Seychelles leader in tough battle for third term
The Indian Ocean archipelago of the Seychelles goes to the polls Thursday with incumbent President James Michel facing his first serious re-election challenge from rivals promising to boost the economy and combat poverty.
Michel, of the Parti Lepep — “The People” in the local Seychellois Creole language — hopes to win a third and final term, as permitted by the constitution, but faces five other candidates.
The tourism-dependent archipelago nation, a former British colony, is made up of 115 islands, some as much as 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from the main island of Mahe.
Voting on the most remote islands opens Thursday, with the main vote due Saturday on Mahe.
“We have achieved economic recovery, without jeopardising our social model and I would like to continue along this same path,” 71-year-old Michel told the Seychelles News Agency.
“I wish of course to continue and accelerate the reforms undertaken,” said Michel, who won elections in 2004 with 54 percent of the vote, and in 2011 with 55 percent.
– First time for second round? –
Michel is running against a fragmented opposition, but observers say a run-off is possible for the first time since multi-party politics was re-introduced in 1993.
If it does go to a run-off, the second round of voting should take place one to two weeks after the first.
Analysts say Michel faces only two real challengers: Wavel Ramkalawan of the Seychelles National Party, and Patrick Pillay of the Lalyans Seselwa (Seychellois Alliance), a former minister who defected from Michel’s Parti Lepep.
“Normally things are between two candidates, but the implosion within Parti Lepep has resulted in a new dynamism,” said Ramkalawan, a 54-year old Anglican priest.
“For the first time, there is talk of a second round, this issue had never arisen before. … The political atmosphere is entirely different.”
– Corruption crackdown –
Pillay has made an election promise to combat corruption on the islands, long seen as a popular tax haven for the world’s super rich.
“Seychelles has made enormous losses as a result of corruption, and the economy has suffered, this has helped to increase the gap between the rich and the poor,” Pillay said.
“As soon as we are in power, we will have an audit to find out where they have stashed all the money,” he said, referring to local officials and business people suspected of corruption.
“I do not want to put anyone in jail, but only ask that they give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give back what is owed to Seychelles.”
While the opposition is divided for the first round, they have promised to unite behind a single candidate to challenge Michel if the vote goes to a second round.
“In the past we had only one opposition party… maybe that one party could not do this on its own… but now we have many to do the work,” said Alexia Amesbury, a 64-year-old Seychellois lawyer, and the country’s first-ever female candidate.
Michel said he welcomed the challenge.
“The candidates are my political opponents and not enemies,” Michel said.
“We need an opposition and a strong government to consolidate our achievements, but we need a credible opposition that is responsible and not vindictive, hateful, vengeful and intolerant,” he said.
Results are expected on the evening of December 5.