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’s civil liberties rating declined from 1 to 2 because of an increase in crime and the government’s failure to address it.
Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam’s Social Alliance coalition government, elected in July 2005, further consolidated its position in 2006. However, rising prices for a wide range of products and concerns about growing criminal activity contributed to voter demands for government action.
Mauritius’s ethnically mixed population is primarily descended from immigrants who were brought as laborers from the Indian subcontinent during the island’s 360 years of Dutch, French, and British colonial rule. 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 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. Navinchandra Ramgoolam, the outgoing prime minister, had served since 1995. The opposition alliance, led by the Mauritian Socialist Movement (MSM), won the elections. Its leader, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, returned to the prime minister’s office, a position he had previously held between 1982 and 1995. The MSM was allied with the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM).
In a planned power shift, MMM leader Paul Berenger assumed the premiership in September 2003, becoming the first person from outside of the island’s Indian-origin majority to hold the post. As part of the same pact, Jugnauth moved to the largely symbolic presidency.
Mauritius has been a peaceful and stable democracy for many years, although labor unrest has occasionally flared. For example, hundreds of civil servants stormed a government building in August 2004 to protest a decision to set up a body to oversee revenue collection. The demonstrators feared that the oversight action would lead to the retrenchment of 2,000 civil servants. There is also an ongoing dispute with Britain over the sovereignty of the Chagos Islands, which include the strategically important island of Diego Garcia. Previous governments have threatened to pull the country out of the Commonwealth.
Parliamentary elections in 2005 resulted in Berenger’s defeat and a victory for the opposition Social Alliance, led by Ramgoolam. Growing frustration with rising unemployment and inflation, which had followed the loss of preferential trade deals with the United States and the European Union, apparently contributed to the election outcome. The Social Alliance coalition, which includes the Labor Party and the Mauritian Party, draws most of its support from the majority ethnic Indians. Municipal elections in October 2005 further cemented the Social Alliance’s hold on power. In 2006, however, rising prices for a wide range of products and concerns about increased criminal activity helped to end the new government’s “honeymoon period” among voters. The Ramgoolam government adopted a number of policies designed to further liberalize the economy, including the sale of government assets and reforms of the labor market, pension system, social security, taxation and facilities for foreign investors. The World Bank estimates that gross domestic product grew 3.5 percent in the 2005–2006 fiscal year, down slightly from the previous year’s 4.5 percent.
Mauritius has achieved a level of political development enjoyed by few other African states. For years, the country’s stability was underpinned by generally steady economic growth and improvements in the island’s infrastructure and standard of living, while the country’s integrated, multiethnic population has provided a capable and reliable workforce. However, the loss of preferential European and U.S. market access for sugar and garment exports has recently begun to adversely affect the country’s economy and cause rising inflation and unemployment.
Mauritius is an electoral democracy. The head of state is a largely ceremonial president elected by the unicameral National Assembly for a five-year term. Mauritians are considering abolishing the position of vice president. Executive power resides with the prime minister, who is appointed by the president from the party or coalition with the most seats in Parliament. The second-largest party or alliance forms the official opposition. The National Assembly has 62 members who are directly elected by universal adult suffrage as well as a maximum of eight (currently four) members appointed from among unsuccessful parliamentary candidates who gained the largest number of votes. National Assembly members serve for five-year terms, and the next elections are due in 2010.
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 adopted; 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 small island dependencies. The largest of these is Rodrigues Island, which has its own government, local councils, and two seats in the National Assembly.
There have been a number of corruption cases in recent years, and efforts to market Mauritius as an international financial center have been impeded by a series of domestic banking scandals. Credible reports of corruption in the police force have recently surfaced. Mauritius was ranked 42 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, and several private daily and weekly publications are often highly critical of both government and opposition politicians and their policies. The state-owned Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) operates radio and television services and generally reflects government viewpoints. A small number of private radio stations have been authorized, but the state-run media enjoy a monopoly in broadcasting local news. The government is reportedly planning to introduce a media commission that would supplant the current Independent Broadcasting Authority. Stricter penalties for libel, sedition, and civil disobedience may be enacted. A Broadcasting Compliance Committee would be empowered to suspend or even cancel licenses.
Freedom of religion is respected, as is academic freedom, although recent reforms designed to make education more competitive have proven controversial.
The rights to freedom of assembly and association are respected, but police occasionally refuse to issue permits for demonstrations. Numerous nongovernmental organizations operate freely, as do trade unions. The island’s nine labor federations include 300 unions.
The generally independent judiciary, headed by the Supreme Court, administers a legal system that is an amalgam of French and British traditions. Civil rights are for the most part well respected, although cases of police brutality have been reported. There are no known political prisoners or reports of political or extrajudicial killings. In 2006, the National Commission on Human Rights issued a report that criticized prison conditions.
Various ethnic cultures and traditions flourish in peace, and there is general respect for constitutional prohibitions against discrimination. However, Mauritian Creoles, descendents of African slaves who comprise about a third of the population, live in poverty and complain of unfair treatment. In addition, tensions between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority persist, constituting one of the country’s few potential political flashpoints.
Women make up approximately 20 percent of the paid labor force and generally occupy a subordinate role in society. Domestic violence against women, particularly spousal abuse, has continued to be a major problem. In 1997, Mauritius became the first country in the region to pass a Protection from Domestic Violence Act. Mauritius has succeeded in increasing the percentage of women in the National Assembly, from 5.5 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in the current Parliament. Only 5 percent of the senior positions in the 100 top companies are held by women.