Port Louis, Mauritius | AFP | Mauritians will vote Thursday in an election that will see Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth vie to win a popular mandate two years after he was handed the top job when his father stepped down.
Nearly a million voters are registered for the parliamentary election in Mauritius, a stable democracy in the Indian Ocean, which gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1968.
Jugnauth succeeded his father Anerood Jugnauth as prime minister without a popular vote when the older man stood down in 2017, two years ahead of schedule.
These polls mark the first opportunity for Mauritians to decide whether he should continue to rule.
The opposition unsuccessfully demanded fresh elections two years ago, saying Jugnauth senior anointing his 57-year-old son as leader amounted to little more than nepotism.
That is a rallying cry Navin Ramgoolam, a two-time former prime minister and main rival, has taken into the election, calling on voters to “free the country from the grip of the Jugnauth clan”.
“The Mauritian people will have the opportunity to block, once and for all, corruption, nepotism, the perversion of our institutions and the misappropriation of public funds,” said Ramgoolam, whose own father, Seewoosagur, served as prime minister for 14 years between the 1960s and 1980s.
– Economic record –
Campaigning lasted for a furious two weeks, with Mauritius bedecked in the flags and colours of the warring parties.
For the first time in decades, three distinct political blocs will vie for power in the legislative elections. New alliances could be likely if none can clinch an absolute majority.
Jugnauth heads the centre-right Morisian Alliance, Ramgoolam leads the centre-left National Alliance and one of his former allies, Paul Berenger, is going out alone with his Mauritian Militant Movement.
Berenger, who briefly served as prime minister between 2003 to 2005, has also denounced dynastic “papa-piti” (from father to son) politics and accused Jugnauth of presiding over “scandals of all kinds”.
Jugnauth has weathered attacks over the nature of his appointment by highlighting his economic record.
The country’s economy grew by 3.8 percent in 2018 thanks to its tourism and banking sectors.
The first stage of a new light rail network is scheduled to open in December.
Jugnauth has also introduced a minimum wage, about 215 euros ($240) a month, increased pensions for the elderly and reformed labour laws.
“I have done in two and a half years what the previous government, led by Navin Ramgoolam, did not do between 2005 and 2014,” said Jugnauth, who is also Finance Minister.
– Challenges ahead –
Mauritius has developed from a poor, agriculture-based economy, to one of Africa’s wealthiest nations and financial services hub.
But it has increasingly come under fire for helping global companies avoid paying taxes — often in poor African nations — and was until October on a European Union watch list.
General unemployment, while low compared to the rest of the continent, remains high among youth at 22 percent, and inequality is seen to be rising. Pope Francis, who visited in September, urged the island against profit at all costs.
Mauritius is a melting pot of religions and ethnic backgrounds. The population of 1.3 million is predominantly Hindu but has sizeable Christian and Muslim minorities.
Voters have to choose 62 MPs — 60 from the main island of Mauritius, and two from Rodrigues, a small island some 600 kilometres (370 miles) to the east.
The Electoral Commission then appoints eight other representatives from among those not elected, but who received a high number of votes, to rebalance the distribution of seats between parties and communities in the national assembly.