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Mauritius - GOVERNMENT
The 1968 constitution proclaims that Mauritius is a "democratic state" and that the constitution is the supreme law of the land. It guarantees the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people, including the right to hold private property and to be free from racial or other discrimination. Fundamental rights can only be suspended during wars or states of emergency, which must be duly declared by the parliament and reviewed every six months.
The political structure is patterned to a large extent on the British system. As in Britain, the political party that can gain support from a majority in parliament chooses the prime minister, who, along with the cabinet, wields political power.
The National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale or parliament), the country's prime law-making body, consists of representatives elected from twenty three-member constituencies and one twomember district on Rodrigues. In addition, unlike the British system, eight assembly seats are apportioned to the "best losers" among the nonelected candidates, according to their ethnoreligious affiliation--two each for Hindus, Muslims, Chinese, and the general population. An attempt must be made to distribute these seats proportionally to the major political parties, which are expressly referred to in the constitution. The sixty seats from the constituencies, together with the eight best-loser seats and the two seats representing Rodrigues, constitute the seventymember parliament or National Assembly. Parliament may remain in office for a maximum of five years, unless it is dissolved by a vote of no-confidence or an act of the prime minister. A constitutional amendment, however, provided that the first assembly reckon its term from 1971, a de facto term of eight years. The assembly is responsible for all legislation and appropriations and may amend the constitution by either a twothirds or three-quarters majority, depending on the part of the constitution in question. A largely titular governor general presided over parliament in the name of the British monarch from independence in 1968 until March 12, 1992, when Mauritius declared itself a republic. Since then a president, appointed by the prime minister and ratified by the parliament, has assumed the role of the governor general.
The constitution also provides for three important commissions--the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, the Public Services Commission, and the Police Service Commission--as well as an ombudsman. The commissions oversee the appointment of government officials; the ombudsman investigates official misconduct.
The country's legal system is based on the Napoleonic Code and English common law. The Supreme Court heads the judicial system and has the power to interpret the constitution and to judge the constitutionality of legislation brought to its attention. Appointed by the prime minister and president, the chief justice helps select five other judges on the court. The Supreme Court also serves as the Court of Criminal Appeal and the Court of Civil Appeal. Mauritius continues to refer legal and constitutional matters of undeterminable jurisdiction to Britain's Privy Council. Lower courts having original jurisdiction over various kinds of cases include the Intermediate Court, the Industrial Court, and ten district courts.
The constitution does not specify the form of local government. Port Louis has a city council, whereas the four townships--Beau Bassin-Rose Hill, Curepipe, Quatre Bornes, and Vacoas-Phoenix--each has a municipal council. There are district councils for Pamplemousses-Rivière du Rempart, Moka-Flacq, and Grand Port-Savanne; 124 village councils; and five parish councils on Rodrigues. All councils are elected bodies, but the cabinet occasionally--over much opposition--has suspended municipal elections because of political unrest. In the August 30, 1992, village elections, villages each elected twelve village councillors, who then are grouped into four district councils. In seven of the 124 villages, the candidates were unopposed. In the remaining villages, 3,577 persons ran for 1,404 seats. The election turnout represented 68 percent of eligible voters. Local governments depend on the central government for more than 70 percent of their revenues, and only the municipal councils have the power to levy their own taxes.
<>Politics of the Republic of Mauritius
Mauritius became the twenty-ninth republic under the British Commonwealth on March 12, 1992. Even during the transition period, the varied and lively social and political forces of the country manifested themselves. The former governor general, Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo, a Hindu, was appointed first president for three months to appease Hindu voters. On July 1, in accordance with an electoral pact between the ruling parties, the MSM and the MMM, the MMM obtained the post of president for Cassam Uteem, a Muslim and former deputy leader of the party. His appointment aroused widespread opposition from MSM politicians and from the island's Hindu majority, the source of much MSM support. Critics feared that Uteem, formerly minister of industry and industrial technology, would unduly politicize his office and promote a strongly pro-Muslim agenda. Upon taking office, Uteem tried to assuage these misgivings by stating that he would look after the interests of all Mauritians, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or politics. He also said that he would play an active (not merely ceremonial), impartial role in the political life of the country.
Although the MLP and PMSD suffered heavy electoral losses in the September 1991 general election and were faced with internal weakness, they attempted to act as an assertive and contentious opposition. The PMSD lost its veteran leader Sir Gaetan Duval at the end of 1991 after his retirement. The MLP's leader, Dr. Navin Ramgoolam, has been attacked by his own political allies for his inexperience in high office and frequent overseas travels. The opposition was quick to criticize the prime minister, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, for issuing a new MR20 bank note with the image of the prime minister's wife in mid-1992. In addition, the opposition and the ruling coalition have taken each other to court over charges of fraud in the 1991 election.
A particularly acrimonious row developed over Ramgoolam's absence from parliament beginning in July 1992 in order to pursue a law degree in London. The speaker of the National Assembly claimed that the MLP leader violated rules relating to absences by members of parliament. The case was referred to the Supreme Court. The Ramgoolam affair not only has prompted grumbling within the MLP but also has highlighted the tension within the ruling coalition, namely, the continuing friction between Paul Bérenger, external affairs minister and secretary general of the MMM, and Prime Minister Jugnauth. Bérenger criticized Jugnauth for calling the National Assembly out of recess while Ramgoolam was out of the country, claiming that the prime minister was merely creating another pretext for stripping the MLP leader of his seat.
Matters came to a head in August 1993 when the prime minister dismissed Bérenger because of his continuing criticism of government policy. The ouster led to a split in the MMM between members of the party who remained allied with the government of MSM Prime Minister Jugnauth, led by Deputy Prime Minister Prem Nababsing, and those MMM parliamentary members who supported Bérenger and went into opposition. Bérenger declined to become opposition leader, although his group was the largest single opposition element; he allowed the leader of the Labor Party, Navin Ramgoolam, to continue as opposition leader. In April 1994, Bérenger and Navin Ramgoolam reached an electoral agreement according to which the two groups were to cooperate.
The orientation of Mauritius toward other countries is influenced by its location, resources, colonial past, domestic politics, and economic imperatives. Mauritius has particularly strong relations with Britain, France, India, and since 1990 with South Africa. A member of the Commonwealth, Mauritius recognized Queen Elizabeth II as head of state until it became a republic in 1992. Mauritius enjoys warm political relations and important economic ties with Britain, and receives significant development and technical assistance.
France, another former colonial power, provides Mauritius with its largest source of financial aid, and also promotes the use of the French language in Mauritius. In addition to trade, in which France has traditionally been Mauritius's largest supplier as well as its largest or second largest customer, particularly of textiles, France provides Mauritius with numerous kinds of assistance. For example, France has helped computerize the island's government ministries, has performed road feasibility studies and highway maintenance, has undertaken livestock services and the construction of a cannery, and has loaned Mauritius US$60 million to construct a large diesel-electric power station in western Mauritius, completed in 1992. Other French-sponsored infrastructure projects have included the French firm Alcatel's supply and installation of 30,000 additional telephone lines, a contract awarded in December 1988, and a fiveyear project scheduled to begin construction in January 1995 by SCAC Delmas Vieljeux (SCV) to create a ninety-hectare free-port area and attendant facilities at Port Louis. The intent is that the free port should serve as a means for attracting African trade under the Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern Africa.
An area of tension between France and Mauritius relates to the latter's claim to Tromelin Island, some 550 kilometers northwest of Mauritius, which France retained when Mauritius received its independence. Tromelin had been governed by France from Mauritius during the colonial period and Mauritius for a number of years has raised the question of the return of the one square kilometer island where France has a meteorological observation station. When French president François Mitterrand visited Mauritius (along with Madagascar, Comoros, and Seychelles) in 1990, Mauritius raised its claim; despite several subsequent discussions, the matter has not been resolved.
Mauritius acknowledges the legitimacy of France's military interests even though it supported the UN Indian Ocean Zone of Peace (IOZP) Resolution (adopted in 1971) calling for the demilitarization of the region. French military interests include the neighboring island of Reunion, a French département and headquarters for a military detachment. France has also provided the Special Mobile Force of Mauritius with MR2.8 million worth of military equipment and training.
India, which has deep social and historical links with a large portion of the population of Mauritius, is the country's second largest source of foreign assistance. India has devoted a large share of aid to cultural ventures, such as the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, a library and language school opened in 1976.
Apart from traditional cultural and trade relations of Mauritius with India, the two countries have exchanged visits by their leading officials in recent years; have engaged in numerous joint ventures, particularly in the textiles area; and have signed cooperation agreements in various spheres. For example, in 1990 cooperation agreements were concluded in the fields of agriculture; oceanography; maritime resources, including the exploitation of Mauritius's EEZ; science and technology; drug trafficking; and sports and youth affairs. India has provided Mauritius with technical expertise, such as computer and high sensing technology, radio and telecommunications, further expansion of Mauritius's telephone lines from 60,000 to 100,000 lines over a three-year period beginning in 1991, and the creation of a science center and planetarium.
In the early 1990s, Mauritius saw the new South Africa as a partner, particularly in an economic sense, and was willing to forget charges that in 1989 South Africans had engaged in drug trafficking to Mauritius and had sought to assassinate Prime Minister Jugnauth. A South African trade bureau was approved in 1990, a health cooperation agreement was concluded in 1991 whereby Mauritians requiring complex medical procedures could obtain them in South African hospitals, and President Frederik Willem de Klerk visit Mauritius in November 1991. The two countries initiated diplomatic relations at the consular level in March 1992, and a South African resort chain began activities in Mauritius in late 1992.
Mauritius has sought to increase cooperation among its fellow island entities. In 1982 the country forged an agreement that created the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), whose members include Mauritius, Madagascar, Seychelles, Comoros, and Reunion (represented by France). IOC members have met regularly to discuss social and economic relations, and in 1989 the IOC established its secretariat in Mauritius. Mauritius has particularly close cooperation with Seychelles in the fields of agriculture, education, energy, fishing, and transportation.
Relations between the United States and Mauritius have been dominated by questions of trade and sovereignty over Diego Garcia Island, a British possession that is the site of a United States military base. Exports from Mauritius, mostly textiles, have grown from US$28 million in 1982 to US$120 million in 1987. United States import quotas have restricted the amount of Mauritian exports, however. Mauritian imports from the United States have increased from US$11 million in 1986 to US$48 million in 1991.
The question of Diego Garcia is a complex one. Mauritius ceded control over the Chagos Archipelago (including Diego Garcia) to Britain in exchange for 3 million pounds sterling in 1965 as one tacit precondition for independence. Despite UN objections to British control of the islands, Britain leased Diego Garcia to the United States in 1966 for fifty years. The United States established a major military base on the island, including anchorage facilities for large numbers of ships, an airfield capable of handling B-52s, and a satellite communications facility. After a period of relative indifference to the fate of the Chagos Archipelago following its cession, Mauritian governments since the late 1980s have called for its return to Mauritian sovereignty. There was no indication in 1994 that Britain or the United States was willing to acquiesce. Differences of opinion notwithstanding, between 1982 and 1987 the United States provided Mauritius with US$56.2 million in aid, mainly for development.
Mauritius has limited but growing trade relations with the industrializing countries of Asia, particularly Hong Kong and Japan. It also has close relations with China. Although it belongs to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and has been an opponent of apartheid, Mauritius has closer links to South Africa than to any other country on the continent. These relations are based in large part on the economic exigency of obtaining mainly manufactured goods more cheaply from the closest developed country.
In addition to membership in the OAU, UN, and Commonwealth, Mauritius belongs to the Nonaligned Movement. It has received assistance from the World Bank, the IMF, and the European Development Bank.
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