Vote counting in Mauritius Parliamentary polls

Election officials on the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius on Thursday counted votes from the parliamentary polls, with reports suggesting the opposition Alliance Lepep coalition was in the lead.

The key battlegrounds in Wednesday`s vote were the economy and proposals to strengthen presidential powers.

Counting began early Thursday after a turnout of 74 percent among the island`s 936,000 voters, according to the election commission, and results were expected late in the day.

While no official partial results have been released, Mauritian media suggested that Alliance Lepep, led by ex-president and ex-prime minister Anerood Jugnauth, was ahead.

Ballot boxes were stored overnight before counting began on Thursday, an AFP reporter said.

The issue of constitutional reform makes the polls some of the most crucial since the Indian Ocean nation gained independence from Britain in 1968.

Two rival coalitions are competing for 62 parliamentary seats -- 60 on the main island of Mauritius, and two on the small island of Rodrigues, some 560 kilometres (350 miles) to the east.

On one side, the centre-left group brings together the Labour Party (PTR) of Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam and the former opposition Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) party. Ramgoolam is expected to want to run for president, currently a largely ceremonial position elected by parliament.

Should they win, the PTR-MMM coalition have agreed to try to amend the constitution so the president will be directly elected.

On the other side is the centre-right Alliance Lepep, which fiercely opposes the constitutional reform proposed by the government alliance. 

Both sides have campaigned on strengthening the economy, which is based on the textile industry, sugar and tourism.

Mauritius is one of the richest countries in Africa, a middle-income country of some 1.3 million people, with a per capita GDP of just over $9,000 (7,200 euros).

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