The Nordic Africa Institute

Commentary

Tight race expected in Seychellois elections

People on the street in Victoria, capital of Seychelles.

Street in Victoria, the capital of Seychelles. Photo: Y. Ballester, creative commons.

Date • 2 Oct 2020

Who is the best person to repair Seychelles’ damaged, tourism-driven economy? Incumbent President Danny Faure can expect a tight race against challengers Wavel Ramkalawan and Alain St Ange in the upcoming elections.

This year, to save public money in the time of a global pandemic, parliamentary elections will be held alongside the presidential poll on 22 to 24 October.

“Three days of elections may seem a lot for the least populous country in Africa, but considering Seychelles consists of 115 small islands, voting is a bit of a logistical challenge”, former NAI researcher Tor Sellström points out.

In addition to the incumbent President Danny Faure and opposition leader Wavel Ramkalawan, this time a third candidate is also seeking office: former minister of tourism, Alain St Ange.

Portrait of Tor Sellström

Tor Sellström.

The outcome of the elections is hard to foretell, Sellström says. It is likely to be as tight a race as the previous election, when only a couple of hundred votes separated the winner and the loser.

Political parties are not really divided by ideological differences any longer, Sellström says, despite the country’s socialist past and later introduction of a multi-party system, with traditional right- and left-leaning parties.

“Now it is more a question of electing a person than voting for an ideology. Important to note is that neither ethnicity nor religion are political issues on Seychelles, as opposed to many other African states”.

Exclusive and high-value tourism is the main economic activity in Seychelles. Every year up to 400,000 tourists visit the islands – four times more people than the population.

Read book by Tor Sellström on Seychelles Africa in the Indian Ocean: islands in ebb and flowexternal link, opens in new window.

Large numbers of business people also arrive regularly. Over the past decade, financial services have become another big source of national income.

“Normally, tax havens have bad connotations. And, fair enough, some money-laundering attempts have been detected, but in Seychelles financial services have definitely brought benefits to people. Compared to countries on the African continent, standards of living are very good”, Sellström remarks.

According to the 2019 UN Human Development Report, Seychelles is the only African country rated very high in terms of human development. It is also the only sub-Saharan country classified as high income by the World Bank.

Being an African success story in many ways, however, does not protect Seychelles from the severe implications of the Covid-19 outbreak. While few cases have been recorded on the islands, the impact on global tourism weighs heavily on economic revenues.

The World Bank predicts that national GDP may sink by 16 percent due to the pandemic. “Seychelles went into complete lockdown in March. That was a firm decision to take for a nation that depends on tourism”, Sellström concludes.

TEXT: Johan Sävström

Seychelles

Independence from Britain was won in 1976. The following year, President James Mancham was overthrown by Albert René, who declared a socialist one-party state. In 2004, René stepped down in favour of his vice president, James Michel, who was re-elected twice.

Michel resigned mid-term after a shake-up of national politics, when in 2016 the opposition won parliamentary elections. It marked the first transfer of power in the nation’s history, and Vice President Danny Faure took office to complete the term.