afrol News, 2 June - The Seychellois opposition, which never has been let win an election since independence in 1976, this week asked the Victoria parliament to allow for general elections given the August presidential polls. The ruling Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) party voted against the motion, meaning that legislative elections will only be held in November 2007.
The motion for early elections was presented by the leader of the opposition, Wavel Ramkalawan, representing the Seychelles National Party (SNP). According to the Seychellois government, all 22 MPs of the ruling SPPF voted against the motion, while all the 11 SNP MPs voted in favour.
The Victoria government claims that, "in line with the constitution, presidential election should be held before 3 August of this year and the parliamentary election in November 2007, at the end of its five-year mandate."
The opposition however pointed to the special circumstances surrounding the last presidential polls and the surprising handover of the presidency from ex-strongman France Albert René to current Seychellois President James Michel in April 2004, without any elections being held.
Presenting his arguments for early parliamentary election, Mr Ramkalawan said since the return of multi-party politics in Seychelles in 1993, it has been customary for both the presidential and parliamentary elections to take place together. The tradition, he said, was however interrupted when ex-President René held an early presidential election in 2001 before the end of his mandate and the parliamentary election was therefore held a year later.
He said that given the massive public anticipation for elections, it would be "more appropriate" to have both elections together so as to "give the leadership of the country a fresh start" - since both party's nominated presidential candidates were seeking their first five-year mandate in office - to "boost investors' confidence" and to enable people to continue with their lives without "having to live in constant anxiety."
Furthermore, Mr Ramkalawan said given Seychelles' current economic constraints, it would also be more cost-effective to have both elections at the same time, as the country would be able to maximise the use of resources, compared to having separate elections. He added that his SNP opposition party would be ready for both elections if held in August.
Speaking against the motion and on behalf of the ruling party, Patrick Herminie said as a minority party, the opposition did "not have the authority to call for the dissolution of the assembly." Mr Herminie said the call from the opposition was inappropriate at this time, because the ruling SPPF party still had "a workable majority in the assembly" and was "enjoying popular support."
According to the SNP, however, the negative parliamentary vote may not be the final word. While MPs of the ruling SPPF party had been "under strict orders" to vote against the motion, many party leader want "to re-open the debate", believing that the party would "be discredited by seeming to back out of elections after declaring so loudly that it was ready." President Michel may want to dissolve parliament, the SNP speculates. "The SPPF is running scared," the opposition triumphs.
Seychelles has yet to experience real democracy. Mr René took power in a coup in 1977 and led the nation in an authoritarian way for almost 30 years. While achieving a strong economy, President René showed little respect for basic democratic rules. Only in 1993, he allowed opposition parties to be established, but these were given no fair chance in elections.
As the national economy started crumbling, President René in April 2004 handed over powers to his handpicked Vice-President, Mr Michel, but still is leader of the SPPF. The new Seychellois President so far has shown some signs of allowing a more free political debate and giving the opposition access to the dominating state media, but the SPPF remains in total control. President René so far has not been able to turn the negative economic trends, giving the opposition a narrow line of hope they may be able to win the forthcoming polls.
Preparations for the presidential polls in Seychelles are already well advanced. While the elections have to be concluded before 3 August, President René has yet to set a date. A two-man advance team of Commonwealth election observers already arrived in Seychelles last week.
It is expected that the presidential elections will become a close fight between the incumbent President - who never has presented himself in an election - and SNP leader and Anglican priest, Mr Ramkalawan. Mr Ramkalawan already stood up against ex-President René in the 2001 elections, where he according to the official results polled 45 percent of the vote. President René was said to have been re-elected with 54 percent of the vote.
The SNP has already started its election campaign, focusing on its long struggle for democracy and human rights in Seychelles. "A victory for the SNP will be the first democratic and peaceful change of government since Independence in 1976," party campaigners remind the Seychellois voters.
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