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Sadc Parliamentary Forum Applauds Mauritian Election
by Hugh McCullum

Port Louis, 13 September 2000

All electoral processes of the just-concluded Mauritian parliamentary elections enjoy a unique confidence from voters, politicians and government in a climate accustomed to the regular, democratic change of government. This is the main conclusion drawn by the SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) observer mission who has been in the country for five days.

The Mauritian electorate gave a landslide victory of 54 seats to six to the opposition MMM/MSM opposition alliance, ending five years of government by Nevan Ramgoolam's Labour alliance. Sir Anerood Jugnauth is prime minister-elect and his coalition partner, Paul Berenger, deputy prime minister and finance minister-designate.

The transfer of power from Ramgoolam to Jugnauth is expected shortly, after the independent Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) and the Electoral Commissioner make the results official and determine from a statistical analysis of the 81 percent of votes cast (of 790,000 eligible voters) how the ethnic and political balance of the House of Assembly will serve minorities by naming a maximum of eight "best losers." These will not affect the outcome of the election to the 70-member House of Assembly. Two MPs elected from the offshore island of Rodrigues will also sit in the house whose makeup will be: 54 MPs from MMM/MSM, six from the defeated Labour/PMXD alliance, two from Rodrigues who usually join the ruling alliance and up to eight "best losers."

Jugnauth will be prime minister for three years after which he will replace ceremonial President Cassim Uteem and Berenger will become prime minister for the remaining two years.

SADC-PF brought an observer mission of 10 regional MPs, co-ordinated by Kasuka Mutukwu, the secretary-general, for the Sept. 11 vote. Although Mauritian electoral law does not provide for official observers from outside the country, as a member of SADC-PF it welcomed the mission within the constraints of the law. The observers were not able to enter the polling stations nor observe the counting Sept. 11 and 12.

Despite this difficulty, however and on short notice since Mauritius' elections were not expected until December, the mission met with all political alliances, the ESC and Electoral Commissioner, civil society, media and visited the 21 constituencies, including Rodrigues which is 650 km east of the main island.

The mission made a number of positive observations within its mandate as a regional autonomous organization of SADC established under the SADC Treaty
  • Mauritians express full confidence in their electoral management bodies and the electoral process in a manner unprecedented elsewhere. The independence from political or other influence is remarkable;
  • the country has made deliberate efforts to accommodate its multi-cultural and multi-ethnic communities through constitutional provisions that provide a model for tolerance inclusion of racial, minority and ethnic groups;
  • the best losers and block-voting system is unique in the region as a system for inclusion;
  • Mauritius has held competitive elections for more than 30 years and holds polls at various levels at regular intervals, thereby sensitizing the local population and providing voter information;
  • registration is done "at the doorstep" which, the mission says, ensures that the electorate participates fully in exercising its rights and may explain the high voter turnouts and lack of voter apathy;
  • although Mauritius has never before allowed foreign election observers, the SADC team, both major political alliance leaders committed themselves to amend the 1958 act which prohibits election monitoring and observation;
  • campaigning and the massive closing rallies were observed and the mission noted the large and peaceful attendance at campaign events while the presence of only unarmed police was not intimidatory. An air of maturity and tolerance permeated the election scene; and
  • the media, except television, is privately-owned and covered the election extensively. Bias in favour of the ruling party was alleged against Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation MBC) and both alliance leaders have promised to end the politicization of the national broadcaster.
In its conclusions, the observer mission noted the "extremely high voter turnout of 81 percent, the efficient and fair conduct of the electoral process and the commitment of the people of Mauritius to the ideals of democracy.

The mission visited all constituencies and did not observe any serious defects but "boldly emphasized that in the interest of transparency, particularly in light of the changing regional climate, access by relevant SADC institutions to observe all aspects of the process" was necessary.

Criticism by the mission of a lack of participation by women in elections and in party programmes - on Tuesday only four women, all from the ruling alliance, were elected, a decrease of two since the 1995 election - would make it difficult for Mauritius achieve the SADC goal of 30 percent women in parliament by 2005.

The members of the mission were MPs from Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Seychelles, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. (SARDC)

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