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Seychelles - Politics

Following the 1974 election, negotiations with the British resulted in an agreement by which Seychelles became a sovereign republic on June 29, 1976. The SDP and SPUP formed a coalition government in June 1975 to lead Seychelles to independence. The British Government was asked to appoint an electoral review commission so that divergent views on the electoral system and composition of the legislature could be reconciled.

As a result, 10 seats were added to the Legislative Assembly, 5 to be nominated by each party. A cabinet of ministers also was formed consisting of 8 members of the SDP and 4 of the SPUP, with Chief Minister Mancham becoming Prime Minister. With independence on June 29, 1976, Mancham assumed the office of President and Rene became Prime Minister.

The negotiations following the 1974 elections also restored the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar, and Des Roches to Seychelles upon independence; those islands had been transferred in November 1965 from Seychelles to form part of the new British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

Although the SDP/SPUP coalition appeared to operate smoothly, political divisions between the two parties continued. On June 5, 1977, during Mancham's absence at the London Commonwealth Conference, supporters of Prime Minister Rene overthrew Mancham and installed Rene as President. President Rene suspended the constitution and dismissed the parliament. The country was ruled by decree until June 1979, when a new constitution was adopted.

In November 1981, a group of mercenaries attempted to overthrow the Rene government but failed when they were detected at the airport and repelled. The government was threatened again by an army mutiny in August 1982, but it was quelled after 2 days when loyal troops, reinforced by Tanzanian forces, recaptured rebel-held installations.

At an Extraordinary Congress of the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF, now known as Parti Lepep) on December 4, 1991, President Rene announced a return to the multiparty system of government after almost 16 years of one-party rule. On December 27, 1991, the Constitution of Seychelles was amended to allow for the registration of political parties. By the end of that month, eight political parties had registered to contest the first stage of the transition process: election to the constitutional commission, which took place on July 23-26, 1992. A consensus text was agreed upon on May 7, 1993, and a referendum to approve it was called for June 15-18. The draft was approved with 73.9% of the electorate in favor.

President France Albert Rene and his Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) had governed since a 1977 military coup. In the 1990's the SPPF guided the return to a multiparty political system, which culminated in July 1993 in the country's first free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections since 1977. All participating parties and international observer groups accepted the results as "free and fair." President Rene was continued in power, and the SPPF won 27 of the 33 National Assembly seats, 21 by direct election and 6 by proportional representation. Despite the elections, the President and the SPPF continued to dominate the country through a pervasive system of political patronage and control over government jobs, contracts, and resources.

The opposition parties had been unable to match the SPPF's organization and patronage, in part because of resource limitations. The main opposition party, the Democratic Party, was led by Sir James Mancham, the country's first elected president, who was forced into a 15-year exile in 1977. Mancham was reelected President of the Democratic Party by acclamation at a controversial party convention in March 1995. The party's sole directly elected member of the National Assembly was barred by government security forces from attending the convention, allegedly on Mancham's orders. Critics of Mancham alleged that his ties to the ruling SPPF were too close and that he discouraged his own party members from criticizing the Government.

President Rene and the SPPF won in 1993 and again in 1998 elections. In 1998 Rene was reelected president with 67 percent of the ballots cast. The SPPF won 30 of the 34 National Assembly seats, 24 by direct election and 6 by proportional representation. The President and the SPPF dominate the country through a pervasive system of political patronage and control over government jobs, contracts, and resources. The judiciary is subject to executive interference.

The Government had a near monopoly in the media, owning the only television and radio stations, the most important means for reaching the public, and The Nation, the only daily newspaper. The official media adhere closely to the Government's position on policy issues and give the opposition and news adverse to the Government only limited attention. While both opposition parties publish an assortment of newsletters and magazines, only one significant opposition newspaper, the weekly Regar, is in circulation. Government officials have sued Regar for libel eight times in the past 4 years [1995-1999].

A joint Commonwealth and Francophone observer group for the 1998 elections noted that the elections took place on a more level playing field than in 1993. The group's principal criticism was that the Government adopted a program of accelerated means-testing for social benefits during the final week of the campaign and approved a number of new applications in an attempt to increase political support. The group urged an improvement in the effective separation of state and party political functions.

The President's SPPF party continued to utilize its political resources and those of the Government to develop a nationwide organization that extended to the village level. The opposition parties have been unable to match the SPPF's organization and patronage, in part because of financial limitations. The Government substantially reduced funding for political parties in the budget, from $1.8 million (SRS 9.5 million) per year to $95,000 (SRS 500,000). Under the allocation system, the SPPF would receive $4,940 (SRS 25,690) per month, the Seychelles National Party (SNP) $1,900 (SRS 9,880), and the Democratic Party $950 (SRS 4,940). It was expected that funding is to be reduced further in the 2000 budget.

In the March 1998 parliamentary elections, the SNP--then known as the United Opposition--won one directly elected seat and two proportionally elected seats, thereby becoming the leading opposition party. Former Prime Minister James Mancham's Democratic Party won only one proportional seat, and Mancham lost the role of leader of the opposition to the SNP's Wavel Ramkalawan. While critics often had alleged that Mancham's ties to the SPPF were too close and prevented him from openly criticizing the Government, Ramkalawan has played effectively the role of chief government critic as leader of the opposition.

Early presidential elections originally set for 2003 were called in August/September 2001. The Government Party SPPF once again prevailed, although the main Opposition Party, Seychelles National Party (previously known as the United Opposition Party) headed by Rev. Wavel Ramkalawan, made a surprisingly strong showing and collected 46% of the total votes. The DP, headed by Mr. Mancham, did not take part in the elections. Legislative elections held in December of 2002 saw the SPPF retain a strong majority in the National Assembly, winning a total of 23 of the 34 seats. The SNP won the remaining 9.

In the July 2006 presidential elections, incumbent President James Michel of the Seychelles People's Progressive Front, who had been appointed to power by former President Rene in 2004, won his first elected term with 53.73% of the vote. The electoral process for the 2006 presidential elections was determined to be credible by international observers. In October 2006, police beat SNP leaders during a rally protesting a law prohibiting political parties from owning radio stations. Additionally, a government case against the SNP newspaper forced it to temporarily suspend operations. Aside from such restrictions on the freedoms of press, reports of bias, and inefficiency in the judiciary, the government of Seychelles generally respects human rights.

Following a 6-month boycott in the National Assembly by the SNP opposition party, President Michel dissolved the National Assembly on March 20, 2007. Early elections to fill the vacated National Assembly seats were held May 10-12, 2007. The SPPF won 18 district seats and the SNP/DP alliance won seven district seats. Under the system of proportional representation, the SPPF won five seats and the SNP/DP alliance won four seats. The electoral process for the 2007 National Assembly elections was determined to be credible by international observers.

On 02 June 2009, the SPPF's National Congress changed the party's name to Parti Lepep (The People's Party) in a move to change the party's leadership structure. Additionally, President Michel officially assumed leadership of Parti Lepep, while former President, France Albert Rene, was demoted to the role of founding father.

In presidential elections held 19-21 May 2011, voters reelected incumbent and ruling People’s Party candidate James Michel to a third term. Michel received 55 percent of the vote, while opposition Seychelles National Party (SNP) candidate Wavel Ramkalawan received 41 percent. International observers deemed the process credible, although they cited allegations of unfair campaign practices. The Francophonie Observer Group, the Commonwealth Expert Team, and the Southern African Development Community called for electoral reforms, such as a cap on campaign funding, a credible voters’ register, and restrictions on the use of state resources.

In National Assembly elections held on September 29, 30, and October 1, 2011, the People’s Party won all seats due to an opposition boycott of the elections. Both the SNP and New Democratic Party opted out of the election, charging that the ruling party obstructed their activities, particularly in the National Assembly. Despite the boycott, international observers found the election credible and transparent. Citizens Democracy Watch, a local observation group, the first domestic observer group allowed to monitor an election, expressed concern about “the sudden dissolution of the National Assembly, the use of state funds and resources during the election period, intimidation of candidates and activists; media coverage of events during cooling-off period; and nonadherence to agreed rules and procedures during campaigning.”

Since multi-party elections began in Seychelles in 1993, the ruling Parti Lepep had traditionally won elections by large margins. . Opposition parties claimed they operated under restrictions and subject to outside interference. Some opposition party members claimed they lost their government jobs because of their political affiliation and were at a disadvantage when applying for government licenses and loans.

However, as a result of recent elections, the government and the National Assembly were controlled by different parties. On the one hand, President Michel of Parti Lepep was re-elected in the closely contested presidential election in December 2015. However, in the parliamentary elections of September 2016 the opposition alliance won a majority in the National Assembly for the first time in 40 years..

In December 2015 President Michel was re-elected to a third term by 193 votes in the country’s first-ever runoff election. Neither Michel nor runner-up Wavel Ramkalawan, leader of the opposition alliance Seychelles National Party, received the required 50 percent plus one vote to win in the first round of elections held between December 3 and 5. International observers from the Southern African Development Community and the African Union, who had not determined whether the elections were free and fair by year’s end, criticized voter intimidation and vote buying. The opposition petitioned the Constitutional Court to overturn the elections based on election irregularities including vote buying. On May 31, the Constitutional Court ruled that, although there were irregularities, they were not significant enough to overturn the elections.

On 8-10 September 2016, National Assembly elections were held. An opposition alliance comprising the Seychelles National Party, the Lalyans Seselwa party, the Seychelles Party for Social Justice and Democracy, and supporters of independent presidential candidate Phillipe Boulle, won 15 seats in the 33-seat assembly, while the Parti Lepep won 10 seats. The remaining seats were allocated on a proportional basis, with the alliance and Parti Lepep each receiving four additional seats. International and domestic observers qualified the election as transparent, fair, and peaceful but refrained from calling it free due to the lack of credibility of the election management body, the Seychelles Electoral Commission.

While the President’s party continued in government, it was weakened by its loss of control of the legislature. In October 2016 President Michel resigned and was succeeded by then Vice-President Danny Faure.

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