Seychelles | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Seychelles

Seychelles

Partly Free
71/100
Overview: 

A single party dominated politics starting from independence, and for years after multiparty politics were introduced in the 1990s. In 2016, an opposition coalition won a majority of seats in the National Assembly, reflecting increasing political pluralism in practice. However, government corruption remains a problem, as does lengthy pretrial detention. Migrant workers remain vulnerable to abuse.

Key Developments: 

Key Developments in 2018:

  • In December, President Faure signed an amendment establishing a permanent chief electoral officer to oversee the Electoral Commission (EC) secretariat and its operations. Its provisions were intended to alleviate concerns about inefficiencies in the electoral system, and about the separation of powers between the EC secretariat and EC board.
  • Authorities struggled during the year to address allegations of judicial misconduct through the relevant mechanisms.
  • In November, Seychelles opened a domestic violence shelter, the only such facility in the country.
  • In response to persistent reports of the exploitation of Bangladeshi workers, the government in October announced a six-month moratorium on the recruitment of Bangladeshi nationals to work in the country, as well as its intentions to work with officials in Bangladesh to address the issue. In November, a Bangladeshi man was sentenced to three years in prison in a human trafficking case in which four Bangladeshi nationals were defrauded and subjected to forced labor.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

POLITICAL RIGHTS: 28 / 40

A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 10 / 12

A1.      Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4

The president is chief of state and head of government, and is directly elected for up to two five-year terms. The president nominates cabinet ministers and a vice president, all of which require National Assembly approval.

President James Michel of Parti Lepep (PL) was narrowly reelected in 2015. International observers noted allegations of vote buying.

In October 2016, President Michel resigned. He gave no reason for his resignation, but it followed parliamentary elections in which the opposition coalition, Seychelles Democratic Alliance (LDS), took control of the legislature. Vice President Danny Faure became president, and is to complete Michel’s five-year term.

A2.      Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

Members of the unicameral National Assembly are directly elected in 25 constituencies, while up to 10 additional seats are assigned by parties according to a proportional calculation of the vote.

The opposition coalition LDS won the majority of seats in the 2016 elections to the National Assembly, marking the first transfer of power between parties in the country’s postindependence history. An African Union (AU) election monitoring mission generally praised the elections, but noted reports of attempted vote buying.

A3.      Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3 / 4

The EC has faced some criticism from opposition parties and others for enforcing its mandates inconsistently. The 2016 AU election monitoring mission recommended that the EC take steps to improve transparency, carefully scrutinize the voter rolls, and improve efforts to inform the public about voter registration processes and voting procedures.

A forum for discussion of electoral reforms was set up in 2017, and included representatives from political parties and election observer groups. In late 2017, the EC released recommendations for reform based on the forum’s findings; these included allowing Seychellois citizens abroad to register to vote, cleaning up the voter rolls, reinforcing the integrity of balloting by placing serial numbers on ballots, and separating of the roles of the EC chairperson and the EC secretariat. In what was described as a move to address the separation-of-powers recommendation, in December 2018 President Faure approved an amendment to the Elections Act establishing a permanent chief electoral officer to oversee the EC secretariat and its operations. The establishment of a permanent chief electoral officer was also 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.

B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 11 / 16

B1.      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? 3 / 4

There were no significant threats to or intimidation of political parties ahead of parliamentary elections in 2016. However, during the 2015 presidential election, several opposition parties claimed the government was engaged in systematic harassment and intimidation of candidates.

Legal challenges from the LDS blocked the registration of two parties, preventing their candidates from competing in the 2016 National Assembly elections. LDS (known locally as Linyon Demokratik Seselwa) successfully argued that the parties’ names—the Lafors Sosyal Demokratik (LSD) and the Linyon Sanzman—were too similar to its name and would mislead voters.

In November 2018, the PL formally changed its name to United Seychelles, a moniker apparently referencing the Seychelles People’s United Party that governed after independence. The party has changed its name on a number of past occasions.

B2.      Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 3 / 4

The 2016 National Assembly elections changed the political scene significantly, as the LDS, a new alliance of opposition parties, became the first political grouping to defeat the PL and gain a majority of legislative seats. The PL for the first time became the minority party. The developments reflected increasing political pluralism in Seychelles.

B3.      Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 3 / 4

The people’s political choices are generally free from domination by powerful groups that are not democratically accountable. However, there have been reports of vote buying and voter intimidation by political parties.

B4.      Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4

The constitution mandates equal suffrage for adult citizens. Early voting procedures are designed to encourage the participation of some groups, including pregnant women, elderly people, and those with disabilities.

There are still no mechanisms that allow citizens living abroad to vote. Few women hold senior political office as a result of a number of factors, including longstanding traditional beliefs about the role of women, and lack of commitment on the part of political parties to nominate women for office. The PL is the only party that typically includes high numbers of women among its political candidates. Political life is dominated by people of European and South Asian origin.

C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 7 / 12

C1.      Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 3 / 4

The head of government and national legislative representatives are generally able to determine the policies of the government, though widespread corruption can influence policymaking.

C2.      Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2 / 4

Concerns over government corruption persist. In 2016, the National Assembly passed an anticorruption law that established the first independent anticorruption commission in the country, and strengthened the legal framework to fight corruption. By the end of 2018, the commission had recorded 117 cases of corruption., but few major investigations have followed.  In December 2018, the commission’s former complaints and communications manager was found guilty on three counts of corruption and sentenced by the Supreme Court to eight years imprisonment and a fine of 75,000 Seychelles rupees ($5,000).

C3.      Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2 / 4

Concerns about corruption often focus on a lack of transparency in the privatization and allocation of government-owned land, as well as in Seychelles’ facilitation of international finance.

There are laws allowing public access to government information, but compliance is inconsistent. Some government officials are required to declare assets, but they do not always comply, and the declarations are not made public unless a legal challenge forces their release.

In July 2018, President Faure signed the Access to Information Act, which grants the right to obtain information about government authorities and public bodies, and mandated the establishment of an independent Information Commission to oversee the new law’s implementation.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: 43 / 60

D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 12 / 16

D1.      Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4

There are two privately owned newspapers, five political party weeklies, and the online news of the Seychelles News Agency. The government owns the only television station and two radio stations; there is one independent radio station. The law prohibits political parties and religious organizations from operating radio stations.

Media workers practice a degree of self-censorship to keep from endangering their earnings from advertising. Newspaper reporting is generally politicized. Although Seychelles has strict defamation laws, they have not been used for years. There are few reports of abuses against journalists.

D2.      Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4

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, but 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.

D3.      Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3 / 4

Some activists have claimed that the government limits academic freedom by not allowing educators to reach senior positions in the academic bureaucracy without demonstrating at least nominal loyalty to the PL, which holds the presidency and dominated the parliament for years ahead of its defeat in the 2016 elections.

D4.      Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4

As the government seeks above all to protect the country’s image as a tourist paradise, 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.

E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 9 / 12

E1.      Is there freedom of assembly? 3 / 4

The government passed a revised law in 2015 on public assembly, 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 the police to disperse assemblies on grounds of preserving public health, morality, and safety, and sets conditions on the timing and location of assemblies.

E2.      Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 3 / 4

Human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate without restriction. However, some groups lack the resources necessary to operate and advocate effectively.

E3.      Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3 / 4

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.

F. RULE OF LAW: 11 / 16

F1.       Is there an independent judiciary? 2 / 4

Judges sometimes face interference in cases involving major commercial or political interests. Due to the low number of legal professionals in Seychelles, the country brings in expatriate judges to 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 budget independence from the executive, and can be subject to external influence. The Supreme Court remains a target of political threats and intimidation.

In 2018, Seychelles struggled to address separate allegations of misconduct lodged against two senior judges through the relevant mechanisms. One of the judges was eventually cleared of wrongdoing by an international tribunal, but the controversy prompted concern about judicial independence in Seychelles, and the durability of aspects of the justice system in its current form.

F2.       Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3 / 4

While constitutional rights to due process are generally respected, prolonged pretrial detention is common. The courts introduced new systems in 2016 intended to expedite the processing of cases, but their effect has been limited.

In June 2018, the National Assembly voted unanimously to establish a new Human Rights Commission, and Faure signed the bill the following month. The new body, which has greater powers than the one it replaces, will be able to conduct investigations, initiate proceedings at the Constitutional Court, and assist complainants financially under certain circumstances.

F3.       Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3 / 4

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.

F4.       Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3 / 4

Same-sex sexual activity between men was decriminalized in 2016, though societal discrimination against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) activists remains a problem. Prejudice against foreign workers has been reported.

G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 11 / 16

G1.      Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3 / 4

The government does not restrict domestic travel, but may deny passports for unspecified reasons based on “national interest.”

G2.      Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3 / 4

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.

G3.      Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2 / 4

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. In November 2018, Seychelles opened a domestic violence shelter, the only such facility on the country.

G4.      Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3 / 4

Economic life is dominated by people of European and South Asian origin.

The government has made minimal 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 Seychelles law.

In October 2018, in response to persistent reports of abuse of foreign workers from Bangladesh, authorities announced a six-month moratorium on the recruitment of Bangladeshi nationals to work in the country and said it would cooperate with Bangladeshi officials to address the issue. The following month, a Bangladeshi national was sentenced to three years in prison in a trafficking case in which he was found to have defrauded four other Bangladeshi nationals of large sums of money with promises of work, and then subjected them to forced labor.