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.

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