Mauritius: Background to the 1967 Legislative Assembly election

Extracted from: "Mauritius" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 163-164.

In 1965 Mauritius seemed on its way to independence from Britain. However, two turbulent years lay ahead before voting could take place. Two major political parties dominated the scene - the Mauritius Labour Party (MLP) led by the Prime Minister, Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and mainly representing the Indian community, the other being the Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate (PMSD) led by Gaëtan Duval and representing the Franco-Mauritian and the Creole communities. Political debate centred on the issue whether Mauritius should opt for independence - the course espoused by Labour - or whether its association with Britain should be maintained. Debate centred on the presumptive economic benefits and dangers of the two options. While Ramgoolam could hope to win an election thanks to the numerical strength of the Indian community, Duval's policy reflected the fear of Hindu domination prevailing among Creoles, Franco-Mauritians and Chinese.

In January 1966, Britain sent an electoral commission headed by Sir Harold Bamwell to hear evidence from all interested parties and make recommendation for an electoral system. The commission's report above all sought to discourage the development of a number of small special-interest parties, to force the main parties to seek support from all communities, and to prevent the electoral system from so magnifying the power of the majority as to jeopardise entrenched constitutional rights. The commission, therefore, dismissed proportional representation and the single transferable vote. Instead, they designated 20 three-member constituencies formed by pairing two old constituencies into one. They also provided for the two votes for Rodrigues and the eight "corrective" seats. Each voter was required to cast three votes.

For some time, both sides vehemently rejected the proposals, but after some rather minor amendments to the proposals, both recognised that further delays would be detrimental, and they accepted. On 20 June 1966, Ramgoolam announced that the elections would be held on 7 August 1967. Ramgoolam's Labour was allied with two Hindu parties combined in the Independent Forward Bloc (IFB) and the All-Mauritian Hindu Congress (AMHC), as well as with the Comité d'Action Muselman (CAM). Duval's Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate (PMSD) did not form an alliance but actively canvassed among the Hindu and Muslim communities.

The registration of voters began in September 1966 and took two months. During the entire period, a team of Commonwealth observers was in Mauritius. Their presence did much to limit corruption and fraud. The principal problem was "dumping", that is, political parties taking voters out of safe constituencies and registering them in marginal ones to swing an election. At the close of registration, the commission, consequently, noted that in eight constituencies the number of claimants exceeded the number of people found in a house-to-house canvass. A fresh canvass was carried out in one district in Port Louis and in parts of five others. In the end, the Commonwealth observers concluded that the administrative arrangements were adequate and were conducted in a fair and proper manner.

Voter registration for the 1967 election

Ethnic group Town Countryside Total
General population 65 908 32 914 98 822
Muslims 26 216 19 860 46 076
Hindus 40 731 82 541 123 272
Tamils 13 716 17 579 31 295
Chinese 6 966 1 252 8 218
Total 153 537 154 146 307 683

In reporting on the election, the Commonwealth observers stated that problems tended to arise when a voter had difficulty in establishing his or her identity to the satisfaction of the presiding officer. The similarity of many names often caused long waits inside and outside the voting rooms. This problem could be solved only if the registration of voters were to be based upon street names and house numbers.

On 20 June 1966, Ramgoolam announced that the elections would be held on 7 August 1967. Under his leadership, Labour, IFB, AMHC and CAM combined under the name of the Independence Party; in fact, however, they remained separate interest groups, and after a while the AMHC broke away to fight the election alone.

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