Mauritius voters hand opposition victory, reject constitution change

PORT LOUIS (Reuters) - Mauritius voters rejected plans to grant more powers to the president by handing an election victory to a coalition that opposed changing the constitution, electoral officials said on Thursday.

Mauritius' Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 28, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Hunger

The coalition of the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) and the Parti Mauricien Social Democrate (PMSD) had secured 47 of the 62 contested seats by 6.13 p.m. (1413 GMT), while the ruling Labour Party and an ally that backed the change had just 13.

With just a dozen constituencies still to declare on the Indian Ocean island, the MSM-PMSD lead was unassailable.

Labour, led by Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam, and its ally the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) had called for power to be apportioned between the president, now a largely ceremonial post, and the premier, who currently holds sway.

“Today the population has rejected the plan of our opponents to amend the constitution,” said MSM-PMSD leader Anerood Jugnauth, now expected to become the next prime minister.

“Had this materialized, it would have been a catastrophe for the country,” the 84-year-old, who has previously been both president and premier, said after his constituency win.

Ramgoolam later conceded defeat, saying the electorate had made its choice. “I wish good luck to the winning team,” he said in a televised message to the nation.

The MSM-PMSD said the changes would have unsettled the Indian Ocean island nation, one of Africa’s most stable democracies since gaining independence from Britain in 1968.

Labour’s coalition had maintained that the change would make the nation of 1.3 million people more democratic because power would not be concentrated in one person.

Mauritius has expanded its offshore financial center, spurring construction of tower blocks in Port Louis, in recent years. But workers in the tourism, sugar and textile industries, the other economic mainstays, say they have been left behind.

“We will realize a second economic miracle where citizens will reap the fruits of developments and prosperity,” said Jugnauth, seeking to address economic concerns among voters.

The electoral commission is expected to announce the final official result later on Thursday.

In addition to 62 contested seats, the commission will allocate eight more to ensure adequate representation.

In Wednesday’s vote, 74 percent of the eligible 936,975 voters cast ballots.

Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Heinrich