Don't fear change, says new Mauritian leader

The new Prime Minister of Mauritius, former opposition leader Navin Ramgoolam, on Tuesday urged islanders not to fear change after his victory in weekend polls, saying bolstering the country’s ailing sugar and textile industries will be his top priorities.

“The population has voted for change,” Ramgoolam said in a nationally televised address. “The change will respect the rules, the institutions, our political adversaries and above all the unity of the country.”

He said the “main jobs awaiting the new government concern sugar, job creation and textiles”, all of which were major elements in the campaign for Sunday’s elections that pitted his opposition alliance against that of former prime minister Paul Berenger.

The speech was aired shortly after Mauritian President Anerood Jugnauth named Ramgoolam, the chief of the Labour Party, the country’s new head of government after Berenger resigned following defeat in the election.

Ramgoolam had criticised Berenger’s government for failing to prepare the island for global market developments in textiles and sugar, such as the end of global textile quotas in January and a decision by the European Union to slash sugar prices.

Berenger, who held on to his seat in Parliament despite the loss of his Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) and Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) coalition to Ramgoolam’s Social Alliance, immediately took over as chief of the opposition.

Ramgoolam pledged that his government will work closely on all big issues with the opposition and place great importance on developing an advanced information technology strategy for the Indian Ocean island.

“We must work as one nation,” he said in the address.

Ramgoolam (58) reoccupies the premier’s seat he lost to Berenger in the 2000 elections.

The shift of power in Mauritius has been a continuous musical-chair affair between alliances of convenience and close families, on an island where about two-thirds of the population are Hindus and the prime political stakes are between socialists and rightwingers.

Ramgoolam’s father, Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, who was the isle’s first president from independence in 1968, lost the seat to Sir Aneerod Jagnauth, the current president, in the country’s 1982 elections.

But in the 1995 elections, the younger Ramgoolam trounced Jagnauth, the then prime minister, who had been in power since 1982 and who was to became the island’s president when his Socialist Militant Movement joined forces with Berenger’s MMM to beat Ramgoolam in the 2000 elections.

Jagnauth was elected president in 2003 to replace Karl Offman.

Aneerod Jagnauth’s son, Pravin Jagnauth, was tipped to be the country’s next prime minister after an agreement with Berenger, who would hold the premiership for two-and-a-half years, whereupon Jugnauth would take over.

But Jagnauth was defeated in the Sunday’s polls and will have to wait for a probable nomination to Parliament through the “best losers” system done by the country’s electoral panel.

The 60-year-old Berenger, however, retained his parliamentary seat and will represent his Rose Hill constituency in the next Parliament.

Eight seats in the 70-member National Assembly will be nominated by the electoral board under the so-called “best losers” system, which rewards high-placing also-rans with representation in Parliament.

More than 600 000 of the 817 305 registered voters, or 81,5%, turned out for elections which were essentially a two-way contest between Berenger and Ramgoolam.—Sapa-AFP