Seychelles became independent in June 1976 with Sir James Mancham as its first President and Mr France Albert René as Prime Minister. This arrange-ment, however, was short lived.
In June 1977 a coup d’etat took place and Mr René was sworn in as President and formed a new government. The 1976 Constitution was suspended and the National Assembly dissolved.
In March 1979, a new Constitution was promulgated and Seychelles officially became a one-party state. Only members of the ruling SPPF could stand for elections to the newly-constituted People’s Assembly and President René became the sole candidate for elections to the Presidency with a limit of three five-year terms prescribed under the Constitution
Commitment to Democracy
The decision by Heads of Government at their Harare Meeting in October 1991 to place the Commonwealth firmly behind the democratisation process in member states was an important catalyst for change in Seychelles. Within six weeks of his return from Harare, President Albert René made the dramatic announcement on 4 December 1991 that after 15 years of one-party rule, Seychelles would be transformed from a “single-party popular democracy to a pluralistic democratic system”.
Plan of Action
The President outlined a plan of action to effect transition to a multi-party system of democracy:
- the Constitution to be amended to allow the registration of political parties;
- a national election in July 1992 for a Constitutional Commission to draft a new constitution;
- a referendum on the new constitution; and,
- a general election later in the year.
On 27 December 1991, the Constitution of Seychelles was amended to allow the registration of political parties. A well respected former judge was appointed as Registrar of Political Parties and this was a popular choice among all sections of the community and by the end of April 1992, eight political parties had registered to contest the elections to the Constitutional Commission.
The Legislative Framework
The People’s Assembly duly passed the Constitution of the Republic of Seychelles (Preparation and Promulgation) Act, 1992 (Act 2 of 1992) in April 1992 to provide for:
the establishment of a Constitutional Commission for the pur¬pose of preparing the draft of a new constitution;
the composition and regulation of the proceedings of the Com¬mission;
the submission of the draft constitution to the people of Sey¬chelles for their approval or otherwise through a referendum;
the coming into effect of the new constitution after its approval by referendum.
The Constitutional Commission
After holding the National Election in July 1992, the Constitutional Commission was made up SPPF (58.4%) and DP (33.7%).
The First Referendum
The Constitutional Commission commenced work on 27 August 1992 with both President René and Sir James Mancham calling for national reconciliation and consensus on a new democratic constitution. However, any hopes of constructive engagement between the two rival parties soon faded and the DP walked out two weeks later, accusing the SPPF of limiting discussion on issues to be covered in the draft constitution. A compromise was reached whereby unfinished discussion of issues of substance was to be carried over to another sitting. The DP returned to the negotiating table, only to withdraw again on 24 September 1992. The Commission continued to meet with its 14 SPPF members, exceeding the legal quorum of 10, and in the continued absence of the DP a draft constitution was duly adopted on 16 October 1992. It was then submitted to the President, approved and gazetted on the same day.
The referendum was held from 12 to 15 November 1992. The DP together with the five smaller parties formed a united opposition to campaign against the draft constitution. The law required the draft to be approved by not less than 60 per cent of the votes cast. It failed to pass when only 53.7 per cent voted in favour and 44.6 per cent voted against.
The Second Referendum
The Constitutional Commission was reconvened on 11 January 1993 to prepare a fresh draft. A new spirit of co-operation and compromise quickly became evident. President René appointed Mr Bernardin Renaud, former Chief Electoral Officer and now the Director of Elections, to chair the Commission in place of a Government Minister. The proceedings of the Commission were opened up to the public, with live poadcasts over radio and daily transmission on television. The smaller political parties, the churches and members of the public were able to make representations to the Commission.
Both President René and Sir James Mancham called for an end to confrontational politics, and reiterated their earlier calls for national reconciliation. Both expressed a determination to formulate a constitution acceptable to all. Decisions, even on contentious issues, were eventually made by consensus.
A consensus draft constitution was finally agreed on 7 May 1993 and a referendum called for 15—18 June. As expected, the DP and the SPPF called for the draft to be approved, while Parti Seselwa, the NAP and the SNM campaigned against the draft. The draft was approved with 73.9 per cent of the electorate in favour and 24.1 per cent against.
- Issues discussed & tackled in the Transition Process
- De-linking between the ruling party and state be accelerated;
- Law enforcement and security agencies be reorganised;
- The voters’ registration list be reviewed;
- A free and independent media be established;
- Funding of political parties be examined;
- A Code of Conduct governing political parties be adopted.
The voters’ registration list had been accepted by all parties as being credible and as accurate as possible.
The Code of Conduct for political parties adopted at the time of the November 1992 referendum had contributed significantly to a reduction of tension on polling day.
The Government had re-examined the question of funding of political parties and had decided to allocate a fixed amount for this purpose to be divided among all parties taking part in the elections, proportionate to the support each received in the July 1992 election. In addition, the three parties contesting the Presidential and National Assembly elections were each given SR76,000. It was decided that in future funding will be proportionate to votes gained by each party in the elections.
The coverage by state radio and television and the government-owned daily newspaper, the Nation, had improved, others maintained that they remained biased in favour of the ruling party.
Since July 1992 election the security forces had been restructured. The Militia, which had been involved in street patrols, had been transformed into the National Guard to undertake static and escort duties only. The PMU was reorganised and answerable to the Commissioner of Police. The most welcome change had been in the conduct of the security forces, which exercised discipline and restraint following the incidents of July 1992. All opposition parties reported that the army, the PMU and the National Guard had all kept a low profile and there had been very few incidents of harassment or intimidation.
On the controversial issue of the position of Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, the Government at the end of 1992 had appointed a professional soldier to the position.
All parties have equal access, to the community centres located in the District Council buildings.
General Elections 1993
The General Election was held in July 1993 and three political parties contested the election. After having organised three national elections within two years, the general election of 1993 recorded no hassles in the electoral machinery.
The exceptionally high turnout of voters suggested a strong commitment on the part of the people of Seychelles to the restoration of multi-party politics, and to elections as a means of selecting their representatives to govern. The low proportion of spoiled or rejected ballots indicated that voters were familiar with the technicalities of voting procedures, and that voter education programmes aimed at explaining and clarifying these procedures were successful, furthermore the secrecy of the ballot was greatly assured.
The ruling party, the Seychelles People Progressive Front, led by France Albert Rene took the majority vote, followed by the Democratic Party of Sir James Mancham and The United Opposition.
The Legal Framework for the 1998 Elections
The 1998 elections were governed by the Seychelles Constitution of 1993, as amended in 1994,1995 and 1996, as well as by the Elections Act of 1995, as amended in 1996 and the Political Parties (Registration and Regulation) Act of 1991, as amended in 1995 and 1996. For the first time Vice-Presidential candidates ran for election on a common ticket with the Presidential candidate.