Freedom in the World
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President Anerood Jugnauth unexpectedly resigned in March 2012 and announced his plan to challenge Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam and his governing coalition in the 2015 parliamentary elections. A corruption case against the former health minister, finance minister, and other members of the Mauritian Socialist Movement was ongoing at year’s end.
Mauritius’s ethnically mixed population is primarily descended from laborers brought 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 the 2000 parliamentary elections, a coalition of the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) and the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) defeated the ruling Mauritian Labour Party (MLP), and the MSM’s Anerood Jugnauth became prime minister. In a planned power shift, the leader of the MMM, Paul Bérenger, took over as prime minister in 2003, becoming the first person outside the island’s Indian-origin majority to hold the post. Jugnauth assumed the largely ceremonial role of president.
Frustration with rising unemployment and inflation resulted in a victory for the opposition Social Alliance in the 2005 parliamentary election, and the MLP’s Navinchandra Ramgoolam was named prime minister. However, rising prices and increasing levels of crime quickly diminished the new government’s popularity.
In the May 2010 legislative elections, Ramgoolam’s Alliance of the Future—which included the MLP, the Mauritian Social Democratic Party, and the MSM—captured 45 seats. Bérenger’s Alliance of the Heart—a coalition of the MMM, the National Union, and the Mauritanian Socialist Democratic Movement—took 20. Ramgoolam retained the premiership.
In July 2011, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) arrested Health Minister Santi Bai Hanoomanjee of the MSM for allegedly inflating the government’s bid on a private hospital. In response, all six MSM cabinet ministers—including party leader Pravind Jugnauth, the finance minister and son of Anerood Jugnauth—resigned. In August, the MSM pulled out of the governing coalition, leaving Ramgoolam with a slim parliamentary majority. Further turmoil came in September, when the ICAC arrested Pravind Jugnauth on conflict of interest charges related to the hospital bid. In December, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) maintained the ICAC’s provisional charges against Jugnauth; an appeal was expected to be heard in early 2013. In July 2012, the ICAC completed its inquiry of the former health minister and other cabinet members and referred the case to the DPP, along with the ICAC’s recommendations; the case was pending at year’s end.
The MSM’s troubles deepened political tensions and ultimately led to President Anerood Jugnauth’s resignation in March 2012. However, he announced his return to party politics and immediately realigned his MSM party with Bérenger’s MMM to create an alliance capable of defeating the MLP in 2015 parliamentary elections.
Mauritius is an electoral democracy. The president, whose role is largely ceremonial, is 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 69 members, 62 are directly elected and 7 are appointed from among unsuccessful candidates who gained the largest number of votes; all members serve five-year terms. Decentralized structures govern the country’s small island dependencies. The largest dependency, Rodrigues Island, has its own government and local councils, and two seats in the National Assembly.
The country’s generally positive reputation for transparency and accountability was damaged by the 2011 arrests of two prominent MSM ministers and the ongoing scandal, as well as allegations by the MSM that the ruling party is using the ICAC as a political tool. A 2008 diplomatic cable from the U.S. Embassy in Port Louis, leaked in September 2011 by the activist organization WikiLeaks, described corruption in Mauritius as “often overlooked” and called the graft problem “pervasive and ingrained.” Mauritius was ranked 43 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, and the country has been ranked first in the Ibrahim Index of African Governance since its inception in 2007.
The constitution guarantees freedom of expression. Several private daily and weekly publications criticize both the ruling and opposition parties, but the state-owned Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation’s radio and television services generally reflect government viewpoints. A small number of private radio stations compete with the state-run media. In July 2012, the editor of the Sunday Times, Imran Hosany, was arrested and charged with outraging public and religious morality after publishing photographs of a tourist lying dead after she was murdered on her honeymoon in Mauritius; the case was pending at year’s end.
Religious and academic freedoms are respected.
Freedoms of assembly and association are honored, though police have occasionally used excessive force in response to riots. There are more than 300 unions in Mauritius. Tens of thousands of foreign workers employed in export-processing zones suffer from poor living and working conditions, and their employers are reportedly hostile to unions.
The generally independent judiciary, headed by the Supreme Court, administers a legal system that combines French and British traditions. Civil rights are largely respected, though individual cases of police brutality have been reported.
Various ethnic cultures and traditions coexist peacefully, and constitutional prohibitions against discrimination are generally upheld. However, Mauritian Creoles—descendants of African slaves who comprise about a third of the population—are culturally and economically marginalized. Tensions between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority persist. In a November 2011 report, the Truth and Justice Commission (TJC)—established to examine the country’s history of slavery and indentured labor—recommended various measures to encourage national reconciliation, including building a slavery memorial and promoting increased economic and political participation by non-Hindu Mauritians. In March 2012, the chair of the Ministerial Committee of the TJC expressed his disappointment that only 3 of the 19 measures the committee chose for immediate implementation had been adopted by various government and sociocultural organizations.
Women comprise about 36 percent of the labor force, but they receive less compensation than men for similar work and hold only 13 seats in the National Assembly and 2 cabinet posts. A January 2012 gender quota law mandates that at least one-third of the candidates in local elections be women. Following the country’s first local government elections in December, women’s representation at the local government level increased from 6.4 percent to 26.2 percent. However, at year’s end, Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam’s plan to extend the quota to the national parliament for the 2015 elections had yet to be approved. Rape and domestic violence against women remain major concerns.