afrol News, 6 May - The main opposition leader in Seychelles says he is confident that, if President James Michel loses the upcoming elections, he will peacefully stand down.
Wavel Ramkalawan, leader of the island nation's main opposition party, the Seychelles National Party (SNP), in an interview with afrol News says he is confident to win the 19-21 May presidential elections in Seychelles and to be peacefully inaugurated as the nation's fourth President.
A former Anglican priest, Mr Ramkalawan came close to winning the last elections in Seychelles, with 46 percent of the vote. This, he explains, was achieved despite strongly unfair conditions strongly favouring incumbent President Michel.
Mr Ramkalawan was among the activists fighting for a return to multi-party democracy from the dictatorship of President Albert Rene, crowned with victory in 1993.
While democracy has remained imperfect in Seychelles since that, it has been considerably strengthened over the years. "There is no way back; it cannot be reversed," Mr Ramkalawan describes the democratisation process in Seychelles.
Asked what he thinks would happen if his SNP party wins this month's elections, Mr Ramkalawan says: "President Michel will step down."
The opposition leader adds that President Michel was among the first African leaders to urge Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo to step down after he had lost elections, saying he could not imagine the Seychellois President wanting to create an Ivorian situation on the archipelago.
According to Mr Ramkalawan, the Seychellois ruling party has no other choice than to accept election results as the nation now has become much more dependent on cooperation with West. He mentions the anti-piracy fight, the deep-reaching economic reform package agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Seychelles' dependency on tourism as factors speaking against post-election chaos.
Mr Ramkalawan sees this as the type of progress that his party has fought for over the years. President Michel's predecessor, President Rene, "would not have stepped down," Mr Ramkalawan told afrol News.
He agrees there has been "much progress in democracy" under current President Michel, who originally was VP under President Rene. But most of the victories achieved, such as the setting up of a human rights commission, had been "spearheaded by the SNP," Mr Ramkalawan holds.
Confronted with his recent statements in the opposition newspaper 'Regar' that Seychelles remains a "dictatorship", Mr Ramkalawan told afrol
Wavel Ramkalawan, leader of the Seychelles National Party (SNP)
News that "elements" of dictatorship remained in the country, listing examples of how the ruling party monopolises all powers without giving the opposition and civil society groups access to information or influence on decision-making.
"It is still very much a dictatorship," he holds. "People are scared to open their mouth," risking not getting housing or their children getting scholarships if they belong to the opposition, according to Mr Ramkalawan.
"For an 18-year-old to apply for a government job, he needs to go through 'security clearing', which happens at State House. In interviews, they ask who you are, what you vote, who your friends are and so on," he explains, adding that this of course could be intimidating.
One of the gravest problems for Seychelles' imperfect democracy is the biased press, Mr Ramkalawan points out. State broadcasters and the country's main daily newspaper, 'The Nation', are mere organs for the government - something Foreign Minister Jean-Paul Adam confirmed to afrol News.
The SNP has already presented a list of concerns to election observers that are monitoring the Seychellois elections. These include poor opposition access to the press, intimidation of voters and longer campaigning periods for the ruling party than for the opposition.
Nevertheless, Mr Ramkalawan is very optimistic in advance of the elections, saying he is "feeling" a greater interest than ever among voters.
While the ruling party had moved from socialist policies to rough capitalism under President Michel, according to the opposition leader, the liberal-conservative SNP was now better addressing poverty-related issues, he holds.
Mr Ramkalawan therefore is optimistic 2011 will be the year of a peaceful power transfer in Seychelles. Asked to predict the results, he says: "We will win outrightly in the first round, with minimum 53 percent."
But what happens if the electoral commission concludes the SNP has lost? "In that case, we will accept defeat," Mr Ramkalawan promises, saying he fully trusts the commission in its work: "If this is the count, this is it."
And a new loss would not be the end of the world for Mr Ramkalawan, he reveals. "Even if I were to lose the elections, I can be content with my contribution to multi-party democracy and the ruling of Seychelles, especially the forming of its economic policies."
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