The pre-independence period was one of the most difficult periods of our modern history.
The country was still under the control of British rule. The economic situation was very weak; the revenue of the country was derived mostly from the sugar industry. According to official Reports, the country was on a continuous downward slope towards problems such as unemployment and over population. Political Parties were formed and the distribution of power was reformed to accommodate the different emerging segments of the population
The period preceding independence, Mauritius still depended upon sugar for more than 95% of its total export earnings. It was, in fact, the largest contributor to the national output and also the largest employer. The economy was experiencing a period of declining real per capita income and rapidly increasing population due to the high rate of population growth of about 3% per annum. Also, in 1958, the Luce report found the unemployment rate to be about 15% of the labour force. It was the combination of a whole set of difficult economic problems in the latter part of the 1950’s which had led to the setting up of the Royal Commission headed by Professor J.E.Meade.
With the development of other means of transport, the Railway transport system faced severe deficit.
• 1956 – Passenger Railway Transport was ended on 31 March 1956, the last passenger train waved a final goodbye, even though goods train continued to operate until 1964.
• 1964 – Complete closure of all railway transport, especially goods transportation; all lines were dismantled.
Public Sector Development Programme (1966-70)
Introduction of the Public Sector Development Programme (1966-70) having as objectives:
(i) Provision of capital fund for projects of industrial or agricultural development; (ii) Ensuring adequate infrastructural development to provide the services needed by the industrial and agricultural sectors as they expand; (iii) Provision for the maintenance of other public services and their development on a scale compatible with the needs and wishes of the nation in the light of available resources.
Simultaneously an initiative was taken to combat overpopulation. Two organisations, namely, the Family Planning Association set up in 1957 and the ‘Action Familiale’ in 1963 have been active in the field, to curb growth of birth rate in Mauritius. This became obvious in 1965 with a fall of 4% in the birth rate over the previous year. In 1968 the birth rate was 3.1% as compared with 4% in 1963 and decreased continuously to 2.7% in 1969.
Elections leading to independence
Elections were held on the basis of universal suffrage
• Following constitutional conferences held in London in1955 and 1957, the ministerial system was introduced and general elections were held on 9th March 1959. The recommendations of the Trustram-Eve Commission in 1958, ‘One man one vote’ became a reality.
• Voting took place for the first time on the basis of universal adult suffrage and the number of electors rose to 208,684.
• For that election, the Labour Party (LP) and its ally the Muslim Action Committee (MAC), won 31 seats, the Independent Forward Block (IFB), won six seats and the “Parti Mauricien” (PM), three seats.
The Constitutional Review Conference
• In 1961, a Constitutional Review Conference was held in London and a programme of further constitutional advance was established.
• Meanwhile, the Independent Forward Block and Muslim Action Committee rallied behind the Labour Party and pressed for independence within the Commonwealth while the “Parti Mauricien” wanted association/ integration with Britain
• It was followed in 1965 by the last constitutional conference which paved the way for Mauritius to achieve independence. The Secretary of State, Mr. Anthony Greenwood, announced that the island should move to independence after the general elections based on a new electoral system to be recommended by a Commission.
A new electoral system and Constitution
• In 1966, the Barnwell Electoral Commission proposed a new electoral system. The new electoral system was considered unacceptable by the pro-Independence political parties, namely LP, MAC and IFB. Consequently, Mr. John Stonehouse, Under Secretary of State visited Mauritius to adjust certain recommendations of the Commission considered anomalous and recommended the institution of the present best-loser system as a mode of Proportional Representation based on a safe and adequate representation of the various ethnic groups.
• There were 307 908 electors for the General Elections held on 7 August 1967. The Elections were held on the basis of 20 (three-member constituencies) for Mauritius and a single constituency of two members for Rodrigues. Eight best-loser seats were allocated to ensure adequate representation of each community according to its population strength.
• The main election issue was the independence of Mauritius or its association with Britain.
• After general elections in 1967, Mauritius adopted a new constitution. The island became a self-governing nation except in matters relating to external affairs, defence and internal security.
• Under this Constitution, Governor John Shaw Rennie appointed Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam as Premier (the one who was best able to command the support of the majority of members of the Assembly).
Events following the 1967 Election
• After 1967 elections, a motion requesting the British Government to grant independence to Mauritius was carried out at the first meeting of the legislative Assembly.
• On the 22nd of August 1967, the Legislative Assembly approved a Resolution requesting Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom to take necessary steps to give effect, as soon as practicable, to the desire of the people of Mauritius to accede to Independence within the Commonwealth of Nations and to transmit to other Commonwealth Governments the wish of Mauritius to be admitted to membership of the Commonwealth on the attainment of Independence
• On 12th March 1968, Mauritius adopted a new constitution and gained its independence as a constitutional monarchy in virtue of the Mauritius Independence Order, 1968. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became the independent nation’s first Prime Minister.