afrol News, 14 April - James Alix Michel this afternoon switches offices from Vice-President to President of Seychelles. The new Seychellois leader was handpicked by President France Albert René, who has ruled the archipelago since he seized power in a coup d'état in 1977. Mr Michel is described as "a man of great virtues," but it is questioned whether he can win the 2006 elections.
In February, President René surprisingly announced his retirement after ruling Seychelles for over 27 years. The 68-year-old President in a broadcasted state of the nation speech said it was time for younger forces to take over. He however remains leader of the leftist ruling FPPS party.
Mr Michel, who will be named the Seychellois President in a ceremony this afternoon, has served as President René's Vice-President since 1996. He comes from a humble background as a teacher, but rose to economic and political importance through involvement in the archipelago's booming tourism industry and engagement in Mr René's political party even before independence in 1976.
The 59-year-old has followed President René in different political posts through all eras of Seychelles' independent history. He was in the party's central committee as Mr René staged a bloodless coup against the country's first President, James Mancham, only one year after independence. During the 1977-93 one-party socialist dictatorship, Mr Michel held key ruling party and ministerial portfolios.
During the rule of President René, Mr Michel on several occasions has been the head of the Seychellois economy. In these 27 years, the small nation has experienced an economic boom based on its tourism and fisheries sectors. This, according to the opposition, has however been jeopardised during the last years due to an accumulated budget deficit.
The new Seychellois leader also participated in the country's slow democratisation process, which started with multi-party elections in 1993. Seychelles however still suffers from limited press freedom and transparency and, according to the opposition, rigged elections. According to official results, President René and his FPPS party only narrowly won the last presidential (2001) and legislative (2002) electi
Outgoing President France Albert René: «I prefer to be called the 'architect of the Seychellois Nation'.»
While Mr Michel has thoroughly followed the footsteps of President René during the last decades, the Seychellois nevertheless expect him to speed up the democratisation process. In a statement to press, the still-Vice-President also promised he was to introduce more openness of dialogue, especially in relating to the Seychellois economy.
Seychelles' opposition leader, Wavel Ramkallawan, has expressed increased concern over the negative trends in the national economy and demanded more dialogue with the ruling party. The leader of the centrist Seychelles National Party furthermore said last week he would be cooperating with President Michel, although he deplored that the naming of the new leader would "not be in line with democratic principles."
- This arrangement is according to the constitution, Mr Ramkallawan nevertheless agreed, while calling for new elections. He deplored that "the people of Seychelles have not been directly involved in the choice of their leader." Mr Ramkallawan, according to official results, gained 45 percent of the votes in the 2001 presidential poll.
President René, meanwhile, is preparing for his honourable retirement as the "architect of the Seychellois Nation," as he prefers to be called. In an exhibition opened at State House in Victoria on 7 April dedicated to President René, the achievements of the long-serving leader are illustrated in a farewell-homage to Mr René.
During the opening of the exhibition, Mr René was reported to be moved by all his achievements, some of which, "he himself hardly remembered," according to the government. Mr Michel now needed "to consolidate what we have achieved," he told the local press. Asked what he would be doing during his retirement, President René said: "I'll be resting, fishing and also helping with the [ruling FPPS] party."
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