Mauritius opposition sweep to victory in parliamentary polls

Jean-Marc Poche

Port Louis (Mauritius) (AFP) - Mauritius' opposition celebrated victory Thursday in parliamentary polls with the outgoing prime minister accepting defeat after voters rejected his proposals to boost presidential powers.

Counting still continued as Navinchandra Ramgoolam announced he was stepping down, and as opposition leader and ex-president Anerood Jugnauth declared he was the next prime minister in the Indian Ocean island nation.

"I will become the next prime minister," 84-year-old ex-premier Jugnauth said in a victory speech broadcast on national television, standing alongside other smiling leaders of his centre-right Alliance Lepep coalition.

"As promised, I will do everything so that there is a second economic miracle in the country," Jugnauth told the nation. He was previously prime minster between 1982-1995 and again between 2000-2003.

Debate over constitutional reform -- notably over a divisive proposal to strengthen presidential powers -- made Wednesday's polls some of the most crucial since the country gained independence from Britain in 1968.

Jugnauth said he had won as voters had "felt the danger" of the change.

Ramgoolam, who had wanted to run for the presidency had he won but in a crushing defeat lost even his own parliamentary seat he had held since 1991, said the "elections were carried out with respect to democracy."

"The electorate has made its choice, I humbly accept its decision, and I will now meet the President of the Republic to submit my resignation," Ramgoolam said on national radio, speaking in Mauritius' Creole language.

- One of Africa's richest countries -

Veteran politician Ramgoolam leads the centre-left group that brings together the Labour Party (PTR) and the former opposition Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) party of ex-prime minister Paul Berenger.

The PTR-MMM coalition had agreed that if they won they would try to amend the constitution so the president would be directly elected. The role is a largely ceremonial position elected by parliament.

Jugnauth's Lepep fiercely opposed the proposed constitutional reform.

Out of a total of 62 parliamentary seats, by 1730 GMT official results declared 29 had been won by Lepep, compared to 10 for Ramgoolam's coalition.

Mauritian media projected that final results could see Lepep take some 45 seats, against 15 for its rival PTR-MMM, with two others going to local parties on the small island of Rodrigues, some 560 kilometres (350 miles) to the east.

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 $9,000 (7,200 euros).

Both sides campaigned on strengthening the economy, which is based on the textile industry, sugar and tourism.

The country has had four prime ministers in its history.

Jugnauth and Ramgoolam have alternated posts since 1982, except for a brief interlude between 2003 and 2005 when Berenger served as prime minister. Jugnauth was also president between 2003-2012.

Between independence and 1982, the head of government was Ramgoolam's father, Seewoosagur Ramgoolam.