Voters in the Seychelles will head to the polls 22-24 October to elect their next president and parliament.
Three candidates are standing as president for the next five-year term: incumbent president Danny Faure, of the United Seychelles party; Wavel Ramkalawan, of the Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (Seychellois Democratic Union, or LDS); and Alain St Ange, leader of the One Seychelles party.
The primary issues in the campaign are addressing the rising cost of living and the need to boost economic growth and employment levels. The impact of Covid-19 on the country’s tourism industry – its main source of foreign exchange earnings – means that the campaign is even more domestically focussed than usual.
Having given control of the National Assembly to the opposition for the first time in 2016, Seychellois voters may be feeling inclined not only to do that again but, in what would be the first time since independence, elect a president from a party other than United Seychelles.
Around 70,000 people out of a population of approximately 96,000 are eligible to vote in the election, which is taking place over three days across the western Indian Ocean archipelago.
Among African countries, Seychelles boasts some of the highest levels of economic development and living standards. Under the stewardship of United Seychelles and its earlier incarnations, it graduated to the ranks of high-income countries in 2015. Together with Mauritius, which moved into the high-income bracket for the first time in July 2020, Seychelles is the only sub-Saharan African country to have achieved that status.
That success has been due to prudent economic management over the last decade, supported by the tourism industry, which, according to the World Bank, accounts for approximately 30 per cent of gross domestic product. In the wake of Covid-19, that is now also a great weakness. With tourist arrivals expected to be down by 50 per cent in 2020 and GDP likely to contract by 15.9 per cent, the effects will be felt across the community. They have come at a time when issues such as the cost of living, income inequalities and the need for greater employment and educational opportunities were already of growing public concern.
Of the three presidential contenders, that has the effect of placing Danny Faure, as the current president, at a comparative disadvantage, although, as the leader of the largest party in the previous National Assembly, LDS chief Wavel Ramkalawan is not untainted, either.
The United Seychelles party, under various names (most recently, the People’s Party, or Parti Lepep), has ruled the archipelagic country since independence from the UK in 1976.
Current leader Faure is vying to be elected to the office of president, having moved from the vice-presidency into the top job when then-President James Michel resigned unexpectedly in October 2016.
Despite a largely successful response to the Covid pandemic, Faure made a number of rapid changes as he adjusted his government’s policy responses, which created an impression of uncertainty and inconsistency that may have potentially weakened his standing in the eyes of some voters. That, together with the economic effects of the pandemic and the sheer longevity of his party’s time in office, could make his re-election campaign harder than might otherwise have been the case.
Mr Ramkalawan, an Anglican priest by training, is making his seventh attempt at the presidency. Having won control of the National Assembly in 2016, the LDS will be wanting to build upon that by having voters move Mr Ramkalawan into the presidential State House.
It is aiming to do that by pitching itself to voters as the party that will expand and diversify the economy by investing in the key areas of tourism, environmental protection, clean energy developments, IT and financial services, and food production and processing, especially fisheries. While there is little doubt that that is a sensible strategy (and one that does stand to benefit the country), both United Seychelles and One Seychelles are saying similar things.
Founded in April 2019, the One Seychelles party is led by Alain St Ange, who, from 2012-16, held the ministerial portfolios of Tourism, Culture, Civil Aviation, and Ports and Marine in the Michel Government. St Ange has previously been the CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board and, in 2012, was the inaugural president of the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands regional tourism organisation. In 2016, he was a leading candidate for the role of Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organisation.
Not surprisingly, St Ange prioritises the tourism industry and its role in the country’s post-Covid economic recovery. Mr St Ange has already stated that, if elected president, he will also take on the role of Tourism Minister. One of his party’s initiatives to rebuild the tourism industry is the introduction of Covid-19 testing and screening at overseas airports prior to the boarding of Seychelles-bound flights by passengers.
Perhaps even more ambitious, and a potentially even bigger vote winner, is the promise to raise the minimum wage from 5,800 rupees ($448) per month to Rs 7,500 ($576) per month. Having gone on the record as promising that ‘We shall ensure that the cost of living sees a marked decline within our first year in office’, a future St Ange Government may have its work cut out for it, with much hinging on being able to return the economy to growth.
Few, if any, public opinion polls appear to have been conducted, so gauging voting intentions is difficult. As politicians like to say, it will truly be a case of the only poll to matter being the one on voting day.