Election preview: Seychelles

Another country makes its appearance in this blog for the first time: the small Indian Ocean nation of Seychelles goes to the polls tomorrow to elect both a president and a parliament.

Seychelles is a former British colony, so by now you probably know the story: rushed decolonisation, inadequate safeguards against authoritarianism, a bad electoral system, rapidly leading to a choice between political instability and dictatorship.

In 1977, the year after Seychelles’ independence, its then prime minister, Albert René, overthrew the president in a coup and established a one-party state. He survived numerous coup attempts himself, but after the end of the Cold War he was obliged to concede a multi-party system. But his party (now called United Seychelles) remained dominant, and for another 25 years it never lost an election.

René retired in 2004 and was succeeded by his vice-president, James Michel. He comfortably won elections in 2006 and 2011, but in December 2015, seeking a third term, he just squeaked in, beating long-time opposition leader Wavel Ramkalawan by only 193 votes, with 50.2% in the second round.

Worse was to come for the ruling party. Less than a year later, in September 2016, the parliamentary election produced a narrow victory for the opposition Seychelles Democratic Union (LDS), which won 49.6% of the vote and 19 of the 33 seats. Michel promptly resigned; vice-president Danny Faure took over, and appointed the LDS’s Roger Mancienne as prime minister in a “cohabitation” arrangement.

Now the two elections are being held simultaneously. Faure is seeking election in his own right, running against Ramkalawan, who is now making his sixth attempt on the job. Meanwhile the LDS has split, with one of its component parties now supporting Faure. The Seychelles economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism, has been badly hit by Covid-19, but it’s reported that Faure is nonetheless favored to be returned.

There is also a third presidential candidate, former minister Alain St Ange, so if it’s close it’s possible that a runoff could be required, probably in two weeks’ time. The parliamentary election is based on 26 single-member electorates (first-past-the-post, of course), with up to ten additional members from proportional lists, one for every 10% of the vote that a party receives.

Writing in the Conversation, Victoria and Suzanne Graham report that Seychelles “has built up a fairly good reputation for well-functioning, democratic governance,” and that “Its elections are managed by an objective, credible and responsible electoral institution.” That’s more than a lot of countries can say, and in these difficult times it’s worth celebrating.

There are only about 75,000 voters in Seychelles – if it was an Australian municipality it would have been amalgamated by now into something bigger – so results shouldn’t take long to come through on Sunday.

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