Independent Mauritius

Independent Mauritius

On August 22, 1967, Prime Minister Ramgoolam moved that the assembly request independence according to arrangements made previously with Britain. The new nation came into being on March 12, 1968, as an independent member of the Commonwealth.

Over the years, some elections have been marked by ethnic discord; voting in 1948, 1953, 1959, and 1967, for example, was split roughly along ethnic lines. The Indo-Mauritian majority gained progressively at the expense of other groups as suffrage was extended. More significant was the ethnic rioting in 1964 and 1968. In May 1964, Hindu and Creole communities clashed in the village of Trois Boutiques, outside Souillac. One police officer and one Franco-Mauritian were killed. In early 1968, just six weeks before independence, violence between Creoles and Muslims in the nation's capital left at least twenty-five people dead and hundreds injured before British troops quelled the fighting.

Most Mauritians deplored these outbreaks of violence, and the government responded to both by declaring a state of emergency. One consequence of the unrest was an amendment to the constitution in 1969 extending the first parliament to 1976. Another effect was the entry of the PMSD into the ruling coalition, and the departure of the IFB to form a small opposition party.

Social and economic conditions after World War II contributed to the political conflicts. As the provision of health, education, pension, and other public welfare services expanded, expectations began to rise. The eradication of malaria and parasitic diseases in the 1940s and 1950s improved the life expectancy of the poor and helped fuel a population increase of 3 percent per year. Family planning measures reduced the population growth rate in the 1960s and 1970s, but the labor force continued to increase rapidly. Registered unemployment stood at more than 12 percent of the work force on the eve of independence.

The unemployed, especially the youth, rallied behind a new political party, the MMM, formed in 1969. Its organizers were Paul Bérenger (a Franco-Mauritian), Dev Virahsawmy (a Telegu speaker), and Jooneed Jeerooburkhan (a Muslim). They appealed to poor and working-class Mauritians of all backgrounds with their radical program of socialist change. An early show of strength for the party was a by-election victory in the prime minister's district in 1970. With widespread union support, the MMM called a number of debilitating strikes in 1971, demanding better benefits for workers and elections by 1972, the year previously mandated. Four PMSD members made attempts on the lives of Virahsawmy and Bérenger in November 1971. The authorities placed many of the party's leadership and rank and file in jail under the Public Order Act of 1971. The government also banned political meetings, suspended twelve unions, and closed Le Militant, the MMM newspaper. The government extended the state of emergency until 1976, proscribing most political opposition.

The MMM succeeded in placing the issue of job creation high on the list of priorities for the country's first economic development plan, covering 1971-75. The plan called for additional jobs in manufacturing and in agriculture outside sugar production. It also initiated a program called Work for All (Travail pour Tous), which created the Development Works Corporation (DWC) to hire laborers for public construction and relief projects. These policies, high sugar prices, growth in tourism, and the success of the newly created export processing zones (EPZs) helped reduce the unemployment rate to 7 percent by 1976.

The lack of economic progress enabled the MMM to make significant gains in the closely fought 1976 general elections; the party won 40 percent of the vote and thirty-four of the seventy assembly seats. Part of the MMM's success came from the lowering of the voting age to eighteen in 1975, which allowed the party to garner the youth vote across ethnic lines. In addition, the ruling coalition hurt itself by putting up incompetent and corrupt candidates, failing to win the support of trade unions, and maintaining unpopular positions regarding the Chagos Archipelago and the United States military presence on Diego Garcia. (The MMM favored returning to Mauritian sovereignty the Chagos Archipelago, of which Diego Garcia was a part.)

The MLP and the PMSD, both of which had declined in popularity since the previous election, formed a coalition government to lock the MMM out of power. This government was plagued by internal division: MLP chief whip Harish Boodhoo broke off to form the Mauritian Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste Mauricien--PSM). In addition, the government suffered from political corruption scandals, poor economic performance, and the destructive effects of cyclones each year from 1979 to 1981. These and other factors were instrumental in the 1982 electoral victory of a new MMM-PSM coalition. In a concession to Hindu political sensibilities, Anerood Jugnauth was named prime minister. Paul Bérenger served as minister of finance. Faced with the realities of governing the country, including heavy obligations to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, the government backed away from the radical policies the MMM espoused when it was in opposition. It succeeded in expanding regional cooperation abroad and worked at modest nationalization and job creation at home. The ruling coalition broke up in less than a year, however, and new elections were held in August 1983.

Prime Minister Jugnauth founded a new party, the Militant Socialist Movement (Mouvement Socialiste Militant), subsequently renamed the Mauritian Socialist Movement (Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien--MSM) after combining with PSM. The MSM joined during the 1983 election with the MLP and the PMSD to win comfortably. In 1984 some MLP members fell out with the government after several MLP ministers were dismissed. Those MLP members who stayed in the ruling coalition, called the Alliance, formed the Assembly of Mauritian Workers (Rassemblement des Travaillistes Mauricien--RTM). In December 1985, however, the government suffered several setbacks that would trouble it for many months to come: MMM municipal election victories; the death of Ramgoolam, a close adviser to Jugnauth and a respected figure in national politics; and a drug scandal involving four Alliance deputies caught with twenty-one kilograms of heroin at the Amsterdam airport. In a surprising electoral victory in 1987, the Alliance retained power, thanks in large part to Jugnauth's handling of the economy. The MMM, under the leadership of Dr. Prem Nababsing, won twenty-one seats and was allotted three bestloser seats.

Beginning with the PMSD's defection in August 1988, the Alliance began to unravel. The MSM thwarted the growing political threat posed by a resurgent MLP by forging an alliance with the MMM, built in part on the promise of making Mauritius a republic. The MSM/MMM coalition won a convincing victory in September 1991 and quickly passed changes in the constitution that led to the declaration of Mauritius as a republic in March 1992.

http://www.independent.co.uk/topic/Mauritius
http://www.mauritiustravel.co.za/


Country Studies main page | Mauritius Country Studies main page