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Mauritius enjoyed a relatively tranquil year, although in October, Prime Minister Sir Anerood Jugnauth announced that he would step down on September 30, 2003. Local elections, earlier scheduled for September 2002, were postponed to 2003.
Mauritius, which has no indigenous peoples, was seized and settled as a way station for European trade to the East Indies and India. Its ethnically mixed population is primarily descended from immigrants from the Indian subcontinent who were brought to the island as laborers during its 360 years of Dutch, French, and British colonial administration. Since gaining independence from Britain in 1968, Mauritius has maintained one of the developing world's most successful democracies. In 1992, the island became a republic within the Commonwealth, with a largely ceremonial president as head of state.
In a surprise move, in August 2000 President Cassam Uteem dissolved the National Assembly and called early elections, in large part because of a series of corruption scandals that had led to the resignation of several cabinet ministers. Some 80 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. The previous incumbent had served since 1995. In the elections, the victorious opposition alliance was led by the Socialist Militant Party (MSM). Its leader, the current prime minister, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, had previously served as prime minister from 1982 until 1995, when he was voted out of office.
The MSM is allied with the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM). The leader of the MMM, Paul Berenger, was subsequently appointed minister of finance and deputy prime minister. He is now slated to become prime minister in September 2003. In 2001 several corruption scandals attracted considerable notice.
Mauritius has achieved a stable democratic and constitutional order, and its focus on political competition rather than violent conflict demonstrates a level of political development enjoyed by few other African states. The political process is used to maintain ethnic balance and economic growth rather than dominance by any single group. In addition, political parties are not divided along the lines of the country's diverse ethnicities and religions.
The country's political stability is underpinned by steady economic growth and improvements in the island's infrastructure and standard of living. Unemployment and crime are rising, but the country's integrated, multinational population has provided a capable and reliable workforce that, along with preferential European and U.S. market access for sugar and garment exports, is attracting foreign investment. Economic development has been achieved, however, at the cost of the country's native forest and fauna, nearly all of which have been destroyed.
Citizens have the right to change their government democratically. The head of state is a president, elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term. Executive power resides in the prime minister. The National Assembly is unicameral; it has 62 members that are directly elected by universal adult suffrage and a maximum of 8 (currently 4) members appointed from unsuccessful parliamentary candidates who gained the largest number of votes. The members serve for a five-year term.
Since independence, Mauritius has regularly chosen its representatives in free, fair, and competitive elections. In 2002 the parliament appointed two separate committees to examine recommendations submitted by a constitutional and electoral reform commission. The commission has recommended government funding for political parties. They also suggested that the National Assembly, which is presently comprised of 62 members, be expanded by 30 members chosen proportionately from parties obtaining more than 10 percent of the total votes cast during a general election.
Decentralized structures govern the country's dependent islands. The largest of these is Rodrigues Island, which has its own government, local councils, and two seats in the National Assembly.
The generally independent judiciary is headed by the supreme court. The legal system is an amalgam of French and British traditions. Civil rights are generally well respected, although cases of police brutality have been reported. Freedom of religion is respected. There are no known political prisoners or reports of political or extrajudicial killings.
According to the BBC, the constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of the press. The state-owned Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) operates radio and TV services and generally reflects government thinking. A small number of private radio stations have been authorized, but the state-run media enjoy a monopoly in broadcasting local news. Several private daily and weekly publications, however, are often highly critical of both government and opposition politicians and their policies. Four daily newspapers and eight weeklies offer balanced coverage in several languages. They are often critical of both the government and the opposition parties.
Freedom of assembly and association is respected, although police occasionally refuse to issue permits for demonstrations. Numerous nongovernmental organizations operate.
Nine labor federations include 300 unions.
Women constitute approximately 20 percent of the paid labor force and generally occupy a subordinate role in society. The law does not require equal pay for equal work or prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. Women are underrepresented at the national university. The country is preparing a national gender-action plan with the long-term objective of greater equality. It addresses the integration of gender issues into the mainstream of government and private sector activities, and the enactment of a domestic violence act.
Women are significantly underrepresented in the nation's political life. According to the Southern African Development Community, in 2000 the percentages of women in parliament and in the cabinet (5.9 and 4 percent respectively) were the lowest of the 14 member countries.
Various cultures and traditions flourish in peace, though Mauritian Creoles, descendents of African slaves who make up a third of the population, live in poverty and complain of discrimination. In addition, tensions between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority persist, despite the general respect for constitutional prohibitions against discrimination. These constitute one of the country's few potential political flashpoints.
According to IMF figures, in 2001 Mauritius registered a 5.3 eight percent economic growth rate, and inflation has hovered at around 5 percent. Unemployment has risen to about 9 percent. Just 2.5 percent of the country's labor force is unemployed. Per capita income in Mauritius is $3,710, and is one of the highest in Africa. Adult literacy is 83 percent.