Mauritius, known for its political stability and vibrant democracy, has long been regarded as a shining example of democratic governance in the African region. Mauritius gained independence from British colonial rule in 1968 and has since established itself as a parliamentary democracy (UNHCR, 2009). It has a history of democratic elections that regularly peacefully transfer power, a free press, and political inclusion. The nation has consistently scored highly on indices of global democracy. Recent events, however, seem to indicate that this beautiful island country has been experiencing a worrying reversal in its democratic principles and practices since the year 2019.
Press Freedom Under Threat
An energetic and independent press is one of the most important threads in the complex web of democracy. In a world frequently cloaked in misinformation, the watchdog holds authorities responsible and serves as a truth beacon (Ireton & Posetti, 2018). The idyllic island nation of Mauritius, which is renowned for its democratic traditions, has long taken pride in its free press. However, recent events have raised questions about media freedom, casting doubt on this cherished aspect of democracy. A free press is crucial for informing the public and defending democratic ideals in a healthy democracy. It is a yardstick for gauging a country’s dedication to transparency and openness. However, growing worries have blemished Mauritius’s once-perfect picture of media freedom. Mauritius is ranked 58th worldwide for press freedom according to the Reporters Without Borders Report 2019, which meticulously ranks 180 nations (Reporters Without Borders, 2019). The index is a stark reminder of the difficulties facing the country’s media landscape. It is calculated on a scale where 0 represents the best possible score, and 100 is the worst. With a score of 28.46, Mauritius is classified as having “partly free” media, indicating much room for improvement. The ranking represents a departure from the country’s renowned reputation for media freedom, even though it is far from the worst-case scenario. For context, the index classifies nations with scores between 31 and 60 as “partly free,” while those between 61 and 100 are categorized as having a “not free” media environment. These facts are a compelling call to action rather than merely statistics. The deterioration of media freedom significantly impacts the democracy of Mauritius. An essential component of any thriving democracy is a robust press that holds those in positions of authority accountable and serves as a forum for informed public discourse. Mauritius must decide whether to uphold and strengthen its commitment to media freedom or allow it to continue deteriorating. Addressing the worries about media harassment and the legal obstacles that journalists and media outlets face is the challenge.
Allegations of Irregularities and Vote-Buying
The 2019 general election in Mauritius was launched with high expectations for a democratic process that would reaffirm the country’s dedication to free and fair elections. But as the campaign season went on, troubling allegations started to surface. Claims of bribery and vote buying raised concern. Unsettlingly, there have been allegations of the misappropriation of public funds for political campaigns, raising questions about the impartiality of the electoral process (Freedom House, 2021).The impartiality of electoral authorities is paramount in any democracy. Some opposition parties and civil society organizations in Mauritius have questioned the neutrality and openness of the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC), the body in charge of overseeing the electoral process. Questions about the impartiality of this vital institution shook public confidence in the election’s fairness. Post-election protests erupted in Mauritius as the election results were announced. Opposition parties and their supporters protested the results vehemently on the streets. Allegations of electoral fraud and irregularities catalyzed these protests, which sparked a period of political unrest (AFRO Barometer, 2021). Following legal disputes, opposition parties pursued legal action to contest the outcomes in particular constituencies. The political landscape became even more uncertain during this phase of legal wrangling and street protests. The 2019 election’s impact on public confidence in the democratic process was arguably its most significant long-term effect. The allegations, demonstrations, and legal disputes reduced public trust in the electoral process. As political factions and their supporters became more divided, social cohesion a defining characteristic of Mauritius’ political stability became more problematic. The long-standing source of strength for democracy, its unity, seemed to be waning.
Mauritius protests followed the 2019 general election, including demonstrations and electoral fraud claims. Opposition parties and their supporters challenged the election results and accused the ruling party of electoral fraud and irregularities. These demonstrations sparked political unrest and increased tension in the nation, along with demands for inquiries into alleged electoral irregularities. The protests and ensuing legal disputes added to doubt about the validity of the election results, further taxing Mauritius’ democratic institutions and practices(Papadopoulos, 2023). The issues with the 2019 election impact democratic norms and practices in Mauritius. Democratic ideals are currently in jeopardy due to the deterioration of public confidence, doubts about impartiality, and persistent claims of electoral fraud.
In conclusion, although once praised for its political stability and thriving democracy, Mauritius is currently experiencing a worrying reversal in its democratic values and practices, with problems only starting to emerge after the 2019 general election. With a long history of democratic government, political pluralism, a free press, and the custom of peaceful power changes, Mauritius has a robust democratic tradition. It maintained a high ranking on global democracy indices for many years, earning praise as an example of democracy on the African continent. However, after 2019, it became clear that democracy was slipping. With little public input, constitutional amendments were introduced, compromising institutional independence and concentrating power in the hands of the executive branch. The World Press Freedom Index declined due to worries about journalistic harassment and legal difficulties, which also hurt media freedom. Allegations of irregularities, such as vote-buying and the improper use of public resources for political campaigns, marred the 2019 election. After the election, protests broke out as questions about the electoral authorities’ objectivity arose. These protests and legal disputes hampered social harmony and undermined public confidence in the democratic system. It is impossible to overstate how these issues have affected democratic norms and procedures in Mauritius. Democracy’s fundamentals are under pressure due to the deterioration of public confidence, lingering allegations of electoral fraud, and questions about impartiality. The strength of the country’s democratic legacy will depend on how committed the government is to upholding democratic values and ensuring fair elections in the future. Mauritius should address these issues to regain its status as an African democratic role model.
AfricaNews. (2017). Mauritius opposition hold mass protest calling for fresh elections. Africanews. https://www.africanews.com/2017/01/28/mauritius-opposition-hold-mass-protest-calling-for-fresh-elections//
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Freedom House. (2021). Mauritius: Freedom in the World 2021 Country Report. Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/country/mauritius/freedom-world/2021
Ireton, C., & Posetti, J. (2018). Journalism, “fake news” & disinformation : handbook for journalism education and training. United Nations Educational, Science, And Cultural Organization.
Papadopoulos, Y. (2023). Understanding Accountability in Democratic Governance. Elements in Public Policy. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108973823
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