A Fascinating Behind-the-Scenes Look at History of Mauritian Politics

Mauritius is a small island nation along the East Africa coastline, east of Madagascar and Rodrigues Island. With a population of 1.2 million people, the island spans over 2040 square kilometres with an economic maritime zone of around 2.3 kilometres. The main harbour is Port Louis, which is also the capital city. The island is famed for being the last home for dodo birds, which went extinct shortly after humans settled on the island.

Politically, Mauritius is viewed as Africa’s most stable democracy. This has largely contributed to its rapid economic growth relative to her African counterparts culminating in joining the league of high-income countries in 2019.

There are no original inhabitants of Mauritius. Early inhabitants came either as labourers, slaves, settler or visitors. The Arab traders of the Middle Ages were aware of the island’s existence but never took interest or attempted to settle here. In 1507, the Portuguese discovered the island. They would use the island as a brief stopover point for their fleet, but they never made any serious attempt to settle on the island. After that, the Dutch arrived on the island late 16th century. They exported natural wood back home, and this continued for over a century. They named the island Mauritius and brought some slaves from Africa, some of whom left behind when they left in the early eighteen centuries (Kasenally & Ramtohul, 2020).

The French arrived as soon as the Portuguese left and established a colony. They brought colonial settlers from neighbouring islands such as Reunion and Rodrigues. The island was renamed the island of France. A governor directly administered the island on behalf of the French government. Slavery and indented servitude were the primary sources of labour. The population grew exponentially. There were frequent problems, such as food shortage and infighting (Kasenally & Ramtohul, 2020).

In 1794, slavery was abolished in France and its territories. The planters in Mauritius saw this as a threat to their livelihood and refused to implement the order. The rebellion was quashed in 1803, but the law was slightly modified to create a definition loophole that would enable slavery and the slave trade to continue in Mauritius (Lutz & Wils 1994). British-French War forced the British to capture the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues and reunion. Reunion island was later returned to the French as part of the peace deal, but Mauritius and Rodrigues remained under British rule. Eventually, slavery was abolished in 1835 despite fierce opposition from the French settlers. The island remained under the British until Independence in 1968 (Lutz & Wils 1994).

Mauritians are ethnically, racially and religiously very diverse. The political alignments usually follow these demographic patterns. It is, therefore, essential to understanding this diversity to understand politics. Below are descriptions of how the Mauritian population is diverse (Mehta, 2015):

  • Franco Mauritians — These are the French descents. They are a pretty small portion of the population (less than 2%), but they are at the economic ladder’s pinnacle. They are mostly the owners of significant commercial organisations, plantations and factories. 
  • Sino Mauritians — The Chinese community in Mauritius currently constitute about 3% of the Mauritian population. They mainly migrated in the last century as small business people and dock labourers. 
  • Africans — They mainly migrated as slaves from Madagascar and also sometimes mainland Africa. Due to early intermarriage with Franco Mauritius, which was uncommon with other communities, Mauritius’s African community is diverse on a broad spectrum. Their languages have all been assimilated, and they form the most significant part of the Creole community. 
  • Indo-Mauritians — Mauritius’s Indian community migrated in the 18th and 19th century primarily as indentured labourers and sometimes slaves. Many Indians came during the reign of governor Mahé de Labourdonnais (1735-1746). As of today, they constitute nearly half of the whole Mauritian population.
  • Creole — There is no clear definition of who the creole community is. These are primarily people born between mixed races, but it is used to describe everyone who is not of pure Asian origin in contemporary meaning. The latter meaning is usually manifested in political alignments and mobilisation.

Nearly 49% of Mauritians subscribe to the Hindu religion. Indian cultural ties influence this. Many Hindu religious divisions are based on language, place of origin, and even sometimes based on India’s perceived caste system. Most Indians are Hindu, and sometimes these two words are used interchangeably (Kasenally & Ramtohul, 2020). 

Christianity is the second most popular religion in Mauritius, with 33% of the population. The significant component of Christianity is the Roman Catholic, followed by other Protestants churches. The thirds most populous religion is Islam, with 17%, and the non-religious groups are about 1% (Kasenally & Ramtohul, 2020).

The first confrontation between a government and the people took place as the planters resisted the idea of banning slavery. The next phase was led by Andrien d’Epinay, who vigorously campaigned for the planter’s representation in government affairs. His effort resulted in the formation of the council of government.

The other confrontations were on the treatment of Indian immigrants and the terrible working conditions. Adolf de Plevitz led the cause despite being a white planter. This earned him enemies among his white counterparts, who saw him as betraying his race. Some farmers even physically assaulted him. However, he gathered enough signatures to petition the government and the queen of England. This led to the formation of the loyal commission of 1872 (Mehta, 2015). 

Out of this effort, the Indian and the people of colour could get into politics in an organised way. These political mobilisations efforts were boosted when Mahatma Gandhi visited Mauritius for two weeks at the beginning of the last century. He encouraged people, mostly Indians, to organise themselves to counter political oppression (Mehta, 2015). Upon arrival in India, Gandhi sent Doctor Manilal to help Indians in Mauritius manage themselves better politically. The Creole people had already organised themselves to challenge the white dominance through a movement called ‘Action Liberal’ (Mehta, 2015).

Dr Manilal gathered the Indians and encouraged them to merge with the Movements Action Liberale to present one united front. The united movement mobilised at the grassroots by cultivating a sense of unity of purpose. These efforts led to the political awakening of the poor. The political organisation conducted general strikes with the workers and held rallies across the country. The royal commission intervened but did not achieve much. However, the planters used restricted voting to win the 1911 elections. This angered the people and led to looting and violence. Troops were called, but so much destruction had taken place. Most Indians, however, did not participate in the violence. With the First World War onset, the movement was pushed into oblivion (Lutz & Wils 1994). 

Later on, a movement for self-determination was started by Dr Maurice Curé. The movement was known as the Retrocession Movement, which agitated for the return of Mauritius to France. The idea never gathered traction even among the Franco planters. After all their candidates lost in 1921, the movement faded into oblivion (Lutz & Wils 1994).

The first British governor, Robert Farquhar (1810-1823), appointed an advisory board. It was mainly made of the few wealthy settlers, and its role was purely advisory. The committee was abolished in 1819, and a council of government established in 1825 (Mehta, 2015). Initially, the council of government did not have any elected member or any planter’s representative. The farmers agitated, and in 1831, old farmers representing the interest of the planters were admitted into the council. It would take 1885 constitutional amendments to have elected members admitted to the council. The elected members mainly were old planters and farm owners (Mehta, 2015).

However, the elected representatives were still outnumbered by the unofficial members, and hence their voice remained suppressed. They continued agitating for more representation, and in 1933, the council’s structure was amended to have more elected members than appointed. However, the system was still very restricted and biased (Lutz & Wils, 1994). Voting was only allowed to a small number of exclusive wealthy class of people. To participate in the poll, one had to be a male British, with a property value above 3000 rupees. These excluded more than 98% of the total adult population. This constitutional order remained for decades, mainly because it conformed to the ruling class’s interest and the rich (Lutz & Wils 1994).

Persistent agitation led to the replacement of the governor’s council with the legislative council in 1948, and the right to vote was expanded to include anyone illiterate or one who had served in the army. For the first time, there were more elected officials than appointed. The governor retained the veto powers. In 1958, the constitution was again amended to expand the legislative council and replace the governor with the assembly speaker. Universal suffrage was achieved, and 40 constituencies would each elect one representative (Mehta, 2015). The 1962 amendments required the governor to consult the popular party leader before making appointments; this further tilted the assembly’s power. One year later, the council became the legislative.

Dr Maurice Curé had suffered several defeats with his prior movements when in 1936, he founded the Mauritius Labour Party (MLP). As the first well organised political party in Mauritius, MLP’s support base was quite diverse. The party was meant to represent the workers (Morgan, 2015). MLP was very involved in activities to enlighten the workers on their labour relations issues and organising workers for industrial action. Despite being harassed and sometimes put on house arrest, Dr Curé continued with his mission until 1941, when he handed over to Anquetil. Curé’s effort opened a political space for other political parties and trade and labour unions (Athal, 2014). 

The political base of MLP considerably shifted under successive leadership. More urban Creole and fewer plantation workers joined the party. The election of 1948 opened up the political space for more political activities. More political parties and groups got involved. The importance of political parties as a tool for political mobilisation was entrenched (Athal, 2014). 

Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, a medical doctor, returned from the UK. In 1935 and after few years of practising, Ramgoolam decided to enter the political arena in 1940. He was nominated to the legislative council. He joined MLP and became its leader when Rozement faded away from politics. Ramgoolam attracted people of all diverse communities to the party, mainly the Hindus and the Creole. His worker empowerment policy approach made the planters feel threatened by the MLP (Athal, 2014).

This led to Ralliement Mauricien (RM), founded by the planters mainly of the White Franco community, to counter the MLP policies. RM was a movement to counter the MLP policies. Due to their small numbers, RM opposed universal suffrage and labour rights, which led to more alienation. MLP won subsequent elections in 1953, but nominations from the executive diluted its mandate. To effectively counter the labour party policies, RM transformed itself into an official political party, Parti Mauricien (PM). Both MLP and PM continued to be the two dominant parties on each side of the political arena. PM was a party for the rich which did not enjoy popular support but relied on its association with the executive to push its agenda. On the other hand, MLP enjoyed comprehensive popular support from a diverse base (Athal, 2014).

The political theatre continued to expand, and the debate for Independence became more pronounced. Different political parties were formed, each representing a particular ethnic group, class or geographical base. Muslims formed Comité d’Action Musulman (CAM) to cater to their interests. Same years, Independent Forward Bloc (IFB) was created to represent the rural people, especially the rural Hindu communities. IFB was viewed as a direct competitor of MLP as they were both trying to appeal to the same base. 

During the ensuing 1959 election, MLP and CAM entered into an informal alliance while IFB joined PM on the other side. The MLP/CAM won with a landslide. This victory was very beneficial to Ramgoolam’s political career. During the 1959 elections, caste and threat of Hindu hegemony were for the first time used as means to mobilise voters, especially by the PM candidates directly. IFB presented itself as the voice of lower caste Hindus and tried to portray Ramgoolam as a higher caste elite Hindu representative. For the first time, the Hindu community was politically divided (Selvon, 2012).

Political parties were also significant as far as getting involved in constitutional decisions was concerned. In the 1961 constitution conference, only established political parties attended. Labour party vouched for Independence, with PM opposing it. CAM was for minority rights and pushed for individual liberty without constitutional changes. Again, MLP prevailed. Independence was promised but in two phases. This made the election of 1963 particularly impotent as whoever would win would set the agenda during the constitution and independence negotiation period (Selvon, 2012).

Ramgoolam had a more significant challenge of fixing the issue of minority inclusion. The opponent had worked hard in portraying him as a candidate trying to protect the Hindu elite/upper caste only and at the expense of other minorities, including different Hindu castes. His initial approach was to try and stick to discussing issues and avoid community affiliations. Nevertheless, his opponents were relentless. PM openly launched communal and racial attacks against the Hindu community and even physically attacked MLP political gatherings. Their tactics were crude (Selvon, 2012). 

IFB mounted an opposition in the rural areas while PM attacked in the urban areas. The stakes were high, and so were the tensions. The MLP/CAM coalition won 5 seats less than previously won while the opposition picked up some seats. The coalition also won only 40% of the votes. All parties had members who were not ethnically their base who won. For instance, PM won 8 seats, but only three were white. For the first time, the general population community were more than proportionality represented. Parti Mauricien effectively became the opposition party (Mehta, 2015). 

PM took advantage of being in the government to advance their cause of opposition to Independence. When the labour party resolution for Independence passed, they again launched violence against the Hindu community and expressed open hostility. This resulted in the formation of All Mauritius Congress (AMC), a Hindu based political group specifically to counter PM’s hostility. They agitated for the allocation of more than half of all jobs to Hindus. AMC also attacked other Hindu based parties and even Ramgoolam to gain popularity and gain political mileage (Selvon, 2012).

AMC and PM conflict brought tension to an all-time high. In 1965, during a high-level visit by a British delegation, Gaetan Duval, the leader of Parti Mauricien, gathered his followers in the Capital, dressed in blue to signify their opposing independence position. Hindu youths began retaliations and looting, and violence began. Sadly, violence had become a standard tool for advocacy in politics for both sides. The killing of a Hindu boy by PM followed escalated the violence. With rumours of a civil war, the governor declared a state of emergency, and British troops trooped in to quell the violence (Selvon, 2012).

All parties were invited to London to discuss the way forward. The independence conference of 1965 saw each side take a hard-line position for and against Independence. Labour demanded Independence, increased assembly and a chapter on fundamental rights and freedoms. IFB wanted Independence but a different electoral system. Chinese community wanted partial Independence, with security remaining the responsibility of the UK. With no one willing to compromise on major issues, a referendum was proposed, but Ramgoolam feared this might delay Independence, and he opposed it (Lutz & Wils 1994). 

The British used this desperate moment to cut a secret deal with Ramgoolam by agreeing to sell Diego Garcia to the USA for a military base. In return, the British would support his position. A secret deal was sealed, and the undersecretary, Greenwood, changed his tune from a mere neutral mediator to pro-independence. This, of course, infuriated all the other parties who boycotted the last sessions of the conference. In his concluding remarks, Greenwood spoke against having communalism saying this would be hard to eradicate in future. He also recognised that the new proposed constitution provided many safeguards and protections to the minorities such as the office of Ombudsman, individual freedoms and fundamental rights, best loser system, and a constitution set to protect against either Hindu or Hindu any other majority hegemony. With that, Independence was on the horizon (Lutz & Wils, 1994).

There were, however, many disagreements, including on the electoral system. An election commission was set up to deal with the issue. The Banwell Electoral Commission report proposed a merger of some constituencies to put the number at 20 and triple the number of the representatives to 3 per constituency and Rodrigues to return 2.

The corrective system was another contentious issue. A settlement was arrived at with the help of John Stonehouse, who was a London based parliamentary undersecretary. He resolved that the best loser system replace the corrective system. Four categories of communities that would benefit from these extra seats were recognised as Chinese, Muslims, Hindu and others’ general population’. He also established a formula to allocate these additional seats to the underrepresented communities (Selvon, 2012). Based on this formula, the electoral commission would give these extra seats to ensure two essential conditions are met — they are allocated to an underrepresented minority community. The allocation of these seats must not in any way undermine the electoral victory of the majority party in parliament. With this, issues of Mauritius were resolved to achieve Independence (Selvon, 2012).

The Parti Mauricien (PM) decided to make one last significant attempt. They organised rallies, sought collaboration and mobilised against Independence. Duval, the PM leader, knew he was up for a huge task but was determined to teach labour a lesson. He changed his tone; he embraced the Hindus, especially the Tamils and portrayed the leadership of the MLP as a sell-out, especially once the details of the secret deal broke out. They attempted to unite every minority party or group in a single movement to ouster MLP (Athal, 2014). 

However, their case was paradoxical; they accused the British of stealing Diego Garcia and advocated remaining under British rule. Hindus allied to Duval formed the Peoples Socialist Party. Prominent Muslim leaders also joined PMSD. Political alignments were changing fast. Duval had the momentum, and it seems like he had Ramgoolam cornered. The 1967 election was held under commonwealth observers. Although MLP won, the Parti Mauricien got a record 43.1%, more than double the last election. This was an indirect vote against Independence. The minorities had united under one cause (Mehta, 2015). 

A motion for Independence was placed before the assembly. PMSD and allies boycotted, and MLP carried the day with a slim majority. Independence had been achieved, and Ramgoolam had been given a new five-year mandate. PMSD was disgruntled and incited its members to violence. They resorted to guerrilla tactics to sabotage Independence. The indolence celebrations were marked by massive violence that left at least 25 dead and a record number of casualties. Again, the British troops were called to quell the violence. Again, PM tried to run the narrative that the presence of British troops in Mauritius was inevitable, but it was too late (Selvon, 2012). 

To Ramgoolam and his party leadership, Independence was just one problem solved out of many. An end to an era but the beginning of a long journey. The young nation was sharply divided and was facing massive unemployment, inflation and poor infrastructures. He had wounds to heal and an economy to grow. He embarked on reconciliation by inviting the PMSD to form a coalition government. However, as it turned out, it is hard to please everyone. Some of his independence allies, like IFB, were disgruntled by this move. Some of them even resigned from the cabinet before the first anniversary of the Independence (Athal, 2014). 

Ramgoolam approached other parties and political groups to form a national unity government and reduce the winner’s feeling to take it all. He also brought sugar magnate and wealthy individuals on board to assure them of the government support despite them persistently campaigning against Independence. Ramgoolam knew he needed to prevent capital flight that could cause further economic deterioration. Investors wanted a politically stable Mauritius to invest their money in Mauritius, and Ramgoolam was willing to make concessions to offer that (Athal, 2014).

After a lengthy persuasion and pressure from the British and French, Duval agreed to join the coalition government in December 1969. The coalition also decided to postpone the next election due from 1972 to 1976. The alliance seemed to work until Duval demanded to be the deputy prime minister. Most labour party loyalist would not trust such a powerful position on someone who had built his career opposing Independence and Hindus ascendancy to political power. Duval was given the role of leader of the house. The rural members of MLP distrusted PMSD, and they saw this as a betrayal of their loyalty and labour party values. The wealthy, powerful elite had again found their way into the government. Hindu Congress Party emerged agitating for the fair distraction of wealth between urban and rural. 

On the other hand, the PMSD members also were unhappy with party endorsement of Ramgoolam and labour party policies of resource redistribution. The party splits, and the Union Democratique Mauricienne (UDM) was born. Other disgruntled and wealthy members of PMSD left the country for Europe or Australia. The coalition was not doing well. MLP and PMS pursued conflicting economic and foreign policies. The Labour party sought job creation, subsidies, redistribution of wealth and offering small grants to small businesses. At the same time, they financed these programs by heavily taxing the sugar barons and their creole managerial staffs, further disgruntling the PMSD base.

Nevertheless, Duval as minister for external affairs, pursued “money without conscience”. He maintained closed ties with the apartheid regime of South Africa. He opposed bilateral relations with china just to appease western economic powers. Sometimes he would embarrass the premier by publicly declaring his position as if that is the government position. His close ties with the South Africa racist regime also affected Mauritius’s close relations with India and Africa.

Simultaneously, the disgruntled labour party members who felt betrayed by the cause were decamping to a new party, the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM). This forced Ramgoolam to give some concession to keep the coalition alive, bearing in mind that MMM quickly gained political momentum. He was between a rock and a hard place. 

The economy deteriorated as unemployment was rising. PMSD policies were only benefiting the top, and the mass was being left to suffer. In 1974, Ramgoolam swallowed the bitter pills, reorganised the cabinet and took charge of the external affairs docket. On the other hand, the MMM threat to power was becoming eminent. Its anti-establishment rhetoric mainly drove MMM. MMM support was from across all castes and ethnicities. It was a class war. Their slogan, “The class struggle should replace the race struggle, ” was a selling point. 

MMM infiltrated all sectors, especially the labour unions and the local government. They tested their political prowess by contesting in a by-election in Ramgoolam’s constituency in 1970, and they got over 70%, a decisive vote of approval. In 1971, they organised a general strike paralysing almost all the sectors of the economy. The government retaliated by cracking on the members of the MMM, which made the situation worse. The strike continued, and it was so successful that even the leadership of MMM was no longer in control again. Their attempt to call it off to allow for negotiation fell on deaf ears of the workers.

The government declared a state of emergency in October 1971 and arrested MM leaders. MMM papers were banned, members spied on and any union associated with them suspended. Ramgoolam, with the support of his coalition partner Duval, extended his leadership for five more years. The crackdown softened some MMM leaders who opted to negotiate and work with the government and give a chance for democratic institutions to take their cause. The other strict adherences of MMM ideology split from MMM and formed Maoist Movement Militant Mauricien Social Progressive. They accused MMM of betrayal and continued with their agitation.

Ramgoolam was now 80 years old, yet the labour party did not have youthful leaders who could succeed in his negotiation policy, prioritising negotiations and willing to compromise where necessary. This was creating a vacuum and the establishment, both within and outside the party, was worried. The threat of MMM rebranding and resurfacing to fill this vacuum was imminent. The labour party had built its leadership around Ramgoolam as a person and not around his ideological figure.

The state of emergency was extended beyond 1972, which angered many, even on the government side. Some of them, like Hari Prasad Ramnarain (MLP), resigned from the government in protest. After the strike, Alex Rima, the Minister of Employment (PMSD), offered to negotiate with the workers who had lost their job. Nevertheless, the government was not ready to compromise. The minister resigned from the government in protest. As a result, the prolonged emergency and the governments’ high-handedness were starting to affect the government. The strike had hardened the soft side of Ramgoolam.

After the emergency had been lifted, MMM focused on bridging the gap between different demographics to diversify its base and position itself as a party with a national outlook. Its Marxist philosophy resonated with many poor people, workers and the lower middle class, who saw this as the opportunity to tilt the power from the establishment to the people finally. To counter the narrative, the government branded MMM as a Soviet Union tool used by foreign powers to destabilise Mauritius. The government was hoping to utilise the cold war narrative to make its case. MMM was branded as the enemy of the people. 

To compound the government’s problem, the economy was doing poorly. The cost of living was going up by more than 10% annually due to increased imports. The steady growth in the economy that had been witnessed up to 1975 declined so rapidly. At the same time, MMM was using the economic crisis to attack the government and position itself as the saviour. 

In 1975, a cyclone hit Mauritius, destroying plantations and other economic sectors. Sugars prices dropped by more than a half, resulting in the first trade deficit in 1975 and the subsequent years (Saylor, 2012). Unemployment hit an all-time high. The investment budget was now being used for recurrent government expenditure, leaving very little investment in production and the economy. 

With a devastated economy and a prevalent opposition, Ramgoolam faced an election with all odds against him. Therefore, he turned to international appeal by portraying himself as a global statesman facing foreign interference in his country in the name of MMM. He was elected chairman of the African Union (AU). He used his new position and diplomacy to brand himself as a crucial asset for his county and the African continent. He hosted numerous dignitaries, heads of states and diplomats and also the OAU summit in Mauritius. For the first time in a long time, the government condemned the apartheid regime of South Africa, deviating from Duval’s position. 

However, MMM mocked him for having inherited his AU chairmanship from Idi-Amin, the famous Uganda dictator who had evicted Indians from his country. To attract and solidify his Indian political base, Ramgoolam invited Mrs Indira Gandhi, highly respected and admired among the Indian people, more so the Hindus. Mrs Indira Gandhi presided over several events where she praised Ramgoolam to strengthen the unity of the Indian community and the ties with India. Her visit culminated in the opening of the mahatma Gandhi institute. However, the opposition dismissed this effort as “desperate attempts to make the suffering people of Mauritius forget the trouble they were going through due to economic mismanagement by the labour party”.

The 2nd World Hindi Congress in September 1976 was yet another effort by Ramgoolam to entice the Hindu voters. Ramgoolam pushed for pro-Hindu policies, including demanding that the Hindi language be recognised as UN languages. Ramgoolam attended the non-aligned countries’ meeting as part of his international diplomatic effort, and Mauritius became a signatory giving Mauritius non-reciprocity access to the European Economic Community. In the same year, he hosted the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s summit with prominent dignitaries in attendance.

Ramgoolam decided to woo the young people at home by lowering the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen years to fulfil a pledge he made way back in 1967. The young population was about half of the country’s population, and this move introduced 200,000 new young voters. 

Bearing in mind the high level of unemployment among the young people, the rising cost of living and other economic hardships prevailing in the country, this move was likely to work against the labour party. The move made MMM even more enthusiastic about the upcoming elections. 

The assembly was dissolved in October 1976, and elections scheduled for December 1976. There were many candidates, mainly from the three main political parties (MMM, PMSD and MLP). Sensing defeat, MLP pushed for an alliance with MMM, but this failed to actualise after MMM refused to compromise their core values to accommodate the labour party. Labour party allied with CAM, the independence alliance. Other parties contested independently.

The fight was between the independence alliance, MMM and PMS. Labour party fielded old guards while MMM candidates mainly were the youth. The average age of the labour candidate was 50 years compared to 32 years for MMM. Still, the emergency state was not removed, and only political meeting and press censorship were exempted. 

Going into the elections, Ramgoolam and the Labour party key campaign issue was the diplomatic progress it has made in the last few years and its mixed economic achievement. They painted MMM as too communist to be entrusted with running the country and PMSD as a too capitalist whose “soul was located in foreign countries”. They also pledged free secondary education. Their approach to the economy was a mixed model combining free-market principles and social safety nets. PMSD’s main argument to the voters was its promise for a purely free-market system that would attract investors, expand the economy and create well-paying jobs, the famous trickle-down model.

On the other hand, MMM presented a Marxist approach to the people. They advocated for pro-people policies, including redistribution of wealth, nationalisation of the sugar sector, financial sector and increased workers participation in running their respective organisations. They denied being a communist agent and accused the Independent party and PMSD of wrecking the economy, suppressing civil liberties and democratic freedoms and using communal division tactics to keep power. They used the prevailing state of emergency to make a case that the Independence Party threatened democracy. MMM promised a total break away from South Africa’s apartheid regime and reclaimed Diego Garcia islands from the British on foreign affairs. They also pushed for a non-executive president upon Mauritius becoming a republic. MMM momentum boosted when the Mouvement Chretien Pour Socialism (MCPS) announced their support for MMM.

The stakes were high; every party mobilised their base to come out in large numbers, which resulted in a ninety per cent voter turnout. The Independence Party garnered 25 seats, MMM 30 seats, and PMSD got only seven seats. MMM had successfully replaced PMSD as the voice of the minority. Unlike previously, the MMM base was the black creoles and the Muslims, where the PMSD presented the whites as the only minority. 

No party had managed to gather a majority. With a hung parliament, the top three parties were busy lobbying to form a coalition government. The first discussions were between MMM and the independent coalition. Ramgoolam was to retain AU chairmanship and to become the first president of the republic. Nevertheless, the ideological difference between Labour and MMM were too deep to reach a deal. MMM opened negations with PMSD. MMM and PMSDD were ideologically very opposite, with PMSD advocating for a pure capitalist, free-market system while MMM advocated for a Marxist approach. MMM sent to the negotiation table young inexperienced activists who were too radical to compromise to make matters worse. The negotiation failed before they could even start.

MPL approached its old partner, and they formed a coalition government with a two-seat majority. Ramgoolam justified the coalition as a coalition to reject the radical communist movement (Houbert, 1981). This angered MMM, who were the largest party in the parliament. They walked out from the first parliament session in protest and threatened to force another election within a year. However, MMM now had a parliament platform as the main opposition party to fight the establishment’s positive side. They caused real debates on real issues and institutionalised dissent in parliament. Fiscal management improved as every spending was scrutinised. For instance, in 1979, the budget presented in June was withdrawn for fear of defeat to allow lobbying time. For every vote they lobbied, they had to make some amendment to the budget. At the same time, the MMM young members were getting experience.

In the 1977 local elections, MMM managed to get slightly more than 50%, further diminishing labour party dominance. Despite the slim majority and the fear that a slight defection could tilt the power favouring MMM, the independence coalition served a full term. There were defections, but we always matched these defections by counter defection from the other side, maintaining the status quo.

After 1977, some MMM members started to become impatient. MMM was always seeming so close to power but never getting there. An internal left-wing group called “aile gauche” accused MMM of losing focus of the party’s initial goal and accused the party of being too cosy with USSR. The party leadership lobbied the delegates to fix the internal dissent, and those allied to the group were not re-elected, rendering the group dormant. Other conflicts were quickly resolved through expulsions and other party discipline mechanisms as Bérenger and Jugnauth remained firmly on the leadership. During the same period, the left-wing splinter group MMMSP re-joined the MMM, further solidifying the opposition. 

On the other hand, some Labour party members were expelled for uniting with the opposition to vote against the 1980 budget. The defected and formed Party Socialist Mauricien (PSM). The debate of Ramgoolam succession was coming back in the limelight. Satcam Boolell was a long-serving agriculture Minister and third in command. Like many within the party, he was seen as the likely successor to support this idea.

Many argued that the parliament was both the executive and the assembly. With a thin majority, most votes on the floor ended with a tie, forcing the speaker to cast his vote. The PMSD would sometimes vote against the government on some issues except government censure motions. MMM also continued to push and implement its plan through other means. In parliament, they would use the ‘motion of disallowance’ to alter government policies. They organised peaceful demonstrations against the presence of the monarchy in Mauritius. They spoke strongly against the company of the USSR and other foreign powers around the Indian Ocean. The favoured promotion of Mauritius culture, through which they introduced Creole as a communication language in Municipal Councils. MMM also supported the general strike of 1979 that saw the economy paralysed. It was the biggest strike since 1971. The government arrested the union leaders. Although the demands were not met, the strike achieved the amendments to the Industrial Act. This time, MMM was also able to negotiate with the government on the fate of the 2000 workers dismissed due to the strike. 

In 1981, political activities started to peak as new alliances began to emerge. Despite ideological differences, MMM and PSM allied. Duval broke the coalition with the Labour Party, but some members of the PMSD formed a group called ‘Francois Group’ (later became Party Mauricien) and allied with the labour party. CAM, PDSM all decided to contest independently.

MMM/PSM alliance got all the 60 seats, and even in Rodrigues, its supporter OPR party won both seats. Finally, there was a shift from the establishment to the new young generation. Tribe, race, ethnicity, caste had all been rendered an outdated political tool, at least for a moment. The country was united against a single socialist government.

Aneerood Jugnauth became the Prime Minister, while PSM leader Harish Boodhoo became his deputy. The expectations were high among the voters, and with an overwhelming mandate, there was a need to deliver and manage the expectations. Four opposition members were appointed through the best loser system to uphold the constitution despite their party having no single candidate. The party pursued a reconciliatory approach, especially against the injustices and excesses of the former regime. On the eve of the election, the government, sensing defeat, had recruited 21,000 new workers as a last measure to woo them. The first major unpopular decision the MMM government dismissed them, despite campaigning on support for workers.

In parliament, they changed the law to make national and local elections regular. Many changes were effected. A political appointee whom the public service commission had not selected was to leave office after every election. Duty-free import by ministers and communal election system in the census. On foreign policy, the government softened its stance on France concerning Mauritius’ claim on Tromelin island, recognised the African National Congress of South Africa, recognised Palestinian liberation organisation, and established a commission to investigate circumstances Diego Garcia was sold to Britain.

The government opened negotiations with IMF and World Bank, despite sharply criticising them during campaigns. It even went ahead to accept money and conditions that were against the party’s ideology. IMF demanded the removal of food subsidy for the poor, scaling labour and closer collaboration with the private sector. Although these measures, later on, led to a record economic boom, their immediate effect was the MMM party’s fallout. Ideological pledges and economic facts became mutually exclusive. Bérenger opposed the new financial measures, including new sales tax and giving significant companies tax relief.

Jugnauth attempted to break the coalition and form his own MMM government with 42 members. The fallout also led to an internal fallout within MMM, which led to removing Jugnauth from the party. In the next local election, MMM gathered 92 per cent of the total vote, and PMSD emerged as the main opposition. Jugnauth broke away from MMM and formed MSM. The struggles within MMM intensified, and the government and the prime minister called for a general election in August 1983. MMM went alone while the labour party, PMSD and MSM formed an alliance and won 41 seats. Even before the dust could settle, MMM, which had one year before triumphed to power, was again the opposition party, but Jugnauth was still the prime minister. The new government was focused on two main issues, economic reforms and making Mauritius a republic.

A bill to make Mauritius a republic was tabled, but the motion required 75% of the votes. The government could only gather 47 votes. The new MSM government was accused of dictatorship. They tried all means to suppress the media, suppress the opposition and erode all civil rights achieved so far. 

Following the victory of MMM in the 1985 local election, where they got 60% of the votes, MMM demanded the resignation of the coalition government or changed the way it is managing the country. However, on 15 December, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Died. At the same time, some members of parliament of the ruling coalition were arrested in Amsterdam trafficking heroin. Prime Minister Jugnauth had been previously accused of being sympathetic to drug traffickers, but this was a big blow. Several misters resigned in protest, and Jugnauth called for an election in 1987, one year earlier than due. He ran on his economic transformation record. The main contesters were the MMM alliance and the MSM alliance. MSM won 39 seats and formed the government with labour and PMSD. Jugnauth continued focusing on his mission of economic reforms.

In 1991, He again called for elections earlier and reunited with his old party MMM to ally. They won 57 seats, which was a significant endorsement of the way he was running the economy. He again called for an election in 1995 after losing a parliament’s vote on language motion. To his surprise, MMM and MPL reunited and captured all the elective seats on the island. The MPL coalition, led by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam’s son, Navin Ramgoolam, was elected the prime minister. Jugnauth remained out of government until 2000, when he revived the MSM/MMM alliance. They went to the election and won 54 elective seats. He was elected the prime minister again. 

He remained in office until he suddenly resigned in 2003 and was sworn in as the president soon after. Paul Bérenger was elected as the first non-Hindu Prime Minister, while Jugnauth’s son, Pravind Jugnauth, was elected deputy prime minister. Navin Ramgoolam won again in 2005 and 2010 through the Social alliance. This prompted Sir Anerood Jugnauth to return to the elective political scene, and in 2014, he won the election again through the MSM-PMSD-ML alliance. The alliance won again, but his son, Pravind Jugnauth, was elected the prime minister. 

By J. L. Athal (Krishna), PhD Candidate in Leadership

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