Mauritian - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Internal social differentiation operates according to three different principles: achievement-based class organization; ascription-based ethnic organization; and "feudal" patron-client relationships. The most powerful group are the landowning Franco-Mauritians, who have dominated the island's economy for more than two centuries. Others with great economic power include Muslim merchants and Sino-Mauritian industrialists and merchants. Most white-collar jobs in the public service are held by Hindus, although there are still many Mulattoes in this field. The most visible lumpen proletariat in Mauritius consists of immigrants from Rodrigues and Diego Garcia, who are usually underemployed or unemployed, sometimes illiterate, and usually poor. The interrelationship between ethnicity and class membership is strong but changing since social mobility is high. Mobility can be achieved through formal qualifications or through exploiting an informal ethnic network. As a rule, Creoles are the most stagnant group as regards economic and political power. Patron-client relationships, which entail commitments beyond the labor contract, can obtain between relatives, between employers and employees, and, most characteristically, between a prosperous family and their servants. Many middle-class families, particularly Franco-Mauritians, have servants; most servants are Creoles.

Political Organization. Mauritius is a parliamentary multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarch, Queen Elizabeth IL General elections for the seventy members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) are held every four years, and all citizens over the age of 20 are eligible to vote. Most political parties in independent Mauritius have been formed along ethnic lines. The Hindu-dominated Mauritius Labour party ruled the island from its independence to 1982, and its leader, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (1900-1985), was an important symbol of national unity. The most important political parties today are the Hindu-dominated "Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien" (MSM) and the ostensibly nonethnic, but in practice Creole-Muslim alliance, "Mouvement Militant Mauricien" (MMM). The so-called best-loser system, which supplements the Westminster electoral system, ensures the representation of ethnic minorities in the parliament. A main task for independent Mauritian society has been to create political consensus and some degree of cultural integration. This has been achieved in politics. Although parties remain ethnic in character, there is wide consensus regarding the rules of parliamentary democracy.

Social Control. Mauritius has no military force, and a specially trained segment of the police force is responsible for controlling violent conflict. Mauritian law is an amalgam of Napoleonic and British judicial principles. Although often accused of corruption, the court system functions effectively. At the village level, conflicts over property, adultery, or other minor crimes are often solved informally, sometimes involving respected elders as mediators. Ethnic conflicts are avoided or resolved through informal policies of avoidance and through a widespread ideology of tolerance, as well as formal policies of compromise.

Conflict. There have been two general strikes (1970 and 1979) since Mauritian independence. Strikes and other forms of protest are widespread among workers in the manufacturing industry, who feel they are underpaid and overworked. Ethnic conflicts, which turned violent through riots in 1965-1968, are usually mediated by, and expressed through, the formal judicial and political systems. In recent years, drug crimes have become common. Violent crimes are rare. The rapid rate of economic growth may help explain the comparative lack of manifest social conflict, especially ethnic conflict, in contemporary Mauritius.


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