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Freedom in the World 2011 - Mauritius

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 21 July 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2011 - Mauritius, 21 July 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e27e91b15.html [accessed 2 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Capital: Port Louis
Population: 1,276,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 2 *
Status: Free

Overview

In parliamentary elections held in May 2010, Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam's Alliance for the Future captured 45 seats in the 70-member National Assembly, while former prime minister Paul Bérenger's Alliance of the Heart took 20. Throughout the year, Mauritius stepped up its efforts to combat piracy on the Indian Ocean.

Mauritius's ethnically mixed population is primarily descended from immigrants brought as laborers from the Indian subcontinent during the island's 360 years of Dutch, French, and British colonial rule. Since gaining independence from Britain in 1968, Mauritius has maintained one of the developing world's most successful democracies.

Navinchandra Ramgoolam served as prime minister from 1995 until 2000, when President Cassam Uteem called early elections, partly in response to a series of corruption scandals. The opposition alliance, led by the Mauritian Socialist Movement (MSM), won the vote, and its leader, former prime minister Anerood Jugnauth, returned to the premiership. In a planned power shift, Paul Bérenger – the leader of the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM), which was allied with the MSM – became prime minister in September 2003, becoming the first person from outside the island's Indian-origin majority to hold the post. Jugnauth was then elected as president.

In the 2005 parliamentary elections, frustration with rising unemployment and inflation following the loss of preferential trade deals resulted in a victory for the opposition Social Alliance, and Ramgoolam returned to power. However, rising prices and increasing levels of crime quickly diminished the popularity of the new government.

In 2008, the National Assembly approved legislation establishing a Truth and Justice Commission to examine the country's history of slavery and indentured labor and to consider possible reparations. In July 2010, the commission held 26 public hearings on Rodrigues Island, a Mauritian dependency, and found that the islanders' complaints centered primarily on the loss of ancestral property.

In March 2010, President Jugnauth dissolved the National Assembly as its five-year term of office came to an end. Elections were held in May, with a voter turnout of approximately 78 percent. Ramgoolam's Alliance for the Future (AF) – which included his Labour Party, the Mauritian Social Democratic Party, and the MSM – captured 45 seats in the 70-member parliament, while Bérenger's Alliance of the Heart (AH) – a coalition between the MMM, the National Union, and the Mauritanian Socialist Democratic Movement – captured 20. The two coalitions campaigned on similar platforms of strengthening the welfare state and improving social justice. Several smaller parties captured the remaining seats. Outside observers judged the elections to be free and fair, and Ramgoolam retained the premiership.

In 2010, the government increased its efforts to address piracy on the Indian Ocean, which continued to adversely affect the country's economy. In March, Mauritius signed a regional code of conduct regulating the repression of piracy, providing for information sharing, cooperation regarding the arrest and prosecution of alleged pirates, and the seizure of suspected pirate ships, among other responsibilities. In October, the country hosted a regional ministerial conference on combating piracy with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), which resulted in the adoption of a new antipiracy strategy. At year's end, the government was in the process of finalizing an agreement with the European Union to prosecute and detain pirates in Mauritius.

Mauritius has actively sought to promote itself as an economic gateway to Africa. The country has reportedly attracted more than 9,000 offshore entities since independence in 1968, with the banking sector alone drawing more than $1 billion in investments. Mauritius ranked 20 out of 183 countries surveyed in the World Bank's 2011 report on the ease of doing business.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Mauritius is an electoral democracy. Since independence, voters have regularly chosen their representatives in free, fair, and competitive elections. The head of state is a largely ceremonial president elected by the unicameral National Assembly for a five-year term. Executive power resides with the prime minister, who is appointed by the president from the party or coalition with the most seats in the legislature. Of the National Assembly's 70 members, 62 are directly elected and 8 are appointed from among unsuccessful candidates who gained the largest number of votes; all members serve five-year terms. The MMM and MSM have alternated in power for decades. Decentralized structures govern the country's small island dependencies. The largest dependency, Rodrigues Island, has its own government, local councils, and two seats in the National Assembly.

The country continues to enjoy a positive reputation for transparency and accountability. Mauritius was ranked 39 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, and the country has been ranked first in the Ibrahim Index of African Governance since its inception in 2007.

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression. Several private daily and weekly publications criticize both government and opposition politicians and their policies. The state-owned Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) operates radio and television services that generally reflect government viewpoints. In 2010, two independent journalists who had criticized government actions were briefly detained on charges of libel. A small number of private radio stations have been authorized, but the state-run media hold a monopoly in broadcasting local news. Internet use is widespread and unrestricted, with four different service providers.

Religious and academic freedoms are respected.

The right to freedoms of assembly and association are honored, though police occasionally use excessive force in response to riots. The island's nine labor federations include 300 unions. Tens of thousands of foreign workers employed in export-processing zones suffer from poor living and working conditions, and employers in the zones are reportedly hostile to unions.

The generally independent judiciary, headed by the Supreme Court, administers a legal system that is an amalgam of French and British traditions. Civil rights are for the most part well respected, although individual cases of police brutality have been reported.

Various ethnic cultures and traditions coexist peacefully, and constitutional prohibitions against discrimination are generally upheld. However, Mauritian Creoles, descendants of African slaves who comprise about a third of the population, live in poverty and are culturally and economically marginalized. Tensions between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority persist, constituting one of the country's few potential ethnic flashpoints. Chagos Islanders – resettled in Mauritius after being evicted by the British in the 1960s to make room for a military base – have not been integrated into society and suffer from high levels of unemployment.

Women comprise only 20 percent of the paid labor force, receive less compensation than men for similar work, and generally occupy a subordinate role in society. However, they enjoy equal access to public services and education. Women currently hold 13 seats in the National Assembly, though they occupy only 5 percent of the senior positions in the 100 top companies. Domestic violence against women remains a major concern.

* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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