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Mauritius Table of Contents


Toward Independence

After World War II, the pace of constitutional reform quickened as Britain began to loosen its grip on its colonies. In Mauritius this transformation was presided over by Donald Mackenzie Kennedy, governor from 1942 to 1949. A consultative committee, which for the first time included representatives of all Mauritian communities, made suggestions for a new constitution. In addition to providing for a Legislative Council that was more representative, the new constitution expanded the franchise in 1947 to all adults able to write their names in any of the island's languages. In the 1948 election, eleven of the nineteen candidates winning seats in the Legislative Council were Hindu. However, Governor Mackenzie Kennedy assured the dominance of British and Franco-Mauritian interests by nominating twelve conservatives to the body--some seats were appointed and others elected. This tactic was repeated after the 1953 election by Sir Hilary Blood, the new governor.

A new constitution in 1958 included several changes that increased political participation. It provided for suffrage to adults over twenty-one years of age and divided the country into forty single-member constituencies that elected representatives to the Legislative Council. Also, to assure representation of more constituencies, the constitution allowed the governor to appoint to the council "best losers," candidates whose support was not quite enough to win their races. In the 1959 election, the MLP won twenty-three seats, the Independent Forward Block (IFB) five, the Committee for Muslim Action (Comité d'Action Musulman--CAM) five, the Mauritian Party (Parti Mauricien--PM) three, and Independents three. The governor awarded best-loser seats to the PM and to Chinese candidates.

After negotiations among the major parties in 1961, the British decided that the winning party's leader in the 1963 election would become premier. In addition, the Legislative Council would become the Legislative Assembly, and the Executive Committee would become the Council of Ministers. The new government would be responsible for all but the island's defense, internal security, and foreign affairs. Although the PM leader, Gaetan Duval, put up strong competition, the MLP, under Ramgoolam, won the election with nineteen seats. Leery that a Hindu victory would jeopardize its economic position, the Creole community expressed unease and opposition in May 1965 riots that left several dead.

A constitutional conference held in London in 1965, with members of all political parties present, decided that the island should become independent from Britain as soon as general elections returned a party in favor of such a notion. Some parties, however, opposed independence. The Franco-Mauritian community and many of the island's Creoles backed the Mauritian Social Democratic Party (Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate--PMSD, formerly the PM), which strongly advocated continued "free association" with Britain. The PMSD representatives walked out of the constitutional conference when it became apparent that one price for independence would be the incorporation of the Chagos Archipelago (formerly administered from Mauritius) into the planned British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) along with portions of Seychelles. Other conferees, represented by the CAM, feared that their constituents would be placed at a disadvantage. In the end, the CAM joined the MLP and the IFB to form the winning coalition in the decisive general election of August 7, 1967. A Commonwealth of Nations observer team was satisfied that the highly participatory election was fair. The winning coalition took thirty-nine of the sixty-two seats in the assembly.

Data as of August 1994