Mauritius was known to early Arab traders traversing the Indian Ocean. The first Europeans to visit the main island were the Portuguese, who used its natural resources to replenish their ships on the way to their colonies in Goa and Malacca. Accounts of the island at this time refer to the large ebony forests and the dodo bird, both of which have disappeared due to extended human development of the land. The Dutch established a colony in 1598 and named the island after their own Prince Maurice of Nassau. They introduced sugar and slaves (primarily from Madagascar), but eventually abandoned the colony. In 1715, the French claimed the island and renamed it Isle de France. The economy of this colony was also based on sugar and was governed by the French East India Company. In 1810, the British captured the island, renamed it Mauritius, and confirmed their sovereignty in the Treaty of Paris. The British colony continued the tradition of sugar production, but with the abolishment of slavery in 1835, planters began importing Indian and Chinese indentured laborers to work in the cane fields.
In 1968, Mauritius achieved its independence and set up a parliamentary democracy with sovereign control under Queen Elizabeth II. A governor general served as head of state and appointed the prime minister. In 1992, the constitution was amended and Mauritius became a republic within the British Commonwealth. The current chief of state is a Mauritian-born president with political power held by the Parliament and the prime minister. The National Assembly holds legislative authority and consists of 66 representatives, 62 of whom are elected by popular vote and 4 are appointed by the election commission from the losing political parties to ensure representation to all ethnic minorities. Parliamentary elections are held every five years. The prime minister and Council of Ministers, made up of the leader of the majority party and 24 other ministers, hold executive power. The highest judicial authority is held by the Supreme Court, which consists of a chief justice and five other judges. At the local level, government consists of nine administrative divisions made up of municipal, town, and village councils. Universal suffrage is mandated for all citizens over the age of 18.