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.
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