Mauritius to vote over presidency, economy

Mauritius to vote over presidency, economy
French President Francois Hollande (L) welcomes Mauritius Prime Minister Navin Chandra Ramgoolam upon his arrival for their meeting at the Elysee palace.

PORT LOUIS, Mauritius- Mauritians head to the polls Wednesday for legislative elections with rival parties promising to boost the economy and battling over the proposed strengthening of presidential powers.

The issue of constitutional reform makes the polls one of the most important for Mauritius since the independence of the Indian Ocean nation from Britain in 1968.

Two rival coalitions are competing for 62 parliamentary seats - 60 on the main island of Mauritius, and two on the small island of Rodrigues, some 560km to the east.

On one side, the centre-left group brings together the Labour Party (PTR) of Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam and the former opposition Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) party. Ramgoolam is expected to want to run for president, currently a largely ceremonial position elected by parliament.

Should they win, the PTR-MMM coalition have agreed to try to amend the constitution so the president will be directly elected.

On the other side is the Alliance Lepep, a centre-right coalition led by former president Anerood Jugnauth and three other political parties.

But Lepep fiercely oppose the constitutional reform proposed by the government alliance.

It faces a tough fight: the PTR held a small majority in the past parliament, but now is strengthened further with the backing of the MMM.

MMM leader Paul Berenger insists the plans to boost the president's role will create a "more democratic system" by stripping some power away from the prime minister.

But Lepep leader Xavier Duval fears that reforms would create "a little king of the country" who "will benefit from both civil and criminal immunity, and will do what they want for seven years." Campaigning started Oct and has been carried out calmly.

Both sides have campaigned on strengthening the economy. Mauritius is one of the richest countries in Africa, a middle-income country of some 1.3 million people, with a per capita GDP of just over US$9,000 (S$12,000).

The PTR-MMM alliance promised to boost "economic infrastructure needed to lift Mauritius from middle-income status" to higher income, and to "improve the living standards of all citizens".

Alliance Lepep have said they want Mauritius to achieve a growth rate of over six per cent.

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