Capital: Port Louis
Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 2 *
The Mauritian economy was adversely affected in 2009 by the global recession and the expanding reach and incidence of piracy in the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, Mauritius again was ranked highest among all African countries on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.
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. The opposition alliance, led by the Mauritian Socialist Movement (MSM), won the vote, and its leader, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, returned to the premiership, having previously held the post between 1982 and 1995. In a planned power shift, Paul Berenger, the leader of the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) – which was allied with the MSM – became prime minister in September 2003, the first person from outside the island's Indian-origin majority to hold the post.
In the 2005 parliamentary elections, frustration with rising unemployment and inflation contributed to victory for the opposition Social Alliance, led by Ramgoolam. However, in 2006, rising prices and concerns about increased criminal activity diminished the popularity of the new government, which had adopted a number of policies designed to further liberalize the economy, including the sale of government assets and reforms of the labor market, the pension system, social security, taxation, and facilities for foreign investors.
In 2008, the Mauritius 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. That same year, former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands, who had been evicted to Mauritius by Britain to make way for a military base in the 1960s, lost a long-running legal battle with the British government to secure their return.
The government has actively sought to promote itself as an economic gateway to Africa; Mauritius 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. The World Bank's 2010 report on the ease of doing business ranked Mauritius 17 out of 183 countries surveyed. However, real GDP growth declined from nearly 5 percent from 2005 to 2008 to approximately 2.5 percent in 2009. Although the Mauritian economy was adversely affected by the expanding reach and incidence of piracy in the Indian Ocean, the government declined to set up a facility to detain suspected pirates.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Mauritius is an electoral democracy. Since independence, Mauritius has regularly chosen its 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 main political groupings are the ruling Social Alliance coalition – which depends largely on the ethnic Indian majority – and the opposition alliance of the MMM and MSM; the two blocs have alternated in power for decades. Decentralized structures govern the country's small island dependencies. The largest of these is Rodrigues Island, which has its own government, local councils, and two seats in the National Assembly.
The country continues to enjoy a generally positive reputation for transparency and accountability. Mauritius was ranked 42 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index. It also has ranked first in the Ibrahim Index of African Governance since its inception in 2007.
The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, and several private daily and weekly publications are often highly critical of both government and opposition politicians and their policies. The state-owned Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) operates radio and television services and generally reflects government viewpoints. An MBC journalist was arrested in 2009 and suspended from his job for making derogatory remarks against the prime minister. A small number of private radio stations have been authorized, but the state-run media enjoy a monopoly in broadcasting local news. Internet use is widespread and unrestricted, with four different service providers.
Freedom of religion is respected, as is academic freedom.
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. A 2008 labor law gives employers greater flexibility in hiring and firing workers. In 2009, approximately 65,000 foreign workers were employed in 404 export processing zones, although their living and working conditions were generally very poor. Reports by the International Trade Union Confederation in both 2008 and 2009 criticized Mauritius for restricting internationally-accepted labor rights practices. In March 2009, police dispersed a peaceful demonstration by Bangladeshis protesting against the Mauritian government's decision to terminate their work contracts. In July, the government announced plans to repatriate up to 6,000 Bangladeshi laborers.
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 flourish in peace, and constitutional prohibitions against discrimination are generally respected. However, Mauritian Creoles, descendants of African slaves who comprise about a third of the population, live in poverty and complain of unfair treatment. Tensions between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority persist, constituting one of the country's few potential ethnic flashpoints. In addition, although they have not been the victims of formal discrimination, resettled Chagos Islanders have not been integrated into society and suffer from high levels of unemployment.
Women make up approximately 20 percent of the paid labor force and generally occupy a subordinate role in society. Women currently hold 17 percent of the seats in the National Assembly, though they occupy only 5 percent of the senior positions in the 100 top companies. Domestic violence against women continues to be a major problem.
*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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