April 30, 2010 / 2:09 PM / 9 years ago

PREVIEW-Mauritius vote seen close, economic reforms to stay

* What: Mauritius parliamentary elections * When: May 5, results expected late May 6

* Seen as close, Labour Party alliance tipped to win

* No significant change to economic policy seen

By Jean Paul Arouff

PORT LOUIS, April 30 (Reuters) - A parliamentary election in Mauritius on May 5 will be closely contested but analysts expect reforms designed to diversify the Indian Ocean island’s economy to continue, regardless of who wins.

Both the ruling Labour Party and its opposition Mauritian Militant Movement rivals have campaigned on strengthening the welfare state and social justice in one of Africa’s most stable and prosperous economies.

“It is difficult at this stage to say who will win this election though some analysts predict it will be the Labour Party-led alliance,” political analyst Jocelyn Low told Reuters.

“The two alliances have said they will both stick to the same economic agenda ... but with more emphasis on poverty alleviation and welfare measures to tone down the liberal policies.”

Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam has overseen sustained growth since he was elected in 2005, slashing red-tape to lure foreign investors and weathering the financial crisis better than expected thanks to economic policies praised by donors.

Ramgoolam’s Labour Party formed an alliance with the smaller Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) to bolster its support base.

There has been strong speculation that MSM’s leader, Pravind Jugnauth, has given his support to the prime minister on the understanding he will become finance minister if they win.

Ramakrishna Sithanen, the incumbent finance minister and architect of Mauritius’ reform package, has been denied a ticket to stand in the elections by Ramgoolam.

HUMANISE THE ECONOMY

Mauritius has pitched itself as a bridge between Africa, India and China, with a flourishing offshore financial sector, that has allowed the island nation of 1.3 million people to pack an economic punch above its weight.

But Chandan Jankee, economics professor at the University of Mauritius, said Sithanen’s ultra-liberal economic strategy had failed to distribute resources to low income earners.

“A new government will have the responsibility to humanise Sithanen’s reforms to ensure that resources trickle down to the mass of the population,” said Jankee.

Mauritius, which is located about 500 km (300 miles) east of Madagascar in the southwestern Indian Ocean, is split into 20 constituencies, each with three legislators represented in the National Assembly.

The tiny island of Rodrigues, 560 km further east where infrastructure remains basic, has two representatives in the chamber. Another eight seats are allocated to best losers, to ensure all ethnic communities are represented fairly.

Mauritians are demanding the next government tackle poverty, fight crime and make the Mauritius rupee go further.

“The next government must make it a priority to improve the purchasing power of the population. Inflation is low but we don’t feel it when we go to the supermarket,” Josian Botte told Reuters in the capital Port Louis.

Some analysts said a Labour Party win would see Rundheersing Bheenick reinstated as governor of the Bank of Mauritius. Bheenick’s mandate was not renewed in February after allegations he abused his authority. (Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by David Clarke)

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