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The Political Shift in Modern day Seychelles

After an ominous, post-independence start which included a coup, an invasion by mercenaries, an abortive army mutiny and several coup attempts, the Seychelles has attained stability and prosperity. Elections are crucial to the quality of a country’s governance and setting the direction for a nation’s democratic development.

The mandate of the incumbent, President Danny Faure, will expire at the end of October. Wavel Ramkalawan of the main opposition group Linyon Demokratik Seselwa, the incumbent President Danny Faure of United Seychelles and Alain St Ange from the newest party, One Seychelles will contest the presidential elections and 75 candidates are vying for 26 seats in the National Assembly later in October.

Seychelles is an archipelago nation of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, some 1,500 kilometres (930 mi) east of mainland Africa, northeast of the island of Madagascar. The capital of the State is the city of Victoria, which is located in the island of Mahe. It’s closest neighbours are Kenya, around 1600 kilometres to the west, and Madagascar, which lies about 1100 kilometres south. Other nearby island countries and territories include Zanzibar to the west, Mauritius and Réunion to the south, Comoros and Mayotte to the southwest, and the Suvadives of the Maldives to the northeast.

The country has the smallest population of any other state of the African continent. Seychelles is made up of two main groups. The inner group of around 40 islands are rocky and mountainous. The second group of outer islands are low-lying and coralline. Most of Seychelles is covered by forest.

Social unrest is rare, but the government has acknowledged a crime rate increase, particularly on the main island, Mahé. Petty crime is likely on Mahé and Praslin islands, although the number of incidents is low compared to regional levels. Other issues facing the government are the curbing of the budget deficit, including the containment of social welfare costs, and further privatisation of public enterprises.

The government has a pervasive presence in economic activity, with public enterprises active in petroleum product distribution, insurance (has now been privatized), banking (is being privatized very soon), imports of basic products (now being privatized), telecommunications (4 private ISP/telecom companies), and a wide range of other businesses. Private sector development, infrastructure development (particularly water and sanitation) should improve living standards, and technical assistance to micro, small, and medium enterprises in entrepreneurship, human development, and financial market development should enhance industrial competitiveness.

Since independence in 1976, per capita output has expanded to roughly seven times the old near-subsistence level. Growth has been led by the tourist sector, which employs about 30% of the labour force and provides more than 70% of hard currency earnings, and by tuna fishing.

In recent years the government has encouraged foreign investment in order to upgrade hotels and other services. These incentives have given rise to an enormous amount of investment in real estate projects and new (mostly 5 star) resort properties. Hilton, Four Seasons and Banyan Tree are all new entrants to Seychelles. Development projects projected in the hundreds of millions of dollars each are in the beginning stages for Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airlines, Raffles, Shangri-La, etc. Other private developments such as Ile Aurore, Per Aquam and Eden Island are projected at over $2 billion.

Since introducing the Seychelles International Business Companies Act in 1994, over 200,000 companies have been registered and more than 600 new offshore companies continue to register each month. Seychelles is at the forefront of the “blue economy” movement focused on using oceans for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs while maintaining the ocean’s ecosystem. Since 2012, more intense structural reforms have been implemented, focusing on fiscal reform, the restructuring of state companies and financial system regulations.

The country’s’ recent strategy of attracting more tourists from emerging countries to compensate for less European visitors has paid off; visitor arrivals set a new record at 361,840 visitors, more than 3.5 times the resident population according to National Bureau of Statistics. Seychelles continues to improve its overall business environment, as shown by its improved World Bank Doing Business report ranking. Tourism, fisheries, and offshore financial activities are the main stimulants of growth. However, the economy’s high dependence on tourism for foreign exchange earnings leaves the external account vulnerable to developments in major tourist markets, such as the European Union and, increasingly, China.

The austerity policy applied by the government (reduction of public employees and privatisations) allowed the country to reduce its public debt from 183% of GDP in 2011 to a relatively high 53.8% estimated for 2019. The government aims to reduce the ratio to less than 50% by 2020 through fiscal discipline coupled with an improved debt management strategy.

Indeed, IMF anticipates the government debt to be 49.7% in 2020 and 45.4% in 2021 [Chart above 1]. The government had a surplus of 0.9% of GDP in 2019, which is expected to reach 1.6% in 2020 (IMF). Inflation rate decreased to 1.8% in 2019 and is expected to increase to 4.5% in 2020 and decrease slightly to 3.1% in 2021, according to the latest World Economic Outlook of the IMF as at April 2020 [Chart above 2].

Seychelles has the highest per capita GDP in Africa, is classified as an upper-middle income country and currently has the highest literacy rate and the best health care system in the East Africa region. The unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% in 2018 largely due to the reintroduction of the unemployment relief scheme in 2017, National Bureau of Statistics report noted [Chart above].

India and China are competing for influence in Seychelles. Faure prefers strategic partnership with India. A recent proposal to develop an Indian base on Assumption Island in the west of Seychelles at the northern end of the Mozambique channel has been opposed by the parliamentary opposition on neutral grounds. Meanwhile, China has trumpeted Seychelles’ accession to One Belt One Road only to see Faure backpedal on how involved Seychelles proposes to be. But Chinese commercial interest in Seychelles is intense and the opposition position on a China relationship is ambiguous.

The country’s lack of land as well as its physical remoteness will continue to constrain Seychelles’ growth prospects. New offshore hydrocarbon discoveries and installation of floating solar panels are likely to reduce Seychelles’ dependence on energy imports and boost its economic diversification.

Seychelles has the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Africa, at nearly $17 billion (2019), but inequality is significant, placing the prospect of continued shared prosperity in tighter focus. Climate change also poses long-term sustainability risks.

As of the second quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate in Seychelles stands at 6%. Nearly 1,100 people people have lost their jobs in Seychelles since the beginning of the year, mostly in the tourism sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to figures from the Ministry of Employment show [Chart above].

The economic and social shock from COVID-19 on the Seychellois economy is severe due to strong dependence on international tourism. Tourism accounts for approximately 30% of gross domestic product (GDP), making the country highly vulnerable to the current COVID-19 pandemic. According to the updated IMF forecasts from 14th April 2020, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19, GDP growth is expected to fall to -10.8% in 2020 and pick up to 8% in 2021, subject to the post-pandemic global economic recovery.

The global outbreak is drastically reducing economic activity in 2020 as tourist arrivals are projected to decline by more than 50%. This is affecting other sectors such as transportation; art, recreation and entertainment; wholesale and retail trade; and the financial and insurance sector. GDP is expected to contract by 15.9% in 2020 compared to the pre-pandemic projected growth rate of 3.5%. Recovery is expected to begin in 2021 with a projected increase of 4.7%, driven by a recovery in the tourist industry and a resumption in capital flows. If unmitigated, the poor are expected to bear a disproportionate impact of the economic shock. According to the 2013 household survey, about 6 out of 10 poor individuals have a job, mostly in informal activities in the service sector that are expected to experience significant declines.

President Danny Faure had in March this year, said that the government will as from the end of April 2020 assist with the payment of salaries of all workers in the private sector. The Financial Assistance for Job Retention scheme was set for this purpose. Faure had said that this programme will continue under his government next year, pending his reelection as president in this month’s presidential election. To date the scheme had considered 18,938 applications and assistance disbursed as of the end of August is $5 million.

The political establishment in Seychelles has historical roots in both one-party socialism and autocratic rule. The governmental structure of a country determines the manner in which laws are written, approved, and interpreted. Government type determines the manner in which elections are held as well as the country’s system of policing its citizens. Under the 1993 constitution, since amended, Seychelles government takes place in a framework of a presidential republic, whereby the President of Seychelles is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term of office.

At the same time, the same candidate cannot serve as the President of the Republic more than twice in a row. The President of the country represents Seychelles on the international stage. He has great influence in solving foreign policy issues, and also has the right to declare war since he is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The President has the right to appoint a Vice-President or remove him from office. Suffrage is universal; Seychellois is eligible to vote at age 18. Women participate actively in the government of the country and have held numerous posts, including positions in the cabinet and a proportion of seats in the National Assembly.

The unicameral Seychellois parliament, the National Assembly or Assemblée Nationale, consists of 34 members, of whom 25 are elected directly by popular vote, while the remaining 9 seats are appointed proportionally according to the percentage of votes received by each party. All members serve five-year terms. The cabinet is presided over and appointed by the president, subject to the approval of a majority of the legislature.

The country is divided into twenty-five administrative regions that comprise all of the inner islands. Eight of the districts make up the capital of Seychelles and are referred to as Greater Victoria. While other 14 districts are considered the rural part of the main island of Mahé with two districts on Praslin and one on La Digue which also includes respective satellite islands. The rest of the Outer Islands are not considered part of any district.

Seychelles become independent in 1976 and are governed by a coalition, with James Mancham as president and France Rene as prime minister. The previous president, France Albert René, first came to power in a coup d’état in 1978, one year after independence. Between 1981 and 1982, South African-based mercenaries try but fail to restore Mancham to power and an army-led mutiny is thwarted. France Albert René was democratically elected after the constitutional reforms of 1992.

In a dramatic political turn, the one-party political system was abandoned in 1992 under a new constitution that restored multiparty rule and saw Mancham return from exile to lead the SDP once more. Support of the SDP gradually declined with the rise of another opposition party, the Seychelles National Party (SNP, formerly the United Opposition), led by Wavel Ramkalawan. In elections for the 35-seat legislature in 1998, the SPPF won 61.7 percent of the vote, the SNP won 26.1 percent, and the SDP won only 12.1 percent. Rene also won reelection as president. Despite this political tumult, elections and transitions of power have been peaceful. He stood down in 2004 in favour of his vice-president, James Michel, who was re-elected in 2006.

The government controls much of the islands’ media, and operates radio and TV stations and the sole daily newspaper. There are several independent publications, including Seychelles Weekly and Vizyon.Private or pro-opposition publications can be robust in their reporting despite tough libel laws. In 2006, parliament bans political or religious organisations from running radio stations, sparking a rare outbreak of unrest.

The Seychelles political landscape has traditionally been dominated by the People’s Party (Parti Lepep: PL), now the United Seychelles Party (U-SEY), led by President Danny Faure, but modest fundamental policy differences with the Seychellois Democratic Alliance (Linyon Demokratik Seselwa: LDS) opposition coalition assists policy stability.

The opposition seems stronger than ever before. Following the 2015 parliamentary election, for the first time in the country, the opposing party had a majority in the assembly. The presidential election in December 2015 was closed-fought, and President James Michel narrowly elected for a third and last term by just 193 votes out of the 62,831 valid votes cast. The René’s long-time lieutenant and pale shadow James Michel had succeeded him as president, but never replicated his gravitas. Under Michel, Parti Lepep lost control of the National Assembly in 2016. Danny Faure term of office of the head of state in Seychelles lasts until 1 January 2021. The length of a head of state’s term has a direct effect on the power and influence of the executive position. A longer term of office provides the head of state with increased authority.

Incumbent Danny Faure, who represents the United Seychelles party, Wavel Ramkalawan from the Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) party and Alain St Ange from the One Seychelles party. The country’s electoral commission has accepted the nominations for the three, while rejecting a fourth potential candidate, Patrick Pillay, a former speaker of the national assembly who is a member of the Lalyans Seselwa party, because he did not have the required support of 500 registered voters. During a ceremony at the commission, the draw for the order in which the candidate names will appear on the ballot paper, was done. Ramkalawan will appear first, followed by Faure and St Ange.

President Faure is contesting the presidential election for the first time. He was the running mate of former president James Michel, who handed over power to him in 2016, nearly one year into his mandate. The presidential and legislative elections in Seychelles will take place October 22-24, is likely to be a close run between U-SEY and LDS candidates.

This year’s elections are expected to benefit from the December 2018 creation of a permanent chief electoral officer to oversee the Electoral Commission secretariat and its operations. This official will be responsible for preparations, logistical support, and hiring and training of election staff. This arrangement, moreover, is expected to further ensure the separation of responsibilities between the oversight and the implementation tasks of the Electoral Commission.

The Seychelles has played a valuable role within Africa’s peace and security architecture through its interdiction and prosecution of transnational crimes committed on the western Indian Ocean, primarily piracy and narcotics trafficking. The Seychelles is expected to continue to fill this role regardless of which candidate wins the presidency. Voters of more than 90,000 people of Seychelles will dictate the tune.

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