Return to a Multiparty System

Seychelles Table of Contents

Several factors contributed to the shift away from singleparty rule. Political changes in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and a movement toward multiparty systems in Africa, left Seychelles conspicuously out of step with trends in the rest of the world. Britain and France trimmed their foreign aid programs, tying future aid to progress on the political front. Exiled Seychelles political figures were active in drawing attention to the autocratic features of the Seychelles system. In addition, domestic opposition to domination by the SPPF had become increasingly open by 1991. The Roman Catholic Church, the business community, and even a few figures in the SPPF had begun to express dissatisfaction. Embryonic local government had been introduced by combining the role of local party branch leaders and district councillors, but this step failed to satisfy sentiment for a more open and democratic system.

On December 3, 1991, at a special congress of the SPPF, President René announced that, beginning in January 1992, political groupings of at least 100 members would be permitted to register and that multiparty elections for a commission to participate in drafting a new constitution would be held six months later. In April 1992, former president James Mancham returned from Britain to lead the New Democratic Party (NDP), which tended to represent the commercial and wealthy in the election campaign. Six additional parties were also registered. In the voting for the constitutional commission, the SPPF gained 58.4 percent of the votes and the NDP, 33.7 percent. None of the other parties gained enough to be represented, although the most successful of these, the Seychellois Party (Parti Seselwa) led by Wavel Ramkalanan and calling for restoring free enterprise, was granted one seat on the commission. As a prelude to the constitutional conference, in September 1992 the government ended the eleven-year state of emergency declared after the 1981 attempted mercenary coup.

During the subsequent constitutional conference, the NDP delegation withdrew, objecting to closed sessions and claiming that the SPPF was forcing through an undemocratic document that reinforced the wide powers of the current president. The SPPF members, who constituted a quorum, continued the commission's work, and the draft constitution was submitted for popular referendum in November 1992.

The vote in favor of the new constitution was 53.7 percent, well short of the 60 percent needed for acceptance. The NDP campaigned for rejection of the draft, claiming that it would perpetuate domination by the president. The draft stipulated that half of the assembly seats would be allocated by proportional representation based on the presidential election results, thus guaranteeing the president a majority. The Roman Catholic Church also objected to the legalization of abortion called for in the document.

In January 1993, the constitutional commission reconvened to resume negotiations on a new draft constitution. The proceedings were conducted more openly, live television coverage was permitted, and interest groups could submit proposals. The new constitution, which had the support of both the SPPF and the NDP, was approved by 73.9 percent of the voters in a second referendum held on June 18, 1993. The text emphasized human rights and the separation of executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The presidency was again limited to three terms of five years each. The constitution provided for a leader of the opposition to be elected by the National Assembly. The assembly consisted of thirty-three members, twenty-two of them elected, and eleven designated by proportional representation.

In the first election under the new constitution, held on July 23, 1993, René was again elected president with 60 percent of the vote. Mancham of the NDP received 37 percent, and Philippe Boullé of the United Opposition Party, a coalition of the smaller parties, received 3 percent. Of the elective seats for the National Assembly, SPPF candidates won twenty-one and the NDP, one. Of the total thirty-three seats in the assembly, twentyseven went to the SPPF, five to the NDP, and one to the United Opposition Party.

Although Seychelles security forces intimidated some antiSPPF candidates in 1992, no coercion was reported during the 1993 voting. Fears of loss of jobs and benefits are believed to have played a part in the SPPF victory, however.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress