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Safety of Mauritian Poll
by Hugh McCullum

Port Louis, 9 September 2000

As the leaders of the main political alliances held their last press conferences before Monday's parliamentary election, the Electoral Supervisory Commission and the Electoral Commissioner - both constitutionally guaranteed complete independence to run the election - were implementing rigorous procedures to ensure freedom of the poll.

Early this morning (Saturday) armed security police took the ballot papers to police stations in each of the 20 constituencies where they are locked and sealed under armed guard until 4.30 a.m. Monday when they will be delivered to the election officials for voting to begin promptly at 6a.m. Sunday, officials of the commission will inspect and certify all polling stations, voting booths, fencing and the transparent ballot boxes.

No unauthorized persons are allowed within 200 m of the polling stations except voters, police, polling officials, candidates and their official agents and accredited media. The polls will remain open until 6p.m. with an official one-hour closing for lunch.

These elaborate precautions are constitutional in nature and are meant to "assure the people of an open and transparent process," explained Commissioner Abdool Rahman. There has never been any incident of tampering since independence and the commissioners believe that both politicians and voters have "complete confidence in the independence and transparency of the electoral process."

Rahman explained that the seven commissioners are appointed by the president and each must have the approval of both the elected prime minister and the leader of the opposition.

Similar precautions are taken when the polls close Monday and counting begins Tuesday morning. Again armed police, candidates and agents stay with ballot boxes at an enclosed central counting station in each constituency. The stations have glass windows and are lighted all night for anyone to observe what occurs inside. Counting is a complex series of verification by officials and party agents but is expected to conclude by mid-afternoon Tuesday. Results are announced by constituency.

The final job of the supervisory commission is a statistical one which determines the" best losers" which is a maximum of eight MPs selected from party lists to "balance the four constitutionally-recognized communities - Hindus, General Population, Muslims and Chinese - and to a maximum of four to "balance" the political parties. When this complicated process is concluded on Friday, 70 MPs will become the next House of Assembly.

Meanwhile, the two major political alliances were making their last public statements through the media and preparing for two large rallies - as many as 50,000 people could attend each - on Sunday when the campaigning concludes.

Most other electoral events were halted following the death Saturday morning of the last governor and first president of the republic, Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo.

Both alliances expressed confidence in their victories and both attacked the other for a variety of misdeeds and misrule. Both alliances, the ruling Labour Party with the Mauritian Party of Xavier Duval (PMXD) and the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) with the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) are led by long-time politicians.

The current prime minister, Nevin Ramgoolam, the Labour Party and Charles Duval, son of the founder of PMXD, are running on the government's record of low unemployment, low inflation and a economic growth rate of eight percent. At the same time both leaders attacked the MMM/MSM alliance as "opportunists and out-of-touch with modern governance," according to Ramgoolam.

Veteran former prime minister for 13 years, Sir Anerood Jugnauth leader of MSM and his co-alliance leader, the controversial Paul Berenger, leader of MMM, having revived their once powerful alliance criticized Ramgoolam for inaction and poor management.

Ironically Ramgoolam, Jugnauth and Berenger have at various times been in alliances with one another. Mauritian politics is a mosaic of shifting alliances and personalities, complex and confusing to the outsider. All expressed confidence of victory, all accused the other of attempting to bribe voters and all assured their sceptical media audiences that their alliances would hold.

The remaining test of popularity are Sunday's rallies where attendance, some analysts say, could indicate the winner. Otherwise, it will remain the voters' secret until Tuesday's results are announced. (SARDC)

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