Mauritius: General election of August 1987

Extracted from: "Mauritius" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 169-171.

The years following the 1983 elections were marked by an endless succession of intra- and inter-party feuds as well as scandals involving high government members and officials in corruption, fraud and drug trafficking. Within months of taking office, the Alliance began a process of fragmentation that by 1986 left the government without a working majority in parliament. When in February 1984, the MLP [Mauritius Labour Party] left the government, 11 of its MPs continued to support the government and formed a faction within the MLP called the Rassemblement des Travaillistes Mauriciens (RTM). Upon proroguing parliament in November 1986, Jugnauth agreed that an election was necessary.

Parliament was dissolved on 3 July, and the election date set for 30 August 1987, one year ahead of schedule. Campaigning started on 22 July 1987. The campaign was fought intensely but with less bitterness and blatant communal hostility than had been the case in the past. Jugnauth's Alliance fought the election with his MSM [Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien], Duval's MPSD [Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate], and both major factions of the MLP, the one led by Satcam Boolell and the RTM. The MMM allied itself with two small parties, the Mouvement Travailliste Démocrat (RTD) and the Front des Travailleurs Socialiste (FTS).

A total of 639 488 voters were registered (approximately 60% of the total population) and of these, 546 623 (85.5%) cast their votes. A total of 359 candidates ran for the 62 elected seats. The ballot, like the electoral campaign, was held in an impassioned atmosphere, but there were no serious incidents. During the election campaign, the ruling MSM/MLP/PMSD alliance was known as the Sun (Soleil) and the opposing Union (composed of MMM/MTD/FTS) as the Heart (Coeur) after their respective emblems.

While overall participation of voters in the polling amounted to 85.5%, it ran up to 93% in some constituencies. The average size of the multimember constituencies was around 30 000. As in previous elections, the MMM and its partners received the highest percentage of votes, 48.12%, of which a small percentage can be attributed to its two small partners (see 1987 Legislative Assembly election results for more detail). It won 21 seats, comprising 19 of the 30 urban seats, and only two of the 30 rural seats. The Alliance (MSM/PMSD/MLP) won a total of 49.86% and 39 seats. After the best-loser seats were allocated, the Alliance held 46 seats to the MMM's 24. The two seats of the Organisation du Peuple Rodriguais helped to raise those of the Alliance to 46.

The outcome of the election highlighted an anomaly of the electoral system. A mere 1.7% of the votes cast separated the two political alliances, but in terms of seats the gap was 36.6 percentage points. The opposition called for electoral reforms, but the winning alliance was quite happy with things as they stood. The outcome of the 1991 general election added further impetus to demands for reform.

The MSM had drawn its main support from the Hindu community (52% of the total population), particularly from the numerically dominant Vaishya caste, which included Jugnauth among its members. The MSM was also favoured by the economically dominant Chinese and Franco-Mauritian communities. The MMM's support was concentrated in the Muslim Indian community (17% of the total population), in sections of the Creole community (27%) and in the lower Hindu castes, particularly those of southern Mauritius disaffected with Vaishya dominance in the north. Of the smaller ruling parties, the MLP also represented higher-caste Hindus, while the PMSD was strong in the Creole community.

Despite problems of corruption, drug trafficking and nepotism that had tainted the Jugnauth administration since 1983, he and his Alliance benefited from the economic boom that Mauritius had experienced during these years. GNP per capita had risen from $977 in 1983 to $1 538 in 1987, while the economic growth rate had risen from 0,4% to 7.1% (7.9% in 1986 alone); unemployment had fallen from more than 30% to 10%, and inflation had fallen from 5.6% to 1%. Bowman (1991, 94) comments that the results reflected a desire for continuity and "confirmed the view that economic prosperity and the persistence of communal electoral traditions were more salient to the voters than a desire to punish the government for corruption and other indiscretions."

Reference

BOWMAN, LW 1991 Mauritius: Democracy and Development in the Indian Ocean; Boulder & San Francisco: Westview Press.

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