Tag Archives: Mauritius

Mauritius – Electorate rejects the incumbent government and semi-presidentialism

Mauritius held its snap parliamentary election on Wednesday. The previous election was held in May 2010 and the parliamentary term is five years. However, Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam from the Mauritius Labour Party/Parti Travailliste (MLP/PTr) asked the president to dissolve parliament in October.

The election took place against the background of a shift in electoral coalitions and the prospect of constitutional reform.

In October the Labour Party and the Mauritian Militant Movement/Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) led by Paul Bérenger formed an alliance. Whereas the MMM was the main opposition party after the 2010 election, the Labour Party’s slim parliamentary majority left PM Ramgoolam looking for allies. The agreement between the two parties was reached on the basis of a programme of constitutional reform.  As reported in a previous post the plan was to introduce a semi-presidential system with a stronger directly elected president. PM Ramgoolam would assume the presidency and Bérenger would take the prime ministership.

The MLP/MMM (or PTr/MMM) alliance was opposed at the election by the Alliance Lepep (Alliance of the People). This electoral coalition was dominated by the Militant Socialist Movement/Mouvement Socialiste Militant (MSM) led by Anerood Jugnauth, but also included the Mauritian Social Democratic Party/Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate (PMSD). They were opposed to the prospect of constitutional reform. Indeed, the election quickly became a referendum on the proposed changes. However, they also campaigned on a programme of social reform, and human rights (the destruction of information from the country’s identity card).

At the election turnout was 74 per cent. This was lowest turnout at any parliamentary election to date. Even with a number of seats still to be decided, the result is clear. The opposition Alliance Lepep has won an outright majority. Currently, the Alliance Lepep has won 47 seats, while the MLP/MMM has won just 13 seats. PM Ramgoolam was defeated in his own constituency, coming in fifth, while Paul Bérenger, himself a former PM from 2003-2005, came third in his constituency. PM Ramgoolam has already accepted defeat.

The new prime minister, Anerood Jugnauth, is 84 years old. He was the president of Mauritius from 2003-2012. He also served as prime minister from 1982-1995, during which time Mauritius was still a parliamentary monarchy, and again from 2000-2003. Anerood Jugnauth is the founder of the MSM and, in effect, the PM-elect, while the current leader of the party is his son, Pravind Jugnauth.

This is not the first time that Mauritius has considered introducing semi-presidentialism, but now it is off the political agenda for some time.

Mauritius – Semi-presidential plans

Mauritius is currently debating whether or not to amend its constitution and introduce the direct election of the president. If so, then Mauritius would come under the category of a semi-presidential regime.

Mauritius gained independence from Britain in 1968. From that point, it operated as a parliamentary monarchy, with the British monarch as head of state. However, in 1992 the system was amended to a parliamentary republic with an indirectly president as head of state. Now, though, there are new plans for reform.

The last parliamentary elections were held in 2010. They returned a coalition government led by  Navin Ramgoolam of the Labour Party. However, the government has a turbulent history. In August 2011 one of the main parties left the coalition. In June of this year the Finance Minister resigned over plans for electoral reform. By this time, the government was left with only a wafer-thin majority in parliament.

In this context, a new set of political alliances has started to emerge. In particular, PM Ramgoolam has joined with Paul Bérenger, the leader of the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) party and also leader of the opposition until his formal resignation from the post yesterday. After months of discussions, they reached an agreement last week that was ratified by the MMM at the weekend. The alliance is due to be made official later this week.

The agreement is likely to lead to equal number of government members for each party, a new set of policy priorities, a reorganisation of the government, and also a set of constitutional reforms. Specifically, the role of the presidency is going to be reformed. Currently, the president of Mauritius has very few powers, being little more than a figurehead. However, according to the terms of the agreement as we have them up to now, the president is going to be given much greater powers, including the power of dissolution. According to reports, the president will have greater powers of appointment, will direct foreign policy, and will be able to chair government meetings. The president will be directly elected and will serve for a seven-year term.

With Bérenger having now resigned as leader of the opposition, the new government seems ready to take shape. According to reports, Ramgoolam will remain on as PM, while Bérenger will become Deputy PM. There are likely to be snap elections this autumn. Assuming the new Ramgoolam/Bérenger coalition is returned, the amendments will be drafted and the new system, which is being called the Second Republic, will come into effect. The current president, Rajkeswur Purryag, of the Labour Party came to power in July 2012. The current length of the presidential term is five years.

Political alliances in Mauritius are relatively unstable. As long-time opponents, Bérenger and Ramgoolam may also have difficulty working together. The parliamentary election may destabilise the situation. Also, the constitutional reforms have yet to be drafted and approved. However, the agreement does have the potential to mark a radical change in the politics of the island and to add Mauritius to the list of semi-presidential countries.