Mauritius is a democratic republic with a parliamentary system and a non-executive president. The president is appointed for a five-year term by the National Assembly.
The prime minister is head of the government, which holds executive power. The prime minister and deputy prime minister are appointed by the president and are responsible to the National Assembly. The prime minister’s position is maintained by his or her ability to command a majority in the Assembly.
Legislative power is vested in the government and the National Assembly. The Assembly comprises up to 70 members, 62 of whom are elected (60 from 20 three-member constituencies on the island of Mauritius plus two from the single constituency of Rodrigues). Seats are allocated to a maximum of eight additional members to allow representation of a variety of ethnic groups; this system of nominating members is commonly called the ‘best loser’ system.
General elections take place every five years, based on universal suffrage for citizens over the age of 18.
Local government has nine administrative divisions. The island of Rodrigues forms the tenth division.
The constitution establishes the separation of the powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. It guarantees the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. The death penalty was abolished in 1989.
The judicial system derives from the English common law and the French Napoleonic Code. The Supreme Court comprises the Court of Civil Appeal and the Court of Criminal Appeal; it has a chief justice and nine judges, and has original jurisdiction in the most serious criminal cases, when it sits with judge and jury. The Industrial Court is mandated to protect the constitutional rights of the citizen. The Privy Council in the United Kingdom is the final court of appeal.
Today, Mauritius is the most densely populated country in Africa. Yet Mauritius was uninhabited until 1598, when the Dutch who settled on the island named it Mauritius after Prince Maurice of Nassau. The French took formal possession in 1715, renaming the island Île de France; the British captured the island in 1810 and renamed it Mauritius.
From 1810 until they were separated in 1903, Mauritius and Seychelles were administered as a single British colony by a governor and British officials.
Mauritius became an independent state and joined the Commonwealth in 1968.
Negotiations for political autonomy in the 1960s were led by Seewoosagur Ramgoolan, leader of the Labour Party. He went on to become the first prime minister of Mauritius.
The government of Ramgoolan refused to allow the general election due in 1972 to go ahead, concerned as they were about the growing strength of the socialist Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM). A state of emergency was declared and MMM and union members leaders were imprisoned.
In 1982 the MMM, in alliance with Labour break-away group the Parti Socialiste Mauricien (PSM), won all the elected seats in the National Assembly. Although the MMM in government was less radical than it had been in the early 1970s, the alliance broke down within a year. Anerood Jugnauth, prime minister and president of the MMM, then broke away from the MMM to form a new party, the Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien (MSM). At the head of a new alliance of parties, the MSM won the elections of 1983, leaving the old MMM in opposition.
An alliance of MMM and MSM were returned to power in 1991.
In 1992 Mauritius became a republic within the Commonwealth.
In the July 2005 general election, the opposition Social Alliance (with 38 seats) defeated the governing alliance; Labour Party leader Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam became prime minister. He was the son of Seewoosagur Ramgoolan, the first prime minister of Mauritius.
The general election in 2010 was won by Navinchandra Ramgoolam’s newly formed Alliance of the Future, with 41 of the 62 National Assembly seats.