PORT LOUIS, Mauritius -- A major drug scandal is threatening the coalition government of Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth, keeping it from enjoying the fruits of a boom year for the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.
The three-party coalition has seen a 40-seat parliamentary majority halved by resignations and party expulsions following the exposure of a huge drug trafficking ring. Now it faces a general election in the autumn.
The crisis erupted in December 1985 when four members of Parliament were arrested at Amsterdam airport in the Netherlands and charged with smuggling heroin from India. All four were traveling on diplomatic passports.
Three were subsequently released. But Satteanund Pelladoah was sentenced to six months in jail after police found a 48-pound stash of heroin in his luggage.
A Commission of Inquiry on Mauritius has since heard three months of evidence implicating about a dozen parliamentarians in the 'The Amsterdam Affair' and linked the smugglers to big-time drug traffickers in Bombay, Goa, the nearby French Indian Ocean island of Reunion and European capitals.
More than 100 witnesses testified. The fact that all the named parliamentarians were from Jugnauth's main Militant Socialist Movement party -- and some were ministers in the coalition government -- will likely cost him in the autumn election.
Rival Paul Berenger, finance minister in Jugnauth's first 1982 administration, heads the left-wing opposition Mauritian Militant Movement, and already has started campaigning hard on the drug issue.
Berenger says Jugnauth, a 57-year-old Hindu lawyer who is both head of government and Interior Minister, must take full responsibility for the mess.
He charges the prime minister with playing down the affair, failing to discipline party members, neglecting to inquire promptly into the financial assets of those involved and tarnishing the Mauritian image abroad.
Ironically, the government's economic record was unsurpassed. Mauritius has rarely had it so good.
Tourism in the neighboring Seychelles fell 8 percent last year, but Mauritius attracted 11 percent more vacationers and a record $74 million in tourist income.
Recent political stability has been a major factor in the general boom on the island, a 120,000-square-mile rocky plateau to the east of Madagascar.
The 1 million mostly Indian islanders enjoy a Westminister-style parliamentary democracy, and foreign investors have firm guarantees against the risk of nationalization. There is a flourishing, critical free press of 20 newspapers, all busily digging into 'The Amsterdam Affair.'
The combination of a bad press and a traditionally strong religious atmosphere of moral rectitude could spell the end of a government exposed to allegations of being soft on drug pushers.