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In October 2002 President France Albert Rene dissolved parliament and called for early legislative elections in December. The ruling Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) won the elections, but the main opposition Seychelles National Party (SNP) made significant inroads, winning 43 percent of the vote.
Seychelles, an archipelago of some 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean, was a French colony until 1810. It was then colonized by Britain until independence in 1976. It has been a member of the Commonwealth since independence. The country functioned as a multiparty democracy for only one year until Rene, then prime minister, seized power by ousting President James Mancham. Mancham and other opposition leaders operated parties and human rights groups in exile after Rene made his SPPF the sole legal party. Rene and his party continue to control government jobs, contracts, and resources, and Rene won one-party "show" elections in 1979, 1984, and 1989. By 1992, however, the SPPF had passed a constitutional amendment to legalize opposition parties, and many exiled leaders returned to participate in a constitutional commission and multiparty elections.
Rene won a legitimate electoral mandate in the country's first multiparty elections in 1993. The 1998 polls were accepted as generally legitimate by opposition parties, which had waged a vigorous campaign. The SNP, led by the Reverend Wavel Ramkalawan, emerged as the strongest opposition group by espousing economic liberalization, which Rene had resisted.
President Rene also heads the country's Defense Ministry and Interior Ministry. Vice President James Michel, who also heads a number of ministries, has assumed a more prominent role in daily governmental affairs and has been viewed as Rene's likely successor. In a recent governmental reshuffle, however, Michel lost the portfolio of economic planning while conserving his other responsibilities as minister of finance, environment, land, and transport.
Rene and his ruling SPPF party's political dominance was shaken in the August 2001 presidential election, when Rene won a narrow victory that engendered widespread opposition complaints of fraud.
The current constitution was drafted in 1993 by an elected constitutional commission. Seychelles had become a one-party state under the regime established following the 1977 military coup, but legislation to allow opposition parties had been passed in December 1991. The present incumbent, France Albert Rene, seized power in June 1977. The president's term of office is five years, with a maximum of three consecutive terms.
The president and the National Assembly are elected by universal adult suffrage for five-year terms. As amended in 1996, the constitution provides for a 34-member national assembly, with 25 members directly elected and 9 allocated on a proportional basis to parties with at least 10 percent of the vote. Other amendments have strengthened presidential powers. Local governments composed of district councils were reconstituted in 1991 after their abolition two decades earlier.
The ability of the people to change their leaders is limited. In presidential and legislative elections in March 1998, the Seychellois people were able to exercise their democratic right to choose their representatives. SPPF control, however, over state resources and most media gave ruling-party candidates significant advantages in the polls. In the 2001 presidential election the opposition increased its vote total from 20 to 45 percent. President Rene's victory, however, was marred by widespread opposition claims that the government had cheated. The SNP subsequently filed a complaint with the Seychelles Constitutional Court, citing irregularities linked to the extension of the incumbent's campaign beyond the official period, posting false information on a number of Web sites, committing acts of intimidation against voters, and the use of votes attributed to deceased or underaged persons whose names were uncovered on the lists of registered voters.
The judiciary includes the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, a court of appeals, an industrial court, and magistrates' courts. Judges generally decide cases fairly, but still face interference in cases involving major economic or political actors. There are no Seychellois judges, and the impartiality of the non-Seychellois magistrates can be compromised by the fact that their tenure is subject to contract renewal.
Two private human-rights-related organizations (Friends for a Democratic Society and the Center for Rights and Development) operate in the country along with other nongovernmental organizations. Churches in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation have also been strong voices for human rights and democratization, and generally function without governmental interference. Discrimination against foreign workers has been reported. Security forces have been accused of using excessive force, including torture and arbitrary detention, especially in attempts to curb crime.
Freedom of speech has improved since one-party rule was abolished in 1993, and independent or pro-opposition publications have spoken out despite tough libel laws, although some self-censorship persists. There is one daily government newspaper, The Nation, and at least two other newspapers support or are published by the SPPF. Independent newspapers are sharply critical of the government, but governmental dominance and the threat of libel suits restrict media freedom. The opposition weekly Regar has been sued repeatedly for libel under broad constitutional restrictions on free expression. High licensing fees have discouraged the development of privately owned broadcast media.
Women are less likely than men to be literate, and they have fewer educational opportunities. While almost all adult females are classified as "economically active," most are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Domestic violence against women is reportedly widespread, but is rarely prosecuted and only lightly punished. Islanders of Creole extraction face de facto discrimination. Nearly all of Seychelles' political and economic life is dominated by people of European and Asian origin. Approximately 34 percent of the total population is under 15 years of age.
The right to strike is formally protected by the 1993 Industrial Relations Act, but is limited by several regulations. The SPPF-associated National Workers' Union no longer monopolizes union activity. Two independent unions are now active. The government does not restrict domestic travel, but may deny passports for reasons of "national interest." Religious freedom is respected.