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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Ethnic handover in Mauritius
By Nishan Degnarain
BBC Monitoring, Mauritius

New Prime Minister Paul Berenger
Berenger traces his roots back to France
Paul Berenger has been sworn in as the first non-Hindu in the history of the Indian ocean island of Mauritius.

However, there is nothing conventional about the constitutional procedure by which the new prime minister has been decided.

In a controversial "memorandum of understanding" signed during the 2000 general election between two of the three dominant parties in Mauritian politics, it was agreed that after three years in power Sir Anerood Jugnauth would resign to allow Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Paul Berenger to take over.

Mr Berenger is white, tracing his roots back to France.

Communal politics

Both Mr Jugnauth and Mr Berenger are veterans of Mauritian politics, with very different experiences over the past 30 years.

While Mr Jugnauth has been prime minister for 16 years, Mr Berenger has always been a junior partner in a series of coalitions with various political parties.

Pravind Jugnauth (left) and Sir Anerood Jugnauth (right)
Pravind Jugnauth (l) is being groomed to take over by his father (r)
This is in no small part due to the communal nature of politics on the island.

It is felt that the accession of Paul Berenger represents a new era in Mauritian politics.

"This is good for everyone," says Amad Kanroo, a Mauritian Muslim working in Port Louis.

"We must be one nation, not separate communities... we are all Mauritian and if Berenger can become prime minister, this shows that anyone can make it as prime minister".

Democracy

The small island state of Mauritius has enjoyed a good record of democracy since gaining independence from Britain in 1968, although traditionally voting has taken place along communal lines.

It is comprised of several ethnic groups which emigrated there over the centuries.
Port Louis street scene
Mauritius has been spared the political strife of many African countries

Hindus remain the majority on the island, but there are significant communities of Muslims, Chinese, Creoles and Franco-Mauritians.

However, Paul Berenger is not the universally popular choice as premier.

Many Mauritians have been surprised that the coalition with Sir Anerood Jugnauth lasted so long.

"Look at what his politics are - he has never stood firm on anything he used to say," argues Dr Poovendren Ruthnum, a Hindu paediatrician.

"He began as a trade unionist and now he is working on free markets... we will have to wait and see what he will do, and then we can always vote him out again".

Controversy

Even Mr Jugnauth's nomination as president, to be confirmed by the National Assembly on 7 October is fraught with controversy.

The role of the president is largely that of a non-political, constitutional figurehead, with executive powers concentrated in the hands of the prime minister.

But Mr Jugnauth has been criticised for a series of political comments against the island's most famous freedom fighter, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam.

After Mr Jugnauth refused to retract a statement accusing the island's first prime minister of having "no vision", the opposition Labour Party decided to boycott Mr Jugnauth's resignation speech in parliament.

Anerood Jugnauth also appears to be grooming his son, Pravind, for a long career in politics.

Having resigned as head of the Movement of Mauritian Socialists, MSM, in April this year, Sir Anerood appointed Pravind as leader of his party and nominated him as deputy prime minister following Mr Berenger's accession.

This raises the possibility of a father-son president-prime minister relationship should the MSM be elected into the government at the next election.


SEE ALSO:
Mauritius PM keeps it in family
10 Apr 03  |  Africa
Terror law 'signed' in Mauritius
19 Feb 02  |  Africa
Country profile: Mauritius
26 Mar 03  |  Country profiles


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