Seychelles | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2005

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Vice President James Michel took office as president of Seychelles in April 2004, replacing retiring president France Albert Rene, who had been head of government and chief of state since 1977. Rene's Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) remained the dominant political party.

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 its independence in 1976. A member of the Commonwealth, Seychelles functioned as a multiparty democracy for only one year before 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 ruling 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 Seychelles National Party (SNP), led by the Reverend Wavel Ramkalawan, emerged as the strongest opposition group by espousing economic liberalization, which Rene had resisted.

The political dominance of Rene and the SPPF was further shaken in the August 2001 presidential election, when Rene won a narrow victory that engendered widespread opposition complaints of fraud. In October 2002, Rene dissolved parliament and called for early legislative elections. The SPPF won the elections, but the SNP made significant inroads, winning 43 percent of the vote and 11 of the 33 seats in parliament.

Given his age and the length of time he had served as president, Rene's resignation in April 2004 was not unexpected. He continues to wield considerable political influence as leader of the SPPF. Rene was replaced by Michel, who previously served in various senior-level government positions prior to his appointment as vice president in 1996. The next presidential elections are scheduled to take place in 2006.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Seychelles can change their government democratically. 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. An official observer delegation from the Commonwealth concluded that the elections were peaceful but not entirely free and fair.

The current constitution was drafted in 1993 by an elected constitutional commission. The president and the National Assembly are elected by universal adult suffrage for five-year terms. The head of government is the president, who appoints the Council of Ministers. 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, and President James Michel has assumed direct responsibility for 7 of the 17 ministerial portfolios. The SNP leadership claims that its sympathizers are harassed by police and are victims of public sector job-related security investigations, which are generally carried out by SPPF agents at the district level.

Seychelles had become a one-party state under the regime established following Rene's 1977 military coup, but opposition parties were legalized in 1992. The SNP and the Democratic Party have been two traditionally important opposition parties.

Concerns exist about the extent of governmental corruption. These have focused particularly on the lack of transparency in allocation of government-owned land and privatization. Seychelles was ranked 48 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of speech has improved since one-party rule was abolished in 1993. Independent and 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 critical of the government, but government 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. There is also a need for more equal presentation in the state media of national events and deliberations at the National Assembly. The officially multi-partisan Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation's board of directors includes only one opposition representative, although it does have several non-SPPF members. High licensing fees have discouraged the development of privately owned broadcast media.

Churches in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation have been strong voices for human rights and democratization, and they generally function without government interference. Private human rights - related organizations operate in the country along with other nongovernmental organizations. Public demonstrations are generally tolerated, although on occasion the government has impeded opposition party gatherings. Discrimination against foreign workers has been reported. 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 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. Security forces have been accused of using excessive force, including torture and arbitrary detention, especially in attempting to curb crime.

Islanders of Creole extraction face de facto discrimination. Nearly all of the Seychellois political and economic life is dominated by people of European and South Asian origin. The government does not restrict domestic travel but may deny passports for reasons of "national interest."

The growth of the economy since independence in 1976 has depended mainly upon development of the islands' potential as a tourist destination. Tourism produces 70 percent of the country's hard currency, and the tourist sector employs approximately 30 percent of the labor force. A shortage of foreign exchange, however, has led to the emergence of a large currency black market.

Women constitute 29.4 percent of the Seychelles parliament - one of the highest percentages in Africa; this has been achieved without the benefit of a quota system. In general, however, 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.