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Early results indicate opposition landslide in Mauritius elections


PORT LOUIS, Mauritius (AP) -- Partial official returns on Tuesday indicated an opposition alliance had won a landslide victory in general elections in Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island nation, a top election official said.

Early returns from Monday's voting indicated the alliance of the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) and the Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien (MSM) would win 52 or 53 seats in the 62-member Parliament, Electoral Commissioner Irsam Rahman said.

The incumbent Labor Party-led coalition, headed by outgoing Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam, will take the remaining seats.

"It looks like a landslide for the opposition, who have got about 60 percent of the vote," Rahman told The Associated Press. Final results were expected later Tuesday.

An opposition alliance victory would mean that Mauritius, a multiracial island where Hindus from India make up 51 percent of the population of 1.1 million, would have its first non-Hindu prime minister since independence from Britain in 1968.

Alliance leaders agreed that if they won, MSM chief Anerood Jugnauth, a Hindu, would be prime minister for the first three years, after which Parliament would appoint him president.

Paul Berenger, MMM's leader and a Franco-Mauritian, would then become the nation's first non-Hindu prime minister.

"It looks like we are going to have the majority we need. The whole theme of our campaign has been putting the country back on its feet," Berenger told The Associated Press.

Mauritians had a choice among 535 candidates from 43 parties. If any of the nation's five ethnic communities ends up proportionally underrepresented, so-called "best losers" will become nominated legislators.

About 80 percent of the 779,431 registered voters cast ballots, and the elections were incident-free, Rahman said.

Despite the large number of parties fielding candidates, the contest was seen as a straightforward fight between the Labor Party-led coalition and the MMM-MSM alliance.

Leaders of both alliances had predicted victory in the run-up to the elections that Ramgoolam called just hours after dissolving Parliament for no apparent reason on August 11.

Ramgoolam was elected in 1995, and his government's five-year term ends in December.

Uninhabited before Portuguese and Dutch settlers arrived in the 1500s with African slaves, Mauritius is a "rainbow society" of Hindus, Muslims, Creoles, Africans, Chinese and Franco-Mauritians.

Both Jugnauth and Berenger have long political histories in Mauritius.

The former was prime minister from 1982 to 1995, and Berenger was his coalition partner in two governments.

Because of Berenger's tendency to join and then drop out of alliances, a serious concern for many voters was whether the opposition coalition, formed only days after the election was announced, will last.

Mauritius, thanks to sugar and textile exports and income from tourism, has been one of Africa's few success stories. Annual income per capita is about $3,600 -- 10 times that of most African nations -- and because politicians do not want to upset the status quo, the main alliances' platforms scarcely differ.

Copyright 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

All calm as Mauritius votes
September 11, 2000
Color, contradictions mark run-up to Mauritius elections
September 10, 2000

U.S. Embassy in Mauritius
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