Freedom in the World 2010 - Seychelles
|Publication Date||3 May 2010|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2010 - Seychelles, 3 May 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c0cead424.html [accessed 14 July 2014]|
Political Rights Score: 3 *
Civil Liberties Score: 3 *
Status: Partly Free
In 2009, the Seychelles' economy was buffeted by the global recession and by the expanding reach and incidence of piracy in the Indian Ocean.
The Seychelles gained independence from Britain in 1976 as a multiparty democracy and remained a member of the Commonwealth. In 1977, Prime Minister France-Albert Rene seized power from President James Mancham. Rene then made his Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) the sole legal party. In 1992, however, the SPPF passed a constitutional amendment legalizing opposition parties, and many exiled leaders returned. Rene won multiparty elections in 1993.
The Seychelles National Party (SNP), led by Wavel Ramkalawan, emerged as the strongest opposition group in 1998 elections. Rene won a narrow victory in the 2001 presidential election, engendering opposition complaints of fraud. In October 2002, Rene dissolved parliament and called for early legislative elections. Although the SPPF won, the SNP made significant gains.
Rene stepped down as president in 2004 and was replaced by Vice President James Michel. The Indian Ocean tsunami struck later that year, causing about $30 million in damage to public infrastructure; the vital tourism and fishing industries also suffered. Michel defeated Ramkalawan in the July 2006 presidential election.
The SPPF's majority of 23 seats was left unchanged by the May 2007 legislative elections; the SNP took the remaining 11. Michel subsequently restructured his government, placing an emphasis on environmental issues that could affect the country's reputation as a tourist destination.
In recent years, the Seychelles' economy has been harmed by rising food and fuel costs. Recent International Monetary Fund missions have found that the country has one of the highest debt burdens in Africa and continues to suffer from rising inflation and depletion of the central bank's foreign reserves. By contrast, the political arena has remained relatively placid. The Seychelles' economy continued to worsen in 2009 due to the global recession and the expanding reach and incidence of piracy in the Indian Ocean.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
The Seychelles is an electoral democracy. The July 2006 presidential election and the 2007 parliamentary polls were generally viewed as having met basic international norms. However, the ruling SPPF's control over state resources and most media gives its candidates a significant advantage at the polls. The president and the unicameral National Assembly are elected by universal adult suffrage for five-year terms. The head of government is the president, who appoints the cabinet. Of the National Assembly's 34 members, 25 are elected directly and 9 are allocated on a proportional basis to parties gaining at least 10 percent of the vote.
The SPPF remains the dominant party, and the opposition SNP has claimed that its sympathizers are harassed by police and victimized by job-related security investigations in the public sector.
Concerns over government corruption have focused on the lack of transparency in privatization and the allocation of government-owned land. Seychelles was ranked 54 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The government controls much of the islands' media, operating radio and television stations. The daily newspaper, the Nation, is government-owned, and at least two other newspapers support, or are published by, the SPPF. The opposition weekly Regar has been sued for libel by government officials under broad constitutional restrictions on free expression, including the suspension of printing in 2006 after the paper received an exorbitant fine. The other major independent newspaper, Le Nouveau Seychelles Weekly, has also faced state interference in its functioning. The board of directors of the officially multipartisan Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation includes several non-SPPF members. A controversial 2006 law restricts private radio-station ownership. High licensing fees have also discouraged the development of privately owned broadcast media. The government does not limit internet access.
The right of religious freedom is mandated by the constitution and exists in practice. Churches in this predominantly Roman Catholic country have been strong voices for human rights and democratization, and they generally function without government interference.
The constitution endorses freedoms of assembly and association. Private human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations operate in the country. Public demonstrations are generally tolerated, although on occasion the government has impeded opposition gatherings. Workers have the right to strike. However, the Seychelles Federation of Workers' Unions, which is associated with the ruling party, has been the only active trade union since the Seychelles National Trade Union ceased operations in 2007.
Judges generally decide cases fairly but face interference in those involving major economic or political interests. The majority of the members of the Seychellois judiciary are foreign nationals, and the impartiality of the non-Seychellois magistrates can be compromised by the fact that they are subject to contract renewal. In September 2009, newly-appointed Chief Justice Frederick Egonda-Ntende from Uganda outlined a policy to reduce the number of pending court cases and accelerate judgment of new cases. Security forces have at times been accused of using excessive force, including torture and arbitrary detention.
Nearly all of the country's political and economic life is dominated by people of European and South Asian origin. Islanders of Creole extraction face de facto discrimination, and discrimination against foreign workers has been reported. The government does not restrict domestic travel but may deny passports for unspecified reasons of "national interest."
The Seychelles in recent years has boasted one of the highest percentages of women in parliament in Africa at 24 percent, despite the lack of a quota system. Inheritance laws do not discriminate against women. In general, however, women are less likely than men to be literate, as they enjoy fewer educational opportunities. While nearly all adult females are classified as "economically active," most are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Domestic violence remains a widespread problem. The government adopted a National Strategy on Domestic Violence in 2008 aimed at decreasing its incidence.
*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.