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Mauritius’ parliament in August 2008 approved the creation of a commission tasked with shedding light on the island's controversial history of slavery and indentured labor. President Sir Anerood Jugnauth, the ceremonial head of state, was re-elected in September by parliament for another five-year term.
Mauritius’s ethnically mixed population is primarily descended from immigrants 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.
Navinchandra Ramgoolam served as prime minister from 1995 until 2000, when President Cassam Uteem called early elections after a series of corruption scandals led to the resignation of several cabinet ministers. The opposition alliance, led by the Mauritian Socialist Movement (MSM), won the vote, and its leader, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, returned to the premiership, having previously held the post between 1982 and 1995. In a planned power shift, Paul Berenger, the leader of the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM)—which was allied with the MSM—became prime minister in September 2003, the first person from outside the island’s Indian-origin majority to hold the post.
Parliamentary elections in 2005 resulted in victory for the opposition Social Alliance, led by Ramgoolam. Frustration with rising unemployment and inflation, which had followed the loss of preferential trade deals with the United States and the European Union, contributed to the outcome. 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 diminished the popularity of the new government, which adopted a number of policies designed to further liberalize the economy, including the sale of government assets and reforms of the labor market, the pension system, social security, taxation, and facilities for foreign investors.
In August 2008, the Mauritius National Assembly approved legislation establishing a Truth and Justice Commission to examine the country’s history of slavery and indentured labor and to consider possible reparations. Former prime minister Sir Anerood Jugnauth, the ceremonial head of state, received another five-year mandate from the parliament. Former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands, who had been evicted to Mauritius by Britain to make way for a military base in the 1960s, lost a long-running legal battle with the British government to secure their return in October 2008.
Mauritius continued to enjoy political and economic stability in 2007 and 2008, and the government has actively sought to promote itself as an economic gateway to Africa. The country has reportedly attracted more than 9,000 offshore entities, and since independence the banking sector alone has drawn more than $1 billion in investments. The World Bank’s 2009 report on the ease of doing business ranked Mauritius 24 out of 181 countries surveyed, ahead of France and Germany.
Mauritius is an electoral democracy. Since independence, Mauritius has regularly chosen its representatives in free, fair, and competitive elections. The head of state is a largely ceremonial president elected by the unicameral National Assembly for a five-year term. Executive power resides with the prime minister, who is appointed by the president from the party or coalition with the most seats in the legislature. Of the National Assembly’s 70 members, 62 are directly elected and 8 are appointed from among unsuccessful candidates who gained the largest number of votes. All members serve five-year terms. Intermittent discussions continue to occur about possible reform to the majoritarian parliamentary electoral system which impedes the entry of new parties into parliament.
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. The main political groupings in Mauritius are the ruling Social Alliance coalition—which depends largely on the ethnic Indian majority—and the opposition alliance of the MMM and MSM; the two blocs have alternated in power for decades.
There have been some corruption cases in recent years, and efforts to market Mauritius as an international financial center have been impeded by domestic banking scandals. Nevertheless, the country continues to enjoy a generally positive reputation for transparency and accountability. Mauritius was ranked 41 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index. It also has ranked first in the 2007 and 2008 Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance.
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. Mauritius has an excellent telecommunications infrastructure, and internet use is widespread, with four different service providers.
Freedom of religion is respected, as is academic freedom.
The rights to freedom of assembly and association are also respected, but police occasionally use excessive force in response, as during labor riots in 2006. Numerous nongovernmental organizations operate freely, as do trade unions. The island’s nine labor federations include 300 unions. In September 2008, a new labor law was enacted, giving employers greater flexibility in hiring and firing workers. In 2008, some 68,000 foreign workers were employed in 404 export processing zones, although living and working conditions for the workers were generally very poor.An April 2008 report by the International Trade Union Confederation criticized Mauritius for restricting internationally-accepted labor rights practices.
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 individual cases of police brutality have been reported. There are no known political prisoners or reports of political or extrajudicial killings.
Various ethnic cultures and traditions flourish in peace, and there is general respect for constitutional prohibitions against discrimination. However, Mauritian Creoles, descendants 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 ethnic flashpoints. In addition, although they have not been the victims of formal discrimination, resettled Chagos Islanders have not been integrated into society, and they suffer from high levels of unemployment.
Women make up approximately 20 percent of the paid labor force and generally occupy a subordinate role in society. Domestic violence against women 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. After the 2005 parliamentary elections, 17 percent of the seats in the National Assembly are held by women. However, women occupy only 5 percent of the senior positions in the 100 top companies.