Although everyday life in the Seychelles remains as peaceful as ever – living up to the islands’ paradisiacal tourist image – there have been tensions brewing below the surface ever since disputed elections last month.
In the presidential election on 16–18 December, President James Michel
was officially re-elected, beating his closest rival by a mere 193 votes
– a razor sharp margin even in a country with a population of just
90,000 people. The opposition, led by Wavel Ramkalawan, immediately
called for a review, intimating that there had been vote rigging and
The Supreme Court is currently scrutinising the electoral process
following petitions from the opposition and will eventually decide
whether the poll will be re-run later this year.
The ruling party accuses the opposition of being sore losers, while
the latter accuse the president and his supporters of being cheats.
How popular is Michel?
There are genuine ideological differences between Michel and
Ramkalawan. Whereas Michel continues the moderate socialist policies of
his predecessor, Ramkalawan runs on a liberal-conservative platform. And
while the ruling SPPF accuses the opposition of incompetence and
opportunism, intimating that only they have the skills to run the
country, the SNP alleges that its rivals rule through cronyism and have
been unable to instigate necessary reforms in the Seychellois economy.
They have now also added electoral fraud to their list of accusations.
Among the electorate, it is difficult to say how popular the
long-serving James Michel really is. “Yes, he is competent, honest and
wants the best for his people,” say some. However, others claim that the
“people are fed up with him” and that “if he had been popular, he would
have got 55, or 60, or even 70% of the vote”.
Supporters of the government say that if there were a change of
power, welfare would decline and inequality would increase, while those
sympathetic to the opposition insist the country can do better and point
to recent statistics that suggest 40% of the population lives below the
Some others simply complain that there is a lack of choice. One small
businessman, exasperated with the rules and regulations of what he sees
as “still in many ways a one-party state”, jokes that even the road
network doesn’t give people alternatives. “There’s just one road to
Victoria [the capital] – there is too little choice in this country!”
It’s a small world
Perhaps the most characteristic aspect of Seychellois politics and
economics is its tiny scale. With only 90,000 citizens, anonymity is
difficult to achieve and developing a state bureaucracy without drawing
on personal networks is virtually impossible. People in the political
class know each other either personally or through common acquaintances,
and they know who they can trust and who to avoid.
One example of this attitude can be seen in the rumours that spread
at one point that Etihad Airlines would pull out of Seychelles if
Ramkalawan won the presidential election. Clearly unfounded, this
far-fetched idea is indicative of the widespread faith here that
personal networks are the key to everything.
The significance of personal networks cannot be spirited away since
it concerns the very fabric of small-scale Seychellois society.
Moreover, the stark dualism of Seychellois politics encourages
polarisation rather than compromise.
This is unlikely to change unless there is electoral reform that
could incorporate strong proportionality. This might in turn enable
party pluralism, dampening the dualism which is currently creating an
unproductive tension in Seychellois society.
Without this, we are likely to see similar conflicts arise later this
year when parliamentary elections – and perhaps re-run presidential
polls depending on how the court rules – will see the same two rival
parties pitted against each other once again.