Vote for change: Ramgoolam

"Focus of the Government will be sugar sector and job creation''

PORT LOUIS: The new Prime Minister of Mauritius, former Opposition leader Navin Ramgoolam, on Tuesday urged islanders not to fear change after his victory in weekend polls and bolstering the country's ailing sugar and textile industries would be his top priorities.

``The population has voted for change,'' Mr. Ramgoolam said in a nationally televised address. ``The change will respect the rules, the institutions, our political adversaries and above all the unity of the country.''

He said the ``main jobs awaiting the new Government concern sugar, job creation and textiles,'' all of which had been major elements in the campaign for Sunday's elections which pitted his Opposition alliance and that of former Prime Minister Paul Berenger.

The speech was aired shortly after Mauritian President Anerood Jugnauth named Mr. Ramgoolam, the chief of the Labour Party, the country's new head of Government after Mr. Berenger resigned following defeat in the election.

Mr. Ramgoolam had criticised Mr. Berenger's Government for failing to prepare the island for global market developments in textiles and sugar, such as the end of global textile quotas in January and a decision by the European Union to slash sugar prices.

Mr. Berenger, who held on to his seat in Parliament despite the loss of his Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) and Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) coalition to Mr. Ramgoolam's Social Alliance, immediately took over as chief of the Opposition.

Mr. Ramgoolam pledged that his Government would work closely on all big issues with the Opposition and placed great importance on developing an advanced information technology strategy for the Indian Ocean island.

Mr. Ramgoolam (58), re-occupies the Premier's seat he lost to Mr. Berenger in the 2000 elections.

The shift of power in Mauritius has been a continuous musical chair affair between alliances of convenience and close families, on an island where around than two-thirds of the population are Hindus and the prime political stakes are between socialists and Right-wingers.

According to early returns announced by the National Election Board, the Social Alliance won 38 of the 62 constituencies that were up for grabs. Mr. Berenger's coalition, by contrast, won just 22 seats.

Eight seats in the 70-member National Assembly will be nominated by the Electoral Board under the so-called ``best losers'' system, which rewards high placed also-rans. — AFP

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