Seychelles has seen an increase in political pluralism in recent years, with an opposition coalition winning a parliamentary majority in 2016 and an opposition presidential candidate winning in 2020. However, government corruption remains a problem, as does lengthy pretrial detention. Migrant workers remain vulnerable to abuse.
- In October, the National Assembly decriminalized defamation by striking two sections of the penal code.
- Also in October, finance ministers of European Union (EU) member states agreed to remove Seychelles from the bloc’s list of foreign tax havens. Observers criticized the decision, noting the involvement of Seychellois firms in the transfer of offshore wealth.
- In November, Seychellois authorities arrested businessman Mukesh Valabhji and his wife on suspicion of embezzling funds donated by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2002. Authorities also accused Sarah Zarqani-René, the widow of late president France-Albert René, along with a military officer and two former government officials of involvement. The case was ongoing at year’s end.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The president is chief of state and head of government; the winning candidate is directly elected for up to two five-year terms. The president nominates cabinet ministers and a vice president, all of whom require approval from the National Assembly.
Then vice president Danny Faure became president when James Michel of the People’s Party (PL) resigned as president in 2016. Michel had been narrowly reelected in 2015 in a contest marred by vote-buying allegations. In late 2019, Faure was endorsed by the PL, renamed United Seychelles (US), to contest the October 2020 presidential election. Faure lost to Seychelles Democratic Alliance (LDS) candidate Wavel Ramkalawan, who received 54.9 percent of the vote. The election marked the first opposition victory in a presidential contest in Seychellois history.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Members of the unicameral National Assembly are directly elected in 26 constituencies, while up to 9 additional seats are assigned by parties according to a proportional calculation of the vote.
The LDS won 25 seats in the October 2020 elections, which were held concurrently with the presidential contest. US won the remaining 10. Observers called the elections free and fair, though they did receive reports alleging misuse of state resources.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
The Electoral Commission (EC) has faced criticism from opposition parties and others for enforcing its mandates inconsistently. The 2016 African Union election monitoring mission called for more transparency, better voter-roll scrutiny, and an improved process to inform the public about voter registration. In 2018, then president Faure approved an Elections Act amendment establishing a permanent chief electoral officer. The amendment was intended to alleviate concerns about the efficiency of the previous system, in which a chief electoral officer was appointed a few months before an election.
Electoral-law amendments that, among other things, provide a clearer definition of what is considered a spoiled ballot, were approved in 2020.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
There are no restrictions on the right to organize political parties or other competitive political groupings. However, during the 2015 presidential election, several opposition parties claimed the government was engaged in systematic harassment and intimidation of candidates.
Political party One Seychelles, which was founded in 2019, fielded presidential and legislative candidates in the 2020 elections.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
The LDS, an alliance of opposition parties, became the first political group to defeat the PL and gain a legislative majority in 2016, reflecting increasing political pluralism in Seychelles. Ramkalawan became the first non-US candidate to win a presidential election in October 2020.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
Political choices are generally free from domination by powerful groups that are not democratically accountable. However, vote buying and voter intimidation by political parties have been reported.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution mandates equal suffrage for adult citizens. Early voting procedures are designed to encourage the participation of some groups, including pregnant people, the elderly, and those with disabilities.
There are still no mechanisms to allow citizens living abroad to vote. Few women hold senior political office because of factors including longstanding traditional beliefs about the role of women and a lack of commitment on the part of political parties to nominate women for office. US is the only party that typically includes high numbers of women among its candidates. Women hold 22.9 percent of National Assembly seats. Political life is dominated by people of European and South Asian origin.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
The head of government and national legislative representatives are generally able to determine policy, though widespread corruption can influence policymaking. Executive and legislative officials were elected under freer and fairer circumstances in 2020, bolstering the democratic legitimacy of their decisions.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
Concerns about government corruption persist, but there has been significant improvement. In 2016, the National Assembly passed an anticorruption law that established the country’s first independent Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and strengthened Seychelles’s legal anticorruption framework. In 2019, the National Assembly amended the anticorruption law to increase the number of ACC commissioners, clarify its strength, explicitly give it investigative powers, and enhance its law enforcement provisions.
Seychelles was previously included in an EU list of foreign tax havens. EU finance ministers removed Seychelles from the list in October 2021, citing progress regarding its taxation regime. Observers criticized the decision, citing that month’s revelation that Seychellois firms facilitated the transfer of offshore wealth per the Pandora Papers, an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that revealed the improper financial system and connections of rich and powerful actors around the world.
In November 2021, Seychellois authorities arrested businessman Mukesh Valabhji and his wife on suspicion of embezzling a $50-million donation provided by the UAE in 2002. Authorities also accused Sarah Zarqani-René, along with a military officer and two former government officials, of involvement. The case was ongoing at year’s end.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
Laws allowing public access to government information are inconsistently followed. Some government officials are required to declare assets, but they do not always comply. Declarations are not made public unless a legal challenge forces their release. The Access to Information Act of 2018 seeks to increase openness and transparency of government; Article 54 created an Information Commission, established in 2019, to provide government information and resources to citizens for particular disclosures. It can impose fines when citizens are not provided information in a given time frame.
Concerns about corruption often focus on a lack of transparency in the privatization and allocation of government-owned land, as well as in Seychelles’s facilitation of international finance.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
The Seychelles Media Commission Act of 2010 establishes relatively strict guidelines for journalists. Several newspapers exist besides the state-owned daily, the Seychelles Nation. A publicly owned broadcaster provides television and radio programming alongside a private television station and two private radio stations. The law prohibits political parties and religious organizations from operating public radio broadcasts.
In the past, media workers practiced a degree of self-censorship to protect their advertising earnings and to avoid the application of strict—but rarely enforced—defamation laws. In addition, since Victoria seeks to maintain Seychelles’s image as ideal for tourism, many outlets would temper their commentary on sensitive national issues. However, self-censorship has declined in recent years. In October 2021, the National Assembly decriminalized defamation when it struck two sections of the penal code.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 due to the parliament’s decriminalization of defamation and a gradual reduction in self-censorship and political pressure among the media in recent years.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Religious freedom is generally respected. The government grants larger religious groups programming time on state radio, subject in most cases to advance review and approval. Smaller religious groups do not have access to dedicated broadcast time. Non-Catholic students in public schools providing Catholic instruction have no access to alternative activities during those classes.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
The charter of the University of Seychelles enshrines academic freedom, while the constitution indirectly references academic freedom. A 2016 study from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized Seychelles as having high compliance in institutional autonomy, tenure, individual rights, and democratic structure in the country’s two universities.
In the past, some activists have claimed that educators have had to demonstrate at least nominal loyalty to the PL, which previously controlled the executive and legislative branches, to reach senior bureaucratic positions. Since the 2020 transition of power, no reports of such behavior have surfaced.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because there were no reports that educators’ career advancement depended on political loyalty, as was alleged during the PL’s decades in government prior to 2020.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
As the government seeks to protect the tourism sector, many sensitive subjects are considered off limits. Individuals who criticize the government publicly or privately sometimes suffer reprisals, such as harassment by police or the loss of jobs or contracts.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
The government passed a revised public-assembly law in 2015, which several observers credited with permitting a more open and free political environment. However, the law still contains some restrictive provisions, including the need to give five days’ notice to the police for assemblies. It also empowers the head of police to disperse public meetings on grounds of preserving public health, morality, and safety, and sets conditions on the timing and location of large gatherings. In 2019, the government established a “Speaker’s Corner” in Victoria, where individuals are allowed to make public comments at will.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
Human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations operate without restriction. However, some groups lack the resources necessary to operate and advocate effectively.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Unions are permitted, but only about 15 percent of the workforce is unionized, and collective bargaining is relatively rare. Workers have the right to strike, but only if all other arbitration procedures have been exhausted.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
Judges sometimes face interference in cases involving major commercial or political interests. Seychelles, which has few legal professionals, relies on expatriate judges who serve fixed-term contracts on the Supreme Court. The government controls the negotiations and renewal of expatriate contracts, potentially allowing officials to compromise the impartiality of the non-Seychellois magistrates. The judiciary also lacks budgetary independence from the executive and can be subject to external influence. The Supreme Court remains a target of political threats and intimidation.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||3.003 4.004|
While constitutional rights to due process are generally respected, prolonged pretrial detention is common. The courts introduced new systems in 2016 to expedite the processing of cases, but their effect has been limited.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
Security forces have occasionally been accused of using excessive force, and impunity for such offenses remains a problem. Police corruption continues, particularly the solicitation of bribes. Prisons remain overcrowded.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
Same-sex sexual activity was decriminalized in 2016, though societal discrimination against LGBT+ activists remains a problem. Prejudice against foreign workers has been reported.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
The government does not restrict domestic travel but may deny passports for arbitrary reasons based on “national interest.”
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
Individuals may generally exercise the right to own property and establish private business without undue interference from state or nonstate actors. An underdeveloped legal framework can hamper business activities, as can corruption.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Inheritance laws do not discriminate against women, and the government does not impose explicit restrictions on personal social freedoms. However, domestic violence against women remains a problem.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
Economic life is dominated by people of European and South Asian origin. The government has made only some progress in preventing or prosecuting instances of human trafficking and labor exploitation. Worker rights in the Seychelles International Trade Zone are different from the rest of the islands, and migrant laborers are vulnerable to abuse there. There were some reports of employers seizing migrant workers’ passports upon arrival, a practice that is not currently illegal under Seychellois law.
Bangladeshi workers have faced human-trafficking abuses like the seizure of travel documents, unpaid work, and extreme labor exploitation. In 2019, the Seychellois and Bangladeshi governments signed an agreement to regulate the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers. Under its terms, designated organizations will assess employment contracts and the language skills of prospective workers.
In its Trafficking in Persons Report 2021, the US State Department noted that Seychellois authorities secured their first sex-trafficking conviction under a 2014 antitrafficking law. The State Department also noted an increase in resources for survivors, though Seychelles still lacks shelters that provide comprehensive services.
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