want to save money?
But don’t you believe they have a case when they say they want to organise three elections in one?
Come on! I think they are pushing their luck too far. They can’t even organise one election as they are still dealing with court cases and allegations of mismanagement and rigging and now they want to organise three elections? What is this? Buy one get two free or trwa pou dis or what?
In spite of everting, don’t you think, in general, that people are happy with the situation?
I don’t think that people in general are happy. Those who are happy are those who are making hay while the sun shines and I insist on the ‘sun’. The sun is shining for a privileged few. The rest of the people are now struggling to make ends meet while watching the privileged fill their pockets. These people are silent for the time being but they will probably express themselves through the ballot when the time comes. They are biding their time.
Do these people understand why their purchasing power has taken a hit? Do they care about democracy, free elections, transparency etc.? When you talk to people, do you get the impression they understand or care about the issues you and I are discussing here?
What you and I have been discussing are issues that make people angry. And I can tell you that right now, Mauritians are very angry. In 2014, we have had some very clear examples of how people react when they are angry. So I can tell you that people are very angry with the government right now. And when the government is disconnected with the anger of the people, you get these kinds of results. These results only come out during elections. So when the elections come, we will see how this discontent is expressed in the ballot box.
Do you share the fear some people have expressed that since the government postponed the municipal elections and got away with it, nothing prevents them from postponing the general elections too, in spite of what the law says?
They can only do that if there is a state of emergency; otherwise the constitution is clear: you can’t postpone the general elections. Unless they declare a state of emergency.
What if they did?
But the conditions have to allow that first, like a natural catastrophe or an unprecedented law-and-order situation or something like that, which would justify that.
Justify to whom?
Well, that’s just it. The checks and balances are not functioning anymore, which is a real tragedy. There are institutions which should have been shouldering responsibility and which have completely abdicated. So this is what the result is. Had institutions continued to function properly, things would have been otherwise.
Suppose there was a general election tomorrow, what is the outlook?
Well, if this government were so confident that they would win the elections, would they have postponed the municipal elections?
What if the government were saying, “I know I am not popular in the towns but I don’t care because that is not where my vote bank is”?
But I think we shouldn’t forget that the towns make up for 10 constituencies.
So what? That leaves us with 10 other constituencies…
Then the MSM would have to win all the seats in those constituencies and one more.
Isn’t that possible with a scattered opposition?
The opposition is scattered for the time being. Between now and when an election is called and parliament is dissolved, many things can happen. I think people will come to realise that fighting amongst themselves will only benefit the ruling party. That is why it is too early to talk about the scattered opposition. When parliament is dissolved, the whole narrative will change and we won’t have the same situation we have now.
From the dynamics in the field, what changes in terms of alignments do you see?
I think that at some point in time, the leaders of the parties will realise that they don’t stand a chance of winning the elections on their own. The three major parties, the Labour Party, the MMM and the PMSD will get together at some point. They have no choice but to go together. By that time, if good sense prevails among the other marginal parties, then perhaps something will work out.
The opposition is scattered for the time being. Between now and when an election is called and parliament is dissolved, many things can happen. I think people will come to realise that fighting amongst themselves will only benefit the ruling party.
Some political analysists are saying that the Labour Party would lose votes in the rural areas by going with the MMM and the MMM would lose votes in the cities by going with the Labour Party. Do you agree with that?
I think this is a very simplistic way of analysing things. The dynamics of an alliance is that things work out differently. Those who are sitting on the fence will decide at the last minute after seeing which way the wind is blowing. They will ‘voler au secours de la victoire’ as we say. I think that the big Labour/MMM/PMSD alliance is giving the most guarantee of a victory.
What about the fringe parties?
I think the fringe parties are part of our national folklore. Entertaining at best.
Do you mean all the fringe parties? The Reform Party, Linion Pep Morisien…
Yes, Rassemblement Mauricien, Parti Malin…all of them are part of the folklore.
Be that as it may, they will split the opposition votes, won’t they?
Well, if they contest the election, they will get votes. But they are not going to get the kind of votes that will influence the results.
What you are saying is that if all these fringe parties go it on their own, they won’t be able to draw enough votes to stand in the victory of a united Labour/MMM/ PMSD alliance, are you?
I believe they may have some nuisance value and it would be better if they all joined the main alliance. But there are so many vested interests and egos and different ways of doing things that that might not happen. Some have oversized egos.
So, in your opinion, those parties might not join a united opposition?
Yes, they have their own ambitions too. Two of them have already said they are Prime Minister Material. So you can see their ambitions getting in the way.
What’s wrong with that?
There is nothing wrong with that except that ambitions have to be measured. You have to have the means to realise those ambitions. To become prime minister, you need the support of 30 MPs. Do those people displaying disproportionate ambitions stand a chance? I wonder if the leaders themselves will be elected. I have serious doubts about that.
According to you, as long as the three major parties stick together, they have a good chance of booting out the government?
As we say, figures never lie. The last election was a three-cornered fight, we saw the result.
But aren’t the marginal parties a third force?
No, I don’t think they have the kind of influence that they can present themselves as a third force. So, the mathematics is very simple. At the last election, the MMM collapsed in the rural areas but they still managed to pull out about 6,000 votes in each constituency. And when you look at the Labour Party/PMSD alliance, wherever they lost, they lost marginally, whether it was in constituency number 15 where Cader Sayed Hossen lost by some 14 votes, Navin Ramgoolam, who lost by about 600-800 votes, in spite of the alleged irregularities, the MBC, the opposition in-fighting etc. So when they are together, they will be a major force.
Is it just about arithmetic, though?
No, it is not just about that. However, when these parties put their force together, they are bound to defeat the MSM. If they go separately, the same causes produce the same results. A three-cornered fight will hand victory over to the MSM.
What about the money factor?
Look, I was a bit worried about the money politics and the effect it may have. I was thinking that politics has become just for the rich, considering the war chest the MSM has and the money that will be dished out during the election. However, when I see what has happened in India, where money politics is very important, where there is bribery on a large scale, where the voters are needy, but still the ruling party, with its huge war chest, all its might, all its pots of gold was defeated in Karnataka. The BJP was defeated and defeated flatly. So money is not the only thing people are interested in. So I believe it is not money alone that will decide the outcome of the elections.
Many people are saying that the MSM will win, not because it deserves to win but because it cannot afford not to.
Exactly! We all know how much the MSM and its cronies have at stake. I would be foolish to say that they won’t go to any extent to win because of that. But at the end of the day, it is the will of the people that will prevail.
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