Freedom in the World
You are here
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Mauritius' civil liberties rating improved from 2 to 1 due to the consolidation of associational rights.
Although Mauritius was generally peaceful throughout 2004, hundreds of civil servants stormed the a government building in August to protest a decision to set up a body to oversee revenue collection. The country's economy continued to grow steadily throughout the year.
Mauritius's 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 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 outgoing prime minister, Dr. Navin Rangoolam, had served since 1995. In the 2000 elections, the victorious opposition alliance was led by the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM). Its leader, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, returned to the prime minister's office, a position he had previously held between 1982 and 1995. The MSM is allied with the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM).
Mauritius has achieved a stable democratic and consolidated constitutional order, 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, according to the Political Handbook of the World, political parties are divided more by personality and pragmatic considerations than by ideology or ethnicity.
The country's political stability has been underpinned by steady economic growth and improvements in the island's infrastructure and standard of living. Per capita income is $3,860, one of the highest in Africa. Adult literacy is 84 percent. Mauritius'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.
According to IMF figures, real growth in gross domestic product for 2004 was projected to be approximately 4.5 percent in 2004, following a disappointing 2.5 percent the previous year. This was predicated upon the recovery of tourism and sugar production, the latter due to favorable weather, and continued strong construction and transportation activity. However, high domestic production costs and increasing competition have continued to affect adversely the export processing zone (EPZ) sector, which registered negative growth for the second consecutive year. In addition, significant environmental degradation has occurred as the economy has developed.
In a planned power shift, Paul Berenger assumed the prime minister's position in September 2003, becoming the first person from outside the island's Indian-origin majority to hold the post. As part of the same pact, former prime minister Jugnauth moved up to the largely symbolic presidency. Although 2004 was generally a peaceful year in Mauritius, in August about 1,000 civil servants stormed the Government Building to protest a decision to set up a body to oversee revenue collection. The demonstrators feared that this would lead to the retrenchment of 2,000 civil servants.
On the international front, Berenger threatened to pull the country out of the Commonwealth because of a dispute with Britain over the sovereignty of the Chacos Islands, which include the strategically important island of Diego Garcia.
Citizens of Mauritius 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 who 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, and the next elections are due in 2005. There is considerable debate taking place over election law reform. Two proposals are being considered in parliament on the introduction of a mixed majoritarian - proportional representation system.
Since independence, Mauritius has regularly chosen its representatives in free, fair, and competitive elections. In 2002, the National Assembly appointed two separate committees to examine recommendations submitted by a constitutional and electoral reform commission. In 2003, constitutional amendments that modestly strengthened presidential powers were passed. These deal with the duties of the president, the appointment of the president and members of the electoral commission, the dissolution of the National Assembly, and the exercise of the prerogative of clemency. Decentralized structures govern the country's island dependencies. The largest of these is Rodrigues Island, which has its own government and local councils, and two seats in the National Assembly.
In recent years, there have been a number of corruption cases, and recent efforts to market Mauritius as an international financial center have been impeded by a number of domestic banking market scandals. Mauritius was ranked 54 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.
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. A special committee chaired by the prime minister has been set up to review the Independent Broadcasting Act. The prime minister has criticized private radio stations, stating that they should be more responsible. The government consequently asked the Independent Broadcasting Authority to implement measures to control the radio stations. Opponents of greater government control emphasize that the independent media are a vital arena in which ordinary citizens can voice their opinions on the government's performance.
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 and are often critical of both the government and the opposition parties. Internet access is available.
Freedom of religion is respected, as is academic freedom.
The rights to freedom of assembly and association are also respected, although police occasionally refuse to issue permits for demonstrations. Numerous nongovernmental organizations operate. Nine labor federations include 300 unions.
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. There are no known political prisoners, reports of political or extrajudicial killings or significant criticisms of prison conditions.
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 tensions constitute one of the country's few potential political flashpoints.
Women constitute approximately 20 percent of the paid labor force and generally occupy a subordinate role in society, although the constitution guarantees that all Mauritians are equal before the lawWomen can now form part of a jury. Professional women can be assessed separately from their husbands for tax purposes. In 1997, Mauritius became the first country in the region to have passed a Protection from Domestic Violence Act. In 2000, only 4 women were elected to the 562-member parliament. Only 5 percent of women occupy senior positions in the 100 top companies.