December 9, 2014 / 5:58 PM / 5 years ago

Constitutional change at stake in closely fought Mauritius vote

PORT LOUIS (Reuters) - Mauritians will vote on Wednesday in a parliamentary election that could herald changes to the Indian Ocean island’s constitution if a coalition led by the ruling Labour Party wins.

Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam’s party and its ally the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) want power to be divided between the president, now a largely ceremonial position, and the prime minister.

They say the change, which would require a three-quarters majority in parliament, will make Mauritius more democratic as power will no longer be concentrated in one person.

A rival coalition made up of the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) and the Parti Mauricien Social Democrate (PMSD) argues that the changes could create instability.

“The proposed amendment to the constitution under a second republic would be a disaster for the country,” MSM/PMSD leader Anerood Jugnauth told supporters at a rally in Vacoas, a town in the central part of the island.

Under the proposed changes, current premier Ramgoolam, whose father led Mauritius to independence, would become president with expanded powers, while Paul Bérenger, the leader of the MMM, would be prime minister.

Ramgoolam rejected the claims by Jugnauth that the changes will lead to instability.

“The constitutional amendment for power-sharing between the prime minister and the President will strengthen national unity,” he told a campaign rally in the capital Port Louis.

Mauritius is one of the most politically stable African nations. Its $10 billion economy — based on services including finance and tourism — is forecast to grow 3.5 percent in 2014, up from 3.2 percent last year. Sustaining the expansion will be the main challenge for whoever wins the national poll.

“There is a pressing need to look at different options to reignite growth and develop new sectors in order to create wealth, to alleviate poverty and create new jobs,” Swadicq Nuthay, chief executive at AfrAsia Capital told Reuters.

Neither of the rival coalitions have proposed radical changes to economic policy.

A total of 726 candidates are battling for 62 seats in the National Assembly. A further eight slots will be allocated by the electoral commission to ensure adequate representation.

Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Catherine Evans

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