A Dynastic Transfer of Power in Mauritius Raises a Political Storm

The opposition parties have unitedly protested against the handing over of the prime ministership by the father to the son.

Pravind Jugnauth, 55, the lawyer-turned politician and son of the outgoing prime minister, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, 86, became the new prime minister of Mauritius earlier this week in a swift move that has been criticised as a “father-son deal” and has thrown the island nation into political turmoil. Opposition to this unusual transfer of power has also come from within – the minister of good governance, Roshi Bhadain, chose to resign from his post and did not attend the swearing-in ceremony. This was quite a snub for the new premier who tried, but with not much success, to brush aside this ‘humiliation’.

According to the country’s constitution, it is the president who appoints the prime minister, who has to be a member of the national assembly and who commands a majority and has the support of its members. In this case, Pravind’s Mouvement Socialiste Militant (MSM) has the majority in the national assembly with 32 members.

Although there seem to be no legal issues for Pravind succeeding to his father as prime minister, as practically everybody agrees that the constitution provides for this situation, the critics are aiming at the moral dimension of the exercise. If it were somebody else, from the party itself, who had been chosen by the members, may be it would not have left the impression of ‘institutionalised dynastical politics’. As it has turned out, it now gives the impression that Jugnauth junior is ‘inheriting’ a government and, by extension, a country.

Dynasties are not unheard of in Mauritius, the tiny Indian Ocean island with a population of nearly 1.3 million. People of Indian origin, the largest ethnic group, have controlled its politics for most of the nation’s independent history and two families – the Ramgoolams and the Jugnauths – have dominated the scene. Anerood has served six terms as prime minister and was president of the republic between 2003 and 2012. In March 2012, he stepped down to spearhead the opposition to prime minister Naveen Ramgoolam’s plans for constitutional reform, in particularly a hotly debated proposal to strengthen the powers of the presidency. On December 2014, Anerood’s alliance won a landslide victory and he became the prime minister.

He has now been elevated to ‘mentor minister’ and has given a new year gift to his son, making him the prime minister. It is quite a vindication for him and the party, which was in the political doldrums for much of the 2000s till the elder Jugnauth led it to a landslide victory in 2014.

Pravind Jugnauth. Credit: Reuters/Ally Soobye/Files

Pravind Jugnauth. Credit: Reuters/Ally Soobye/Files

On January 21, Anerood pulled off a surprise when he addressed the nation and announced that he was stepping down in favour his son, who held the finance and economic development portfolio. According to the prime minister, the country was in need of “young leadership”, embodied by his son.

This major event in the political history of Mauritius will certainly go down as one of the most controversial nominations ever. The taking of office of the new prime minister has prompted accusations of nepotism from the opposition, which is calling for a referendum. The once major partner of the MSM, the Parti Mauricien Social Democrate of Xavier Luc Duval, has even decided to legally fight this nomination. He said the father’s refusal to resign as a member of parliament showed that he would be a “babysitter” to his son. A former prime minister, Paul Berenger said there needs to be a general election immediately. A joint protest march of all the opposition parties will be held in the capital Port Louis on Friday.

The anger of the opposition and from within the party are not the only fall out stemming from this political development. Anerood’s shock decision has fuelled the comeback process of the leader of the Labour Party. For political observers, the explanation is simple – Anerood is the only one who can really and effectively challenge Ramgoolam. Pravind will not prove to be a serious opponent and challenger to Ramgoolam in the next general elections. Jugnauth junior’s unusual ascension, without winning a popular mandate, will certainly make things easier for Ramgoolam and his party.

Sanjana Bhagmal-Cadervaloo is a Mauritius-based journalist.

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