Government and Politics
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.
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