2001 Scores

Status: Partly Free
Freedom Rating: 3.0
Civil Liberties: 3
Political Rights: 3


The year 2000 was a generally calm year for the Seychelles. President France Albert René and his ruling Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) party continued to exert nearly full control through a pervasive system of political patronage after being returned to power in the March 1998 elections. The government continued to implement its own home-grown form of economic liberalization.

The Seychelles, an archipelago of some 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean, was a French colony until 1810. It was then colonized by Britain until independence in 1976. The country functioned as a multiparty democracy for only one year until René, then prime minister, seized power by ousting President James Mancham. Mancham and other opposition leaders operated parties and human rights groups in exile after René made his SPPF the sole legal party. René and his party continue to control government jobs, contracts, and resources. René won one-party "show" elections in 1979, 1984, and 1989. By 1992, however, the SPPF had passed a constitutional amendment to legalize opposition parties, and many exiled leaders returned to participate in a constitutional commission and multiparty elections.

René won a legitimate electoral mandate in the country's first multiparty elections in 1993. The 1998 polls were accepted as generally legitimate by opposition parties, which had waged a vigorous campaign. The Seychelles National Party of the Reverend Wavel Ramkalawan emerged as the strongest opposition group by espousing economic liberalization, which René had resisted.

President René also heads the country's defense and interior ministries. Vice President James Michel, who also heads a number of ministries, has assumed a more prominent role in daily government affairs and has been viewed as René's likely successor. In a recent government reshuffle, however, Michel lost the portfolio of economic planning while conserving his other responsibilities as minister of finance, environment, land, and transport.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

In presidential and legislative elections in March 1998, the Seychellois people were able to exercise their democratic right to choose their representatives. As in 1993, however, SPPF control over state resources and most media gave ruling-party candidates significant advantages in the polls. René won with 67 percent of the vote. The ruling SPPF won 30 national assembly seats. The Reverend Wavel Ramakalwan came in second in the presidential poll (19.5 percent) as did his party in the parliamentary election (3 seats).

The president and the national assembly are elected by universal adult suffrage for five-year terms. As amended in 1996, the 1993 constitution provides for a 34-member national assembly, with 25 members directly elected and 9 allocated on a proportional basis to parties with at least ten percent of the vote. Other amendments have strengthened presidential powers. Local governments composed of district councils were reconstituted in 1991 after their abolition two decades earlier.

The judiciary includes a supreme court, a constitutional court, a court of appeals, an industrial court, and magistrates' courts. Judges generally decide cases fairly, but still face interference in cases involving major economic or political actors.

Two private human rights-related organizations – Friends for a Democratic Society and the Center for Rights and Development – operate in the country along with other nongovernmental organizations. Churches in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation have also been strong voices for human rights and democratization, and generally function without government interference. Discrimination against foreign workers has been reported. Security forces have been accused of using excessive force, including torture and arbitrary detention, especially in attempting to curb crime.

Freedom of speech has improved since one-party rule ended in 1993, but self-censorship persists. There is one government daily newspaper, The Nation, and at least two other newspapers support or are published by the SPPF. Independent newspapers are sharply critical of the government, but government dominance and the threat of libel suits restrict media freedom. Opposition parties publish several newsletters and other publications. The opposition weekly Regar has been sued repeatedly for libel under broad constitutional restrictions on free expression. The government-controlled Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation, however, provided substantial coverage to opposition as well as government candidates during the last elections.

Women are less likely than men to be literate and they have fewer educational opportunities. While almost all adult females are classified as "economically active," most are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Domestic violence against women is reportedly widespread, but is rarely prosecuted and only lightly punished. Islanders of Creole extraction face de facto discrimination. Nearly all of the Seychelles' political and economic life is dominated by people of European and Asian origin. Approximately 34 percent of the total population is under 15 years of age.

The right to strike is formally protected by the 1993 Industrial Relations Act, but is limited by several regulations. The SPPF-associated National Workers' Union no longer monopolizes union activity. Two independent unions are now active. The government does not restrict domestic travel, but may deny passports for reasons of "national interest." Religious freedom is respected.

Seychelles has few natural resources and little industry. The government, however, has begun to diversify the economy and move it away from its heavy reliance on tourism, which contributed 70 per cent of foreign exchange earnings in 1998. Since the early 1990s, the government has implemented home-grown economic reforms with some progress. Government reforms include privatization of state farms, a reforestation project, and new marketing structures as well as upgrading infrastructure and irrigation facilities for farms. The government is providing economic incentives to promote the production of bananas and mangoes and a dairy plant. Nearly all of the nation's hotels have been privatized, along with most of the tourist industry that the country relies on heavily for its foreign exchange. The fiscal deficit reached a record high of 24 percent of gross domestic product in 1998 and remained high at 17 percent in 1999. This deficit has been financed largely by domestic borrowing and drawdowns of reserves, which has resulted in a shortage of foreign exchange.

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