Freedom in the World
President James Michel won a May 2011 presidential election, defeating opposition leader Wavel Ramkalawan. In parliamentary balloting in September, Michel’s People’s Party captured all but one of the seats in the National Assembly, after Ramkalawan’s Seychelles National Party boycotted the vote in protest of the government’s failure to implement electoral reforms.
The Seychelles gained independence from Britain in 1976 as a multiparty democracy and remained a member of the Commonwealth. In 1977, Prime Minister France-Albert René seized power from President James Mancham. René then made his Seychelles People’s Progressive Front (SPPF) the sole legal party. In 1992, however, the SPPF passed a constitutional amendment legalizing opposition parties, and many exiled leaders returned. René won multiparty elections in 1993.
The Seychelles National Party (SNP), led by Wavel Ramkalawan, emerged as the strongest opposition group in 1998 elections. René won a narrow victory in the 2001 presidential election, leading to opposition complaints of fraud. René called for early legislative elections in 2002, and although the SPPF won, the SNP made significant gains.
René stepped down in 2004 and was replaced by Vice President James Michel. An Indian Ocean tsunami struck later that year, causing about $30 million in damage to public infrastructure; the vital tourism and fishing industries also suffered. Michel defeated Ramkalawan in the July 2006 presidential election, and the SPPF retained its majority in May 2007 legislative elections.
Michel, running for the People’s Party (Parti Lepep, or PP)—the new name for the SPPF—won a new term in the May 2011 presidential election. He defeated Ramkalawan, 55 percent to 41 percent. Ramkalawan accused the PP of bribing voters; however, observers from the Commonwealth called the election “credible.” The SNP boycotted parliamentary elections held in late September and early October, citing alleged misconduct by the PP in the presidential vote and Michel’s failure to implement promised electoral reforms. That allowed the PP to claim all 25 directly elected seats and 8 of the 9 proportional seats available; the Popular Democratic Movement, formed by a dissident SNP member who disagreed with its decision to boycott the elections, took the remaining proportional seat. Observers from the Southern African Development Community said the voting was “credible and transparent.”
In 2011, the Seychelles continued to take action to combat Indian Ocean piracy. In February, a Seychellois court sentenced 10 Somalis to 20 years in prison for piracy. In September, the Seychelles hosted an antipiracy conference that was attended by representatives of the European Union, NATO, regional governments, and the maritime industry.
The Seychelles is an electoral democracy. The 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections were generally viewed as having met basic international norms, despite the opposition boycott of the latter. However, the ruling PP’s control over state resources and most media gives it a significant advantage. 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 directly elected and 9 are allocated on a proportional basis to parties gaining at least 10 percent of the vote.
The PP 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 over government corruption have focused on the lack of transparency in the privatization and allocation of government-owned land. Seychelles was ranked 50 out of 183 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The government controls much of the nation’s media sector, operating radio and television stations. The daily newspaper, the Seychelles Nation, is government owned, and the PP publishes a weekly newspaper, the People. The opposition weekly, Regar, has been sued for libel by government officials under broad constitutional restrictions on free expression. The board of directors of the officially multipartisan Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) includes several non-PP members, though coverage is biased in favor of the ruling party. Despite the passage of a new Broadcasting Act in March 2011 that was intended to make the SBC more independent, the outlet continues to be dominated by the government. High licensing fees have discouraged the development of private broadcast media. Internet access is not limited, though there have been reports that the state monitors e-mail, chat rooms, and blogs.
Religious freedom is constitutionally protected and respected 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. Academic freedom is generally respected, though PP loyalists are reportedly favored in high-level academic appointments.
The constitution endorses freedoms of assembly and association. Private human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations operate in the country. While public demonstrations are generally tolerated, the government has occasionally impeded opposition gatherings. Workers have the right to strike. The PP-aligned Seychelles Federation of Workers’ Unions remains the main active trade union.
Judges generally decide cases fairly but face interference in those involving major economic or political interests. The majority of the members of the Seychellois judiciary are foreign nationals from other Commonwealth countries, and the impartiality of the non-Seychellois magistrates can be compromised by the fact that they are subject to contract renewal. Chief Justice Frederick Egonda-Ntende of Uganda has committed to reducing the number of pending court cases and accelerating judgment of new cases. Security forces have at times been accused of using excessive force, including torture and arbitrary detention.
The country’s political and economic life is primarily dominated by people of European and South Asian origin. Islanders of Creole extraction face de facto discrimination, and prejudice against foreign workers has been reported. The government does not restrict domestic travel but may deny passports for unspecified reasons of “national interest.”
The Seychelles boasts one of the world’s highest percentages of women in parliament, reaching 45 percent in 2011. Inheritance laws do not discriminate against women. In general, however, women enjoy fewer educational opportunities. While nearly all adult females are classified as “economically active,” most are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Rape and domestic violence remain widespread. The government adopted a National Strategy on Domestic Violence in 2008, but it has had little success.