Mauritius: Party Coalitions and the Invisibility of Women

Denis K Kadima and Roukaya Kasenally June 2005

Extracted from:, "The Formation, Collapse and Revival of Political Party Coalitions in Mauritius: Ethnic Logic and Calculation at Play", Journal of African Elections 4(1), June 2005, 133-164.
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Mauritius has one of the lowest percentages of women in Parliament - 5,7 per cent (Inter-Parliamentary Union Database 2005), a situation that can be explained by the fact that Mauritian society is highly patriarchal and by the nature of the current electoral system which has systematically proven to be prejudicial to female representation. The Sachs Commission Report (2001) describes the low level of women's representation in Mauritian politics as 'a grave democratic deficit'.

Elections have always been extremely competitive in Mauritius because of the winner-takes-all electoral system that pushes party bosses to select those of their members who are most likely to win. These selected candidates are usually men. Although some political parties are discussing the institution of a quota system to correct this gender imbalance until now there has been no formal mechanism to ensure that more women are guaranteed a ticket.

This situation is further aggravated by the fact that general elections in Mauritius have essentially been fought on a coalition basis. The formation of coalitions brings an additional level of competition to the one that already exists at party level, where women are already significantly marginalised. At inter-party level, negotiations are always tougher because fewer seats are available to each coalition party and this results in even fewer women being nominated.

Table 8 gives a breakdown of the number of women fielded as candidates in the post-independence general elections.

Table 8: Number of Women Fielded as Candidates in General Elections

Year Government Coalition No of Women Opposition Coalition No of Women Single Party Opposition No of Women
1967 Independence Party 1 MMM
PMSD
3
2
1982 Parti de L'Alliance Nationale 1 MMM/PSM 2 PMSD 1
1983 MSM/LP 1 MMM
PMSD
4
1
1987 MSM/LP 2 MMM/MTD/FTS 4
1991 MSM/MMM 2 LP/PMSD 2
1995 MSM/RMM 3 LP/MMM 5 Parti Gaetan Duval 6
2000 LP/PMXD 8 MSM/MMM 4 MDN 6

Note: Each coalition or single party has a list of 60 candidates.
Source: Data complied from the Electoral Commission Office 2005.

Judging from the above, there does not appear to be much difference between the number of women fielded by coalitions and by single (mainstream or small) parties. The proportion of women candidates has never exceeded 8 per cent in any coalition combination or mainstream single party. Matters improved slightly in the 2000 general election, when the LP/PMXD fielded the largest percentage of women candidates (13%) in any general election. It is also interesting to note that in 1995 and 2000 the Parti Gaetan Duval and MDN (two small parties) each fielded 10 per cent women candidates but none of them was elected.

Party leaders have promised to field more women candidates in the coming 2005 general election and, since the nomination of candidates is, to a large extent, their prerogative, it is only when the two coalitions make public their respective lists that we will know whether they are indeed committed to the issue of gender representation in politics or whether it is mere rhetoric.

It must, however, be pointed out that the number of women candidates is not a sufficient indicator of the commitment of party leadership to gender balance. Beyond the numbers, it is worth investigating whether or not female candidates are fielded in winnable constituencies. In a proportional representation system, the number and ranking of female candidates on the party list is the ultimate criterion used to determine how serious a party is about gender parity.