Mauritius turns a new page

Date: July 6, 2005
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The excitement of general elections with all its flimflams is over. Mauritius is waking up with a new team with Dr Navin Ramgoolam as Prime Minister. The structure of the Legislative Assembly will be different with eleven women instead of four. On the 16 women fielded by the two major alliances 11 were elected and one nominated as best looser. This is indeed a major increase although not enough to meet the SADC target of 30%. With a gain of 11.4%, from 5.7% to 17%, Mauritius moves from the last position of women in politics in the SADC to the 6th position coming close to Botswana.

By Loga Virahsawmy
One woman, Kalyanee Virahsawmy made history. She came first in a constituency that was dominated by the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) for the last 30 years. She left the rest of her two fellow candidates far behind and was followed by two MMM candidates and one of whom, Joe Lesjongard was the former Minister of Lands. Virahsawmy told me how tough the fight was. “ Women are close to the people. We are honest and our mandates believe in us without expecting anything from us. We do not have to bribe people to get votes. I will be the first Member of the Legislative Assembly to represent the Labour Party in the Port Louis-North-Longue Mountain Constituency after 30 long years. While my mandates especially women have all been fantastic, the attitudes of the male opponents have been horrible. They  did not do honour for a Mauritius where it is said that elections are free and fair. The vulgar and grotesque caricatures and posters distributed on me were unbelievable. They fabricated another side of my private life and made this public. This is  why women hesitate to go into politics. But I nevertheless dedicate my victory to the women and the people of Mauritius.”
Apart from Leela Devi Dookhun, former Minister of Arts and Culture, Francoise Labelle and Fazila Daureeawoo, all from the MMM/MSM (Mouvement Militant Mauricien/Mouvemant Socialiste Mauricien), all the other nine women came either first or second. This is a clear indication that women did their campaign really well and have been accepted by the general public.
Sheila Bappoo, veteran politician succeeded in her impossible mission in an MMM constituency. She managed to squeeze herself right in the middle of the two MMM/MSM candidates. The first one being the former Minister of Agriculture, Nando Bodha and the third one being a former Principal Parliament Secretary, Francoise Labelle.
Was it not Nando Bodha who said at  Media Watch and Gender Links workshop on Gender, Media and Elections held on 14th February 2005 at Le St. Georges Hotel that “putting a greater number of women as candidates will not guarantee that they will be elected”?  The results of the 2005 elections have proved the former Minister of Agriculture wrong. Women do get elected. With proper lobbying and education women do get the message. Both Media Watch Organisation and Gender Links started this campaign when the book “Ringing up the Changes” was launched in Parliament in May 2004. Women started to become active participants in the electoral process since that day.
While former Minister of Arts and Culture won a third place, her two fellow male candidates both former Ministers lost in the process. This is another proof that women are really good on the ground. Political parties have a major role to play in increasing women’s representation for the 2010 general elections. The electoral manifesto of the Labour Party highlights electoral reform. Gender Activists and other stakeholders must see to it that the new Prime Minister keeps up his promise. It is only then that we will be able to talk of gender democracy.
Although Dr. Navin Ramgoolam has officially announced that he will reduce the number of Ministers from 24 to 19, it will be interesting to know how many women he will appoint as Ministers. And why not a woman as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. We recently had the visit of Madam Speaker Nthoi Motsamai from Lesotho who headed the SADC Parliamentary Forum Election Observer Mission in Mauritius. She is a good role model.
We were told that Leela Devi Dookhun did a fantastic job as Campaign Manager for the MSM, we, therefore, had every reason to believe that she would be nominated as Leader of the Opposition. Her chance should have been even stronger with 8 women on a total of 24 in the opposition making a  percentage of  34% women without mentioning that her Leader and former Vice-Prime Minister lost his seat. But former Prime Minister Paul Raymond Berenger could not walk his talk of gender justice. From Prime Minister he is now Leader of the Opposition.

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