Model Elections but Questionable Democracy: The Recently Concluded Elections in Seychelles Have Been Described as a Model for the Rest of Africa but the Continued Victory of the Ruling SWPPF Party Could Undermine Growth in the Future, Says Neil Ford

By Ford, Neil | African Business, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Model Elections but Questionable Democracy: The Recently Concluded Elections in Seychelles Have Been Described as a Model for the Rest of Africa but the Continued Victory of the Ruling SWPPF Party Could Undermine Growth in the Future, Says Neil Ford


Ford, Neil, African Business


The recent elections in Seychelles were calm and orderly but the Commonwealth Secretariat has appealed for major changes to the way the country is governed.

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Seychelles has developed economically under the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF), which has ruled for the past 29 years, largely on the back of the boom in Indian Ocean tourism. However, it is feared that the lack of separation of party and state could undermine both further economic progress and the democratic process in the future.

As expected, the presidential poll proved to be a close contest. James Alix Michel won the election with 53.73% of the vote, ahead of the Seychelles National Party and Democratic Party (DP) alliance candidate, Wavel Ramkalawan, who is an Anglican priest, with 45.71%. The independent candidate, Philippe Boulle, trailed in a long way behind with just 0.5%.

Michel has been in power since 2004, when the incumbent, France Albert Rene, stepped down after 27 years in power. Michel commented: "I'm very happy. It is a victory for me and a consolidation. This is a mandate to continue the work that I have started."

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The election at the end of July was overseen by the Commonwealth's Independent Expert Team, which reported that the election was free, fair and credible and had "allowed for the expression of the will of the Seychellois people". The team, which was sent by the secretary-general following an invitation from the electoral commissioner of Seychelles, Hendrick Gappy, observed preparations for the presidential election, the polling, counting and results processes, and the overall electoral environment.

The Independent Expert Team's report, which was published in August, commended the work of Gappy and his team, in overseeing the election "in a professional and efficient manner". It stated: "We commend his efforts to ensure the fullest possible enfranchisement of registered voters, the sensitivity of the needs of vulnerable groups, and the provision of facilities to maintain effective communication between the polling stations and his office.

Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon said: "I congratulate the people of Seychelles for the peaceful exercise of their democratic rights and take this opportunity to reiterate the Commonwealth's commitment to assist in the future development of their democracy."

However, the Independent Expert Team report also listed a number of major recommended changes to the archipelago state's political system and electoral process. McKinnon said: "The report calls for the separation of the state and the ruling party. It also calls for the establishment of an independent Public Service Commission, so as to ensure civil service employment is not affected by any transition of power. The team has also urged the establishment of an electoral commission to enhance good governance. The report further notes the need for inter-party dialogue, and a vibrant and independent media."

In short, the report argues that although Seychelles returned to a multi-party democracy in 1991, after the 1977 coup that originally brought Rene to power, it remains an immature democracy in many ways. As in many African former one-party states, the ruling party continues to enjoy overwhelming influence and power, so that any opposition groups find it very difficult to mount a serious electoral challenge. However, the fact that Ramkalawan came within 8% of Michel in the election demonstrates that multiparty politics is alive and well in the Indian Ocean state, although changes are required.

Signs for optimism

There are a number of other signs for optimism. One of the most encouraging developments was the proportion of people who voted; it was one of the highest turnouts in world politics, at 88%. The limited size of the electorate in such a small country made each vote more valuable, while both of the main candidates used a variety of new methods to target floating voters.

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