Elections in Mauritius  
May 2010

Mauritius is a republic in the Indian Ocean, having a non-elected President as head of state and an executive Prime Minister. Elections are held every five years and campaigning lasts for about two to three months. But this year's was a snap election in May after only one month of campaigning. There are four major political parties in Mauritius; a new one has emerged when it got one of its candidate elected.
The first signs to appear when the country starts preparing for a general election are the coloured flags, pennants, banners and posters of candidates that the political parties use to decorate the main towns and villages. A political party is usually associated with a particular symbol and colour; red, blue, purple, orange and green being the main colours. If two or more parties join in to form an alliance, then their individual colours form a new flag. This year an unusual situation arose when one party temporarily switched colour from orange to white and joined two other parties to form the blue-white-red alliance. Seeing their flags all over the island could have made foreigners think that they were in Luxembourg, Holland, France or even Russia. Some French tourists thought that Mauritius was already supporting their team in the coming World Football Cup tournament to be held in neighbouring South Africa. During the last few days of campaigning, processions of vehicles packed with supporters and candidates will roam around the constituency with their mobile PA system blasting music and propaganda.

Political parties lay their banners in the streets.

Public spaces are decorated with colourful pennants.

The political flag of one coalition party.

Cars line up for a rally.

Supporters of the other alliance touring a constituency.

Making their own music with drums.
For electoral purposes, Mauritius is divided into twenty constituencies of varying sizes and number of voters. The inhabitants of Mauritius are known as Mauritians; they are further sub-classified according to their religious belief. The last census to classify Mauritians into religious groups was held in 1972. From 1982 onwards religious classification of Mauritians during a census was abandoned. But the 1972 figures, detailing the percentage of each ethnic group in each constituency, are still used for elections purposes. The four ethnic groups are Hindu (includes Tamil, Telugu and Marathi), General Population (Roman Catholic of African and European descent), Muslim and Chinese.
Three candidates from a party or alliance run for office in each constituency. They are chosen to meet the requirements of their constituency as far as ethnicity is concerned. So, in areas grouping a large majority of Muslims, three Muslim candidates will be lined up. Where two thirds are Hindus and one third Christians, there will be two Hindu candidates and one Christian candidate. And so on. To stand as candidate, you must declare to which ethnic group you belong otherwise your application is rejected. This year a group of about hundred persons defied the system and refused to declare their ethnic group when filing for candidature. They were barred from participating in the elections and the leaders of the group have filed a case in court. There was also some untraditional ethnical posting of candidates in two constituencies, which yielded positive result in one case. Apart from party candidates, there are many independent candidates who, though aware of a sure defeat, continue to appear in the elections year in year out. Maybe they do it to feel important, or just for fun.
This ethnical classification serves a constitutional purpose also, termed as the Best Loser System - BLS. After the election results are known, the Electoral Commission will find out which communities are under-represented at the National Assembly (Mauritian parliament) and will nominate unsuccessful candidates from those communities, and who have scored the best percentage of votes, as elected members. This year one candidate successfully experimented with the system by registering under a different ethnic group to which he did not belong. He lost in the elections but was nominated under the BLS, and eventually became a Minister!
Most political parties purport to represent each and every component of the Mauritian population. But the unfortunate perception is that each political party has its own particular electorate, with members from the other communities invited to join in. That is why many political parties feel the need to form an alliance to campaign for an election in order to create a wider spectrum of communities. During the whole campaign, the main political leaders were constantly hammering on the assurance that they will work for each and every Mauritian without any distinction whatsoever; it called for some effort to discern who had an aura of sincerity radiating from him. One small party, despite a change in name, is well known to run for a particular community. Only its leader was elected in a hot constituency, where the two other main alliances had one successful candidate each. For the three months that an election campaign may last, some politicians will not hesitate, in private, to intensify the ethnical awareness of the people they are asking to vote for them. They will then spend the remaining fifty-seven months to undo what they have done by constantly reminding the population that they should think as one people, as one nation; words which, incidentally, are borrowed from our national anthem.
It was in 1967 that crucial general elections took place to institute the government that will run the affairs of independent-to-be Mauritius. One alliance of three political parties was set to seek Mauritius' freedom from the British. Opposite them was a single political party bent on remaining a colony of Great Britain. Mauritius became independent in 1968. Just before the official handing-over ceremony, inter-racial riots broke out in the country, and about thirty persons were killed. The reasons behind those riots are not well known, but the TIME magazine of that date attributed them to a clash between pro and anti independence groups. Even up to now there is a lurking mistrust among the population, and Mauritius remain very fragile on this ethnical issue.
Elections in Mauritius can be very passionate because they are centered mostly on people and not so much on ideas. It is very common to find politicians virulently mud-slinging their opponents, and some of them even go to extreme limits. What is said in public and shown in the news is already appalling. It can be reasoned out that what is said in private meetings can in no way lead to better patriotic Mauritianism. And television also is sometimes used to vehicle certain subtle messages. It was in its habit in the past to screen the TV mini series ROOTS when the country was preparing for an election, and the next day the name of Kunta Kinte would be on everyone's lips. This year we were served with such films as LAGAAN and MANGAL PANDEY.
It is very rare for a single political party to go alone into an election and win. It happened only once, in 1976, but the two runners-up formed an alliance to govern the country. Since then elections have always been fought between two main alliances. An alliance may consist of more than two major parties, or one major party and a few guest candidates who have left one of the other major parties. Some socio-cultural groups will support one or the other alliance. Many candidates take over from their father (this year one took over from his mother) when the latter abandon active politics. It is common to see close relatives in the same or opposing parties cousins, uncle, nephew, husband, wife and in-laws.
Apart from public meetings and private ones where candidates discuss specific issues with a selected gathering, there are also political broadcasts organized on television. Only party candidates have the right to an air-time which depends on the number of candidates the party has lined up. The candidates just appear on the screen, composed and serious, and recite a monologue. One small party, however, stole the show by bringing in a touch of humour in the way it presented its declared intentions. It is also on TV that promises are made (and kept, in case of victory); in 1976 it was free education for all. In 2005 it was free public transport for the elderly people and students. In 2010 it will be free laptops for high school students and their teachers. Which led one economist to point out that we should be prepared for higher taxes.
Polling stations are usually primary schools and other educational institutions. Counting is on the morrow of voting day, and the results are read out aloud to a delirious crowd that has gathered in the school compound. Each successful candidate will then deliver a speech to thank the voters for having placed their confidence in him. Many will seize the occasion to mock their opponents who have lost. Fire crackers will be shot, and the crowd will then march out with their flags and intonating songs of victory for a last rally in the streets.

Meeting of the SADC observers
Foreign observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union supervised the elections and declared them free, fair and transparent.

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