Report on the 2000 Mauritian National Assembly Election

Denis Kadima, EISA, 2000

Electoral system 2000

Mauritius' electoral system is a Block Vote (BV) system which is the use of First-Past-The Past (FPTP) voting in multimember districts.

There are 62 elected representatives by party list from 20 three-seat constituencies (main island) and one two-seat constituency of Rodrigues, an island located some 500 Km east of the main island. In addition to this "block-voting", a maximum of eight additional seats may be allocated to the "best losers" on the basis of their communities and political parties in order to ensure a fair representation of the "best losers" from the under-represented communities and political parties.

According to the principal electoral officer in Mauritius:

The main advantage of this system of block voting is that it seems likely to reinforce the party allegiances of electors and to reduce the communal feelings of the electorate by making it less easy for the supporter of a particular party to give his support only to the candidate or candidates of his [her] party who happens to be drawn from his [her] own community (Dahoo 2000).

This observation is consistent with the block vote's ability to accommodate voter preference for individual candidates while stressing the role of parties. However, when voters cast all their votes for candidates from the same party in their constituency the BV system tends to exaggerate the disadvantages of other FPTP systems. In particular, block vote election results can produce highly disproportional results. In 1982 and in 1995 [See 1982 National Assembly election results and 1995 National Assembly election results] the winning party coalitions won every seat with approximately 65% of the vote in each election.

In response, there is a growing support among parties for the introduction of some proportionality in the electoral system. The MSM/MMM opposition alliance proposes that 2/3 of the representatives be elected on the basis of the FPTP system and 1/3 on the basis of proportional representation. Prior to the 2000 elections the opposition alliance blamed the ruling coalition of delaying the introduction of a new electoral system.

Reference

DAHOO, M 2000 "Mauritius Electoral Profile", EISA.

Electoral management bodies 2000

The Electoral Supervisory Commission

The Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) is a constitutional body responsible for electoral management and supervision. It consists of a Chairperson appointed by the President in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission and not less than two or more than seven other members appointed by the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister tender after the Prime Minister has consulted the Leader of the Opposition. Political parties do not have representatives on the Electoral Supervisory Commission.

The Electoral Commissioner

The Electoral Commissioner is a public officer qualified to practice as a barrister at law and appointed by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission. Section 40(3) of the Constitution states that in the exercise of his functions "the Electoral Commissioner shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority".

According to the two main political alliances, the Electoral Commissioner, Mr Mohammed Abdool Rahman, commends considerable respect among the political actors and the population as a whole. At briefings with international observers from the SADC Parliamentary Forum on 9 September 2000, both the PTr/PMXD and the MSM/MMM admitted that the Electoral Commissioner and the ESC members are credible personalities. The two main political alliances praised the electoral management bodies for conducting a transparent and well-organised electoral process.

In its manifesto, the MSM/MMM plans to reinforce the power of the ESC to ensure a better delivery of free and fair elections. The opposition alliance argues that with reinforced powers, the ESC will be in a position to elaborate a code of conduct for political parties and candidates contesting an election. The ESC would also be empowered to elaborate a legal framework for the broadcasting of political programmes in the electronic media and to monitor the implementation of the legal provisions on the matter and ensure enforcement mechanisms.

Electoral Preparations: Voter registration 2000

According to principal electoral officer, Mahmad Dahoo, voter registration in Mauritius takes place in two stages: at home and at registration centres. The first stage is an annual exercise and entails the visit by registration officials in each house with forms to be filled in. This approach ensures that nearly hundred percent of the electorate living in Mauritius are reached, including the youth who will turn 18 by 15 August each year, the elderly, the disabled and women.

A total of 779 431 voters registered for the 2000 National Assembly election (an increase of 8.98 percent compared to 1995 when 715 179 persons registered as voters). Table 2 gives the breakdown of the 2000 registration per electoral constituency.


Table 2: Registration figures (2000/1995)
No Constituency 2000 1995 Incr/Decr
(in no)
Incr/Decr
(in %)
1 Grand River West & P. Louis West 36 423 32 296 4 127 12.78
2 Port Louis South & Port Louis Central 23 856 24 741 -885 -3.58
3 Port Louis Maritime & Port Louis East 22 234 19 524 2 710 13.88
4 Port Louis North & Montagne Longue 40 219 39 151 1.066 2.73
5 Pamplemousses & Triolet 46 854 41 365 5 489 13.27
6 Grand Baie & Poudre d'Or 42 026 37 768 4 258 11.27
7 Piton & Rivière du Rempart 35 997 32 909 3 088 9.38
8 Quartier Militaire & Moka 36 398 33 655 2 743 8.15
9 Flacq & Bon Accueil 44 579 40 027 4 552 11.37
10 Montagne Blanche & G. River South East 41 530 37 720 3 810 10.10
11 Vieux Grand Port & Rose Belle 34 587 31 509 3 078 9.77
12 Mahebourg & Plaine Magnien 32 752 30 393 2 359 7.76
13 Rivière des Anguilles & Soiullac 30 345 28 111 2 234 7.95
14 Savanne & Black River 49 724 43 819 5 905 13.48
15 La Caverne & Phoenix 47 208 43 298 3 910 9.03
16 Vacoas & Floreal 39 192 38 451 741 1.93
17 Curepipe & Midlands 40 277 35 271 5 006 14.19
18 Belle Rose & Quatre Bornes 39 402 37 643 1 759 4.67
19 Stanley & Rose Hill 35 860 33 246 2 614 7.86
20 Beau Bassin & Petite Rivière 38 788 35 782 3 006 8.40
21 Rodrigues 21 180 18 500 2 680 14.49
TOTAL 779 431 715 179 64 252 8.98
Table note

Source: Mauritius Electoral Commissioner 2000.

Reference

DAHOO, M 2000 "Mauritius Electoral Profile", EISA.

Electoral Preparations: Electoral Administration

One of the strengths of the Electoral Commissioner's office lies in its organisational and logistical efficiency in all aspects of electoral administration. The management of operations, such as the printing of ballot papers, their delivery to the Electoral Commissioner's official for the verification of serial numbers on the ballot paper against the one on the counterfoils and the dispatch of the ballot papers, ballot boxes and voting materials and equipments to the to the nearest police stations before their distribution to the polling centres, were all well organised and done professionally and efficiently.

There were 1 893 voting rooms for 779 431 registered voters (See table 3), an average of around 400 voters per voting room. There was also an excellent allocation of voters to polling station. All of this contributed to a smooth voting process.


Table 3: Number of Polling Stations per Constituency
No Constituency No polling stations No voting rooms
1 Grand River West & P. Louis West 12 88
2 Port Louis South & Port Louis Central 8 58
3 Port Louis Maritime & Port Louis East 11 59
4 Port Louis North & Montagne Longue 10 96
5 Pamplemousses & Triolet 15 114
6 Grand Baie & Poudre d'Or 14 108
7 Piton & Rivière du Rempart 16 85
8 Quartier Militaire & Moka 20 88
9 Flacq & Bon Accueil 19 108
10 Montagne Blanche & G. River South East 16 101
11 Vieux Grand Port & Rose Belle 20 84
12 Mahebourg & Plaine Magnien 13 79
13 Rivière des Anguilles & Soiullac 14 76
14 Savanne & Black River 21 121
15 La Caverne & Phoenix 14 115
16 Vacoas & Floreal 11 91
17 Curepipe & Midlands 11 98
18 Belle Rose & Quatre Bornes 10 97
19 Stanley & Rose Hill 9 81
20 Beau Bassin & Petite Rivière 11 94
21 Rodrigues 8 52
TOTAL 283 1,893
Table notes

Source: Electoral Commission 2000.
Polling station: in many SADC countries it is known as polling or voting centre. It is comprised of many voting rooms.
A voting room is the unit where the casting of the vote takes place.

The electoral role of civil society

Mauritian civil society organisations have a limited role in the electoral process. Dahoo (2000) admits that the Electoral Commission does not normally hold meetings with organs of civil society, but if any such meetings are solicited, they are welcome and would be informal.

Elections in Mauritius take place regularly (ie National Assembly, Municipal Council or Village Council or by-elections) to the extent that the electorate is familiar with the procedures. The Electoral Commissioner's office keeps the electorate informed of the administrative arrangements through the Government Gazette, local newspapers, radio, TV and colourful posters. Political parties also play a crucial role in this regard.

Nonetheless, it was striking to observe that civil society groups were mute about important matters, such as the current discussions on electoral reform to make representation fairer. For example, there is little evidence that civil society organisations have taken the opportunity to propose reforms which would improve the representation of Mauritian women in Parliament. Indeed, in Mauritius, women are very much under-represented in Parliament and government.

Reference

DAHOO, M 2000 "Mauritius Electoral Profile", EISA.

Political Campaigns: The candidates 2000

There were 535 candidates contesting for the 2000 National Assembly seats. Twenty-one political parties and alliances filled a total of 354 candidates and 181 people stood as independent candidates. Table 4 indicates the candidates and their respective political parties.


Table 4: Candidates fielded by registered parties/ alliances
Party / Alliance Total
Tamil Council 6
Parti du Peuple Mauricien (PPM) 39
Mauritius Party Rights 1
MDM Raj Dayal (Mouvement Democratique National Raj Dayal) 50
Parti Action Liberal 2
Hizbullah Party 60
Nouvo Lizour 6
Union Mauricienne 3
Lalit 20
Mouvement National Mauricien 7
Mouvement Planteur Agricole 4
Comité d'Action Mauricien 3
Mouvement Travailliste Socialiste 2
Alliance Parti Travailliste (PMXD) 60
Démocratie Mauricienne 4
Mouvement Authentique Mauricien 6
Alliance MSM/MMM 60
Mouvement Démocratique Mauricien (MDM) 15
Mouvement Rodriguais 2
Organisation du Peuple de Rodrigues (OPR) 2
21. Parti Mauricien Xavier Duvalier (PMXD) 2
22. Independent Candidates 181
Total 535
Table note

Source: Mauritius Electoral Commissioner 2000.

The Main Political Parties and Alliances

The 2000 Mauritius National Assembly election was dominated by two alliances: the ruling PTr/PMXD and the MSM/MMM.

The PTr/PMXD Alliance

Like their respective fathers, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and Gaetan Duval, the current leaders of the PTr/PMXD had entered into a coalition. The outgoing Prime Minister, Dr Navin Ramgoolam of the Labour Party (PTr), leads a coalition with Xavier-Luc Duval, the leader of the Parti Mauricien Xavier Duval (PMXD) and Minister of Finance in the outgoing government. Their alliance was formed in mid-1999.

The alliance promised to create 70 000 new jobs in the next five years, introduce a flexible tax system to stimulate foreign investments and emphasise human resources development through the building of new tertiary educational institutions.

Dr Ramgoolan claimed that his alliance filled 8 women candidates out of 60 candidates whereas the opposition alliance had fewer women candidates. Unfortunately, the Electoral Commissioner's office was unable to tell how many of the 535 candidates contesting the 2000 general elections were women, owing to the fact that it does not record this information.

The MSM/MMM Alliance:

The opposition alliance is composed mainly of the MSM of Sir Anerood Jugnauth and the MMM of Paul Bérenger. The MMM and the MSM have been in electoral alliance three times before. In 1982, their coalition won the National Assembly elections. However, the alliance between Paul Bérenger and Sir Arenood Jugnauth soon collapsed because of the incompatible temperaments of the two leaders.

Theoretically, the MSM and the MMM do not have major differences. The former was created by MMM dissidents. The main difference between the two parties seems to be their respective constituencies. Indeed, the MSM is seen as appealing mostly to the Hindu community while the MMM draws its membership from all communities.

On 15 August 2000, the leaders of these two parties as well several other leaders from much smaller parties signed what they termed a "historical electoral accord". The most outstanding aspect of this accord is the sharing of the prime ministerial mandate between MSM leader Sir Arenood Jugnauth and MMM leader Paul Bérenger. Under this arrangement, Jugnauth is to hold the post of prime minister for the first three years which would then pass to Berenger for the remaining two years. After surrendering the premiership to Bérenger, Jugnauth would be called to assume the function of President of the Republic after reforms to strengthen of the presidency, which is symbolic at present.

The MSM/MMM alliance argues this reform is necessary because the Prime minister holds too much power in Mauritius, including the right to dissolve Parliament and call for fresh elections. They charge that this system creates the opportunity for abuse. They illustrated this by recalling that Dr Ramgoolam dissolved Parliament on 10 August 2000, issued the writs of election on the same day, fixed the nomination day for 26 August 2000 and the poll day for 11 September 2000, leaving the opposition only 32 days to organise.

However, it must also be pointed out that Dr Ramgoolam is not the sole Prime Minister to have taken advantage of the system. In 1995, the then Prime Minister, Sir Jugnauth, dissolved Parliament on 16 November, issued the writs on 18 November, scheduled nomination day for 4 December and polling day for 20 December 1995. Here also the opposition had only 34 days between the dissolution of Parliament and polling day to organise.

The accord also provides for a reform of the electoral system to replace the "best losers system" gradually by proportional representation, and to end the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation's (MBC) monopoly over the electronic media.

In addition to sharing the post of prime minister, what makes the MSM/MMM electoral accord exceptional is the fact that it will allow, for the first time in the history of the island, a non-Hindu Mauritian to become the Prime Minister. Members of all communities accepted the prospect of having Paul Bérenger, a Franco-Mauritian, as the country's Prime Minister in 2003, with enthusiasm and serenity. This is encouraging in a country where elections have been characterised by intense animosity between members of different communities.

Political campaigns: The Campaigns 2000

There are no prescribed dates for the beginning or the end of the electoral campaign. The political parties are even allowed to campaign on the voting day, provided that the campaigners do not move within 200 meters of the polling station.

The sale of alcoholic drinks is forbidden from 18h00 on the eve of the poll to prevent violence from erupting between the supporters of contesting parties.

The 2000 electoral campaigns were peaceful. While the opposition alliance accused the Prime Minister of feeding up communal feelings and called him a "faux rassembleur", these accusations were not confirmed by independent sources. The MSM/MMM also accused the ruling alliance of electoral bribes. It claimed that the government distributed money, cut down the price of beer and those of construction steels and compelled sugar companies to pay arrears to their workers.

Overall, the campaign was dominated by the accord between the MMM and the MSM, and more specifically by the proposed constitutional amendments to bring about balance of powers between the Prime Minister and the President of the Republic, and the possibility of Paul Bérenger to be the Prime Minister in 2003.

Dr Ramgoolam criticised the MSM/MMM manifesto for lack of imagination, characterising its reform proposals as the promotion of an Indian-type of presidency, an Israeli-type of premiership and an MBC à la British Broadcast Corporation (BBC).

Moreover, the outgoing Prime Minister argued that a coalition between Jugnauth and Bérenger would not last, the two men being unable to work together. He predicted a "cassure" or collapse of the alliance, with adverse consequences on governmental stability. Many analysts were indeed doubtful that the MSM and MMM alliance could last 5 years, given past experiences. Indeed, the two leaders entered into alliances three times before, and each time they collapsed as quickly as they were started.

Media

Mauritius possesses a vibrant media. Mainly published in French, the printed media seemed to be biased in favour of the opposition. The main newspapers, Le Mauricien and L'Express, were supportive of the opposition parties while the MBC, long accused of operating as the mouthpiece of the successive governments, was, this time again, accused of favouring the outgoing Prime Minister and his electoral alliance.

The opposition alliance and many independent analysts consistently blamed the MBC for its bias in favour for the ruling PTr/PMXD in its coverage of the news. However, many critics of the MBC acknowledged that the public broadcaster has been favouring the ruling parties or alliances throughout the history of the country. "Today the MBC is accused of being biased in favour of Dr Ramgoolam, yesterday it was blamed of supporting Sir Anerood Jugnauth, the current leader of the opposition alliance", said an analyst.

Qualifying the MBC as the "shame of the 2000 electoral campaign", the Business Magazine of 6-12 September 2000 strongly claimed that the subordination of the public broadcaster to the government of the day constitutes a real threat to democracy in the island. For the magazine, the introduction of checks and balances to reinforce the independence of the MBC should be a priority of the new government.

The MBC allocated free airtime on the state-owned TV and radio to the contesting political parties from 4 September 2000. This allocation was based on parties' representation in the last National Assembly and on the number of candidates filled.

The poll, the count and the results 2000

The poll took place on 11 September 2000 from 06h00 to 12h00 and from 13h00 to 18h00. In Rodrigues, the voting room's doors were opened to voters from 05h30 to 12h00 and from 13h00 to 17h30 (closed between 12h00-13h00 for lunch). During the lunch break, "the presiding officer shall place the ballot box and all documents relating to the election under his own seal and shall otherwise take proper precautions for the security of such ballot box and documents" (Article 22, National Assembly Elections Regulations, 1968).

By all reports, the polling process was peaceful and efficient.

The Results

In Mauritius, counting takes place at a central location in each constituency. The returning officer is responsible for the counting proceedings in his/her constituency.

A total of 80.87% of registered voters cast their votes in the 2000 national election. This is an increase of close to two per cent compared to the 79% voter turnout achieved in 1995.

Early results became available as soon as 10:30 on 12 September 2000, starting with the Island of Rodrigues. By 16:00, it was clear that the opposition MSM/MMM had secured a large majority of seats in Parliament and will therefore form the next Parliament. The leaders of the three major parties in Mauritius managed to keep their seats with the highest number of votes cast in their respective constituencies. These are Paul Bérenger of the MMM, Dr Navin Ramgoolam of the PTr and Sir Arenood Jugnauth of the MSM. PMXD's Xavier-Luc Duval lost in the Curepipe/Midlands Constituency (No19) to MSM/MMM candidates.

The MSM/MMM secured 54 of the 62 directly elected seats, the PTr/PMXD received 6 seats and the 2 Rodrigues seats went to the Organisation du Peuple Rodriguais (OPR). Allocation of additional seats on the basis of the "best losers" system will be made public shortly by the Supreme Court on the recommendation of the Electoral Commissioner.

Once more, the Block Vote system has distorted the results by giving disproportional representation to the winner. The PTr/PMXD won approximately 30% of the total votes cast in the main island but obtained only ten per cent of the seats.

In addition, only 4 women have been elected out of 62 directly elected representatives; a mere 6.42%. All were on the MSM/MMM ticket.

Soon after most constituencies made their results public, Dr Navin Ramgoolam admitted defeat in an interview to the media. He also announced his intention to play his new role of the Leader of the Opposition in the next Parliament.

On 15 September 2000, the Electoral Commissioner proceeded with the examination of the returns submitted by the Returning Officers to determine the appropriate unreturned candidates entitled to be allocated the eight additional seats in the National Assembly under the provisions of the 1st schedule of the Constitution of Mauritius. The Electoral Supervisory Commission, after taking cognisance of the Report of the Electoral Commissioner, allocated the first 6 seats and sought guidance and ruling of the Supreme Court on the issue of the allocation of the 7th and 8th seat. The Supreme Court, in its judgement delivered on 19 September has declared that the 7th seat be allocated to Ravl Raj YERRIGADOO of the MSM/MMM and the 8th seat to Xavier-Luc DUVAL of the Alliance PTr/PMXD.

Hence the distribution of the 70 seats in the National Assembly is as follows (Communication with M.A. DAHOO, the Principal Electoral Officer):

  • Alliance MSM/MMM: 58 (54 directly elected and 4 "best losers")
  • Alliance PTr/PMXD: 8 (6 directly elected and 2 "best losers)
  • Organisation du Peuple Rodriguais: 2 (2 directly elected and 0 "best loser")
  • Mouvement Rodriguais: 2 (0 directly elected and 2 "best losers")

A cabinet of 25 Ministers had already been constituted, with the leaders of the Alliance MSM/MMM, Sir Anerood Jugnauth as Prime Minister, and Mr. Paul Bérenger as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. The leader of the PTr/PMXD has been appointed "Leader of the Opposition".

International observers and national monitors

The Constitution of the Republic of Mauritius does not provide for the presence of international election observers or national monitors. Reportedly, Mauritian elections have never been observed by international observers or by local non-partisan monitors.

Owing to this legal impediment there are no accreditation procedures whatsoever for foreign observers, the eleven regional observers from the SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) could only observe informally. The closest they could come to a polling station was 200 meters away as provided in the law for all the unauthorised persons.

Nonetheless the SADC PF mission was able to meet the main political, electoral and social key role-players in the country. These included the ESC, the Electoral Commissioner, MSM/MMM's Paul Bérenger and outgoing Prime Minister Dr Navin Ramgoolam. All the interlocutors regretted that the law, as it stands, would not permit the SADC parliamentarians to observe the voting and counting processes. Provided that the MSM/MMM alliance keeps their word it is hoped that international observers will be allowed to observe the next National Assembly election in Mauritius.

Article 18 of the National Assembly Elections Regulations of 1968 does provide for party poll-watchers to observe the poll inside the voting room and in its immediate surroundings.

Conclusion

Mauritius is a success story politically. The country has been faced with all the types of conflicts which have made nation building in many other SADC countries problematic. These include: ethnic, racial, religious, language and class conflicts. In the case of Mauritius, the prospect of "communalism" is detrimental to economic development since it is likely to cause violence and even civil war. And yet, Mauritius has a long record of democratic politics and in many ways, its political leaders are to be regarded for its political sophistication and maturity.

Describing the paradoxical mixture of stability and combativeness in Mauritius, Denis Venter (forthcoming) argues:

The combative nature of Mauritian politics results from the complexity of the country's society and the multiplicity of pressures that daily impinge on political leaders. These pressures arise naturally from the diversity of race, ethnicity, religion colour, caste and language. Despite this kaleidoscopic diversity or rather, because of it, serious strife and violence is remarkably absent from public life.

SADC countries have a great deal to learn from this experience.

Reference

VENTER, D FORTHCOMING "Elections in Mauritius", Electoral Information Digest, EISA.