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The ruling Seychelles People’s Progressive Front (SPPF) won a renewed mandate in May 2007 parliamentary elections. Its majority remained the same at 23 seats, with the opposition Seychelles National Party (SNP) capturing the remaining 11.
The Seychelles gained independence from Britain in 1976 but remained a member of the Commonwealth. The country functioned as a multiparty democracy until 1977, when Prime Minister France-Albert Rene seized power and ousted President James Mancham. Rene then made his SPPF the sole legal party, exerting control over government jobs, contracts, and resources, and winning one-party “show” elections in 1979, 1984, and 1989. By 1992, however, the SPPF had passed a constitutional amendment legalizing opposition parties, and many exiled leaders returned.
Rene won the first multiparty elections in 1993. In the 1998 polls, the Seychelles National Party (SNP), led by Wavel Ramkalawan, emerged as the strongest opposition group by espousing economic liberalization, which Rene had resisted.
Rene won a narrow victory in the 2001 presidential election, engendering opposition complaints of fraud. A Commonwealth monitoring delegation concluded that the election was peaceful but not entirely free and fair. In October 2002, Rene dissolved the parliament and called for early legislative elections. The SPPF won the balloting, but the SNP made significant gains, taking 43 percent of the vote.
Rene stepped down as president in 2004, at age 69. He was replaced by Vice President James Michel. The Indian Ocean tsunami struck later that year, causing about $30 million in damage to public infrastructure and facilities. Tourism and fisheries, both vital to the economy, also suffered.
Michel defeated Ramkalawan in the July 2006 presidential election, 54 percent to 46 percent. In early October, protesters and security forces clashed outside the parliament building after lawmakers passed a bill that restricted private radio-station ownership, effectively ending the opposition’s hopes of establishing its own radio station. Ramkalawan was among several people who were injured during the protests.
The SPPF’s majority of 23 seats was left unchanged by the May 2007 legislative elections, with the SNP taking the remaining 11. Michel subsequently restructured his government, placing an emphasis on environmental issues that could affect the country’s reputation as a tourist destination.
Seychelles is an electoral democracy. The July 2006 presidential election and the 2007 parliamentary polls were generally viewed as having met basic international norms of legitimacy. However, the ruling SPPF’s control over state resources and most media gives its candidates a significant advantage at the polls.
The president and the unicameral National Assembly are elected by universal adult suffrage for five-year terms. The head of government is the president, who appoints the cabinet. Of the National Assembly’s 34 members, 25 are elected directly and 9 are allocated on a proportional basis to parties gaining at least 10 percent of the vote. The SPPF remains the dominant party, and the opposition SNP has claimed that its sympathizers are harassed by police and victimized by job-related security investigations in the public sector.
Concerns about the extent of government corruption have focused on the lack of transparency in privatization and the allocation of government-owned land. Credible allegations have been made that government officials have sold passports illegally. Seychelles was ranked 57 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.
According to the BBC, the government controls much of the islands’ media, and operates radio and TV stations as well as the sole daily newspaper. The government owns one daily newspaper, the Nation, and at least two other newspapers support or are published by the SPPF. The opposition weekly Regar has been sued repeatedly for libel under broad constitutional restrictions on free expression, and it suspended publication in October 2006. Regar’s editor, who is also the secretary general of the SNP, had been briefly detained following that month’s protest against parliament’s decision not to permit the establishment of an opposition radio station. Regar remained out of print at the end of 2007 and the sole remaining major independent newspaper, Le Nouveau Seychelles Weekly, was denied printing facilities in the Seychelles in late 2007.
The Board of Directors of the officially multipartisan Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation includes only one opposition representative, though it does have several non-SPPF members. In January 2006, a leading journalist with known opposition sympathies was fired from the state-owned television station. High licensing fees have discouraged the development of privately owned broadcast media. There are no restrictions on internet usage.
The right of religious freedom is mandated in the constitution and exists in practice. Churches in this predominantly Roman Catholic country have been strong voices for human rights and democratization, and they generally function without government interference.
The constitution endorses freedoms of assembly and association. Private human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations operate in the country. Public demonstrations are generally tolerated, although on occasion the government has impeded opposition gatherings. The right to strike is 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.
Judges generally decide cases fairly but still face interference in cases involving major economic or political interests. There are no Seychellois judges, and the impartiality of the non-Seychellois magistrates can be compromised by the fact that they are 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 country’s 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.”
The Seychelles in recent years has boasted one of the highest percentages of women in parliament in Africa at 24 percent, despite the lack of a quota system. In general, however, women are less likely than men to be literate, and they have fewer educational opportunities. While nearly 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.