Freedom in the World
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During 2005, Seychelles coped with the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami, which resulted in significant dislocation of the country's tourist-based economy.
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 then-prime minister France-Albert Rene seized power by ousting former president James Mancham. Mancham and other opposition leaders operated parties and human rights groups in exile after Rene made his ruling Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) the sole legal party. Rene and his party continued 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 complaints of fraud from the opposition. An official observer delegation from the Commonwealth concluded that the elections were peaceful but not entirely free and fair. In October 2002, Rene dissolved the parliament and called for early legislative elections. The SPPF won the elections, but the SNP made significant inroads, winning 43 percent of the vote.
Given his age and the length of time he had served as president, Rene's resignation in April 2004 was not unexpected. The SPPF remains the dominant political party, and Rene continues to wield considerable political influence as its leader. Rene was replaced by Vice President James Michel, who had 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.
The Seychellois economy was badly affected by the December 2004 tsunami, which damaged public infrastructure and facilities. The Seychelles government assessed damage from the tsunami at about $30 million. Tourism and fisheries, both vital to the economy, also suffered. Tourism produces 70 percent of the country's hard currency, and employs approximately 30 percent of the labor force.
Citizens of Seychelles can change their government democratically. However, SPPF control over state resources and most media gave ruling-party candidates significant advantages in the polls.
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 34member, unicameral National Assembly, with 25 members directly elected and 9 allocated on a proportional basis to parties gaining at least 10 percent of the vote. Other amendments have strengthened presidential powers, and the current president, James Michel, has assumed direct responsibility for several key ministries. The opposition 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. Opposition and SNP leader Reverend Wavel Ramkalawan has called for fair conditions for all political parties for the 2006 election. According to Ramkalawan, the government impedes freedom of assembly and opposition access to the electronic media.
Seychelles had become a one-party state under the regime established following France-Albert Rene's 1977 military coup, but opposition parties were legalized in 1992. Rene remains chairman of the SPPF. The SNP and the Democratic Party have been two traditionally important opposition parties.
Concerns about the extent of governmental corruption have focused particularly on the lack of transparency in the allocation of government-owned land and privatization. Credible allegations have been made that government officials have sold Seychellois passports illegally. Seychelles was ranked 55 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech has improved since one-party rule was abolished. 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. In December 2004, the newspaper was heavily fined for ignoring a Supreme Court order that it not publish a letter by three judges.
There is a lack of balanced presentation in the state media of national events and deliberations at the National Assembly. The board of directors of the officially multipartisan Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation 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. There are no restrictions placed on internet usage.
The right of religious freedom is mandated in the constitution and exists in practice. Churches in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation have been strong voices for human rights and democratization, and they generally function without government interference.
The constitution explicitly endorses freedom of assembly and association. 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. 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 Seychellois political and economic life is dominated by people of European and South Asian origin. Discrimination against foreign workers has been reported. The government does not restrict domestic travel but may deny passports for reasons of "national interest."
Women constitute 29.4 percent of the 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. Inheritance laws do not discriminate against women.