Mauritius | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Mauritius

Mauritius

Free
89/100
Overview: 

Mauritius is home to an open, multiparty system that has allowed for the regular handover of power between parties through free and fair elections. However, the political leadership remains dominated by a few families, corruption is a problem, journalists occasionally face harassment and legal pressure, and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people face threats and discrimination.

Key Developments: 

Key Developments in 2018:

  • In March, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who was elected the country’s first woman president in 2015, resigned after allegations emerged that she had made some $26,000 worth of personal purchases using a credit card issued to her by a nongovernmental organization (NGO).
  • In July, the minister of gender equality and the deputy assembly speaker resigned after the findings of a commission of inquiry suggested that each had links to drug traffickers.
  • In October, the parliament approved a broadly worded amendment to the Information and Communications Technologies Act (ICT) Act that made the online publication of material deemed false, harmful, or illegal punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
  • In June, the annual Mauritius Pride March was cancelled after the organizer received death threats, and police indicated that they might not be able to protect participants from threatening groups of opponents that had gathered along the parade route.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

POLITICAL RIGHTS: 37 / 40

A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 12 / 12

A1.      Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

The president, whose role is mostly ceremonial, is elected by the unicameral National Assembly to a five-year term. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, elected the country’s first woman president in 2015, resigned in March 2018 after being implicated in a financial scandal. Vice President Paramasivum Pillay Vyapoory became acting president, according to legal procedure.

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. After the 2014 general elections, Anerood Jugnauth, leader of the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM), was appointed to the post for his sixth nonconsecutive term since 1982. He resigned in January 2017 and named his son, Pravind Jugnauth, as his replacement. The opposition decried the power handover as immoral, though it was approved by the president and considered legal under the constitution. The developments reflected the dynastic character of Mauritian politics.

A2.      Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

Of the National Assembly’s 70 members, 62 are directly elected and up to 8 “best losers” are appointed from among unsuccessful candidates who gained the largest number of votes. The members of the National Assembly serve five-year terms.

The 2014 elections took place peacefully, and stakeholders accepted the results. Mauritius’s two main political parties—former prime minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam’s ruling Mauritian Labour Party (PTR) and former prime minister Paul Bérenger’s Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM)—unexpectedly lost the elections to the Alliance Lepep coalition, made up of the MSM, the Mauritian Social Democratic Party (PMSD), and the Liberation Movement (ML). The 2014 election results were widely interpreted as a reaction to Ramgoolam’s proposed constitutional reform to increase the power of the president. The Alliance Lepep won 47 of the 62 elected seats, while PTR-MMM alliance gained 13 of the elected seats. In 2016, the PMSD left the Alliance Lepep and joined the opposition.

A3.      Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4 / 4

The Electoral Supervisory Commission has impartially supervised the electoral process. There have been 10 general elections in Mauritius since the country became independent in 1968.

Long-running discussions on electoral reforms and party financing laws continued in 2018, but no changes had been approved by the parliament at year’s end. There is no law on the financing of electoral campaigns.

B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 15 / 16

B1.      Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4 / 4

Political parties are generally free to form and operate. Forty-five parties competed in the 2014 elections.

B2.      Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4

Since independence, political power has peacefully rotated among the three largest parties—the PTR, the MSM, and the MMM.

B3.      Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 4 / 4

Voters and candidates are generally able to express their political choices without pressure from actors not democratically accountable. However, money plays an important role in politics, and there is no law on the financing of electoral campaigns. There are some concerns about the influence of drug trafficking groups on the country’s politics, potentially exercised in part through campaign donations.

B4.      Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3 / 4

The Hindu majority is viewed as maintaining most positions of political influence. Women hold a handful of cabinet seats and other high-level political positions, but are generally underrepresented in politics. Local elections require that one third of political parties’ candidates in each district be women.

Discrimination against LGBT people can discourage their active political participation.

C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 10 / 12

C1.      Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4

Elected representatives are duly seated, and the government has generally been able to make policy without interference or major political disruptions. However, politics in Mauritius are dominated by a few families, with coordination among the head of the government, members of the National Assembly, and other relevant individuals. Only five different individuals have held the post of prime minister since independence in 1968.

In July 2018, the minister of gender equality and the deputy assembly speaker resigned after the findings of a commission of inquiry suggested that they had links to drug traffickers.

C2.      Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3 / 4

The country’s anticorruption framework is robust, but sometimes inconsistently upheld. In March 2018, Gurib-Fakim, who was elected the country’s first woman president in 2015, resigned after allegations emerged in the media that she had made some $26,000 worth of personal purchases using a credit card issued to her by an NGO.

C3.      Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 3 / 4

The government openly debates the country’s budget in the National Assembly and publishes it and other legislation online and in the press. In recent years, the authorities have worked to implement other transparency initiatives, though the country still lacks a freedom of information act. In April 2018, the minister of technology, communication, and innovation launched the National Open Data Portal, through which the various cabinet ministries will release data. In December, lawmakers approved an asset declaration bill that applied to a wide range of public officials.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: 52 / 60

D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 15 / 16

D1.      Are there free and independent media? 3 / 4

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression. Several private daily and weekly publications report on 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.

Journalists occasionally face legal pressure. One of the main newspapers, L’Express, has faced verbal attacks by authorities, who have also reduced advertising with the outlet, and its journalists have faced legal and other harassment.

D2.      Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4

Religious freedom is generally upheld. The government grants subsidies to Hindu, Roman Catholic, Muslim, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Seventh-day Adventist communities, but not to smaller groups, though all religious groups may apply for tax-exempt status. Tensions between Muslim and Hindu communities continue to be reported.

D3.      Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4

Academic freedom is generally upheld.

D4.      Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4

Private discussion is generally unrestricted. However, in October, the parliament approved a broadly worded amendment to the ICT Act that made the online publication of material deemed false, harmful, or illegal punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 12 / 12

E1.      Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4

Freedom of assembly is usually upheld. However, in June 2018, the 13th annual Mauritius Pride March was cancelled after police said they might not be able to protect participants from groups of opponents holding antigay signs, some of whom were reportedly armed, that had gathered along the parade route. The main organizer also received a series of death threats ahead of the planned event. Both Prime Minister Jugnauth and the Roman Catholic Church in Mauritius condemned the antigay protesters and regretted the march’s cancellation. Later in June, a smaller pride event was held near the waterfront in Port Louis.

E2.      Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4

Civil society groups operate freely. However, many are reliant upon government funding that could compromise their independence.

E3.      Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4 / 4

Unions regularly meet with government leaders, protest, and advocate for improved compensation and workers’ rights. There are more than 300 unions in Mauritius.

F. RULE OF LAW: 13 / 16

F1.       Is there an independent judiciary? 3 / 4

The generally independent judiciary administers a legal system that combines French and British traditions. However, judicial independence has been questioned in some cases involving politicians.

Mauritius has maintained the right of appeal to the Privy Council in London.

F2.       Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4 / 4

Constitutional guarantees of due process are generally upheld. However, Mauritian criminal law allows for police to charge suspects provisionally, and then hold them for months until a formal charge is issued. Due to court backlogs, many of those being held in prison are in pretrial detention, and some detainees reportedly wait years before facing trial.

F3.       Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3 / 4

Mauritius is free from war and insurgencies. However, allegations of abuses by police continue. A measure establishing an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was passed in 2016, and it became operational in April 2018. By October, the IPCC had received 303 complaints.

F4.       Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3 / 4

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), set up by the 2008 Equal Opportunities Act, prohibits discrimination, promotes equality of opportunity in the public and private sectors, and investigates possible cases of discrimination. Though the law and the EOC do not allow for discrimination in the workforce, some citizens view economic leadership to be closed to ethnic minorities. Women generally earn less money than men for equal work.

LGBT people face discrimination and the risk of targeted violence. Laws that criminalize same-sex sexual activity remain on the books, but are rarely invoked. At least two small LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) groups are active in Mauritius, and seek to raise visibility of LGBT issues and counter homophobia.

G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 12 / 16

G1.      Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4

Citizens are generally allowed to move freely within Mauritius but there are some restrictions on travel in the Chagos Islands, which are disputed between Mauritius and Great Britain. Mauritians are free to change their place of residence, employment, and education.

G2.      Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3 / 4

Mauritius is considered among the most business-friendly countries in Africa. However, the Non-Citizen Property Restriction Act limits most noncitizens from owning or acquiring property. Corruption can hamper business activity.

G3.      Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3 / 4

The government generally does not limit social freedoms, though same-sex unions are not recognized. Rape is against the law, but spousal rape is not specifically criminalized. Although Domestic violence is illegal but remains a significant concern.

G4.      Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4

Women and children are vulnerable to sex trafficking, and while the government has made some efforts to prosecute traffickers and provide services to victims, these efforts are generally inadequate.

The position of migrant workers in the manufacturing and construction sectors can be precarious. There have been reports of employers confiscating workers’ passports, and of migrant workers becoming beholden to unscrupulous recruitment agents who charge huge fees for placement in a job.