2011 – A politically-charged year


30-December-2011

President Michel is sworn into office a few days after winning the May 19-21 election

Early in the year, it was confirmed by the ruling party, Parti Lepep, that President James Michel and Vice-President Danny Faure will be seeking another five-year term.

Another candidate, who also confirmed his participation, was lawyer Philippe Boullé, ever present at presidential polls since 1993.

The suspense was maintained in other camps and at one time there was talk of a plethora of candidates, including several independents. In the end, only four were to remain. A fifth one, Viral Dhanjee, was disqualified by the Electoral Commissioner for not having secured the required 500 supporters to endorse his candidature.

Just before the election dates were set -- May 19-21 -- the Seychelles National Party (SNP)  held a party convention and announced that its leader, Wavel Ramkalawan, was running again -- for the fourth time -- and his running mate was Nicolas Prea, then MNA for Bel Ombre.

Mr Ramkalawan announced that in the event of victory, neither him, nor his vice-president would hold any ministerial responsibilities, but would merely act in supervisory roles.

David Pierre, then deputy secretary-general of the SNP, later resigned with the campaign in full swing, stating that the party’s executive had not been consulted about the selection of a vice-presidential running mate. He added that he was going into business and distancing himself from politics for a while. Events later in the year were however to propel him right onto the political stage -- at Mr Ramkalawan’s expense.

The New Democratic Party, under the leadership of Ralph Volcère, also editor of the Le Nouveau Seychelles Weekly, held a convention and endorsed his candidacy, along with that of former MNA Georges Bibi as running mate.

As the campaign switched to high gear, there was little suspense as to its outcome. SNP was badly hit by defections as prominent activists deserted the party and joined Parti Lepep.
 
In stark contrast to the 2002 and 2006 presidential elections -- when SNP managed to draw fairly big crowds -- this time it opted for indoor meetings, failing to stir much enthusiasm.
 
In contrast, Parti Lepep held three big rallies on all three largest islands.  At all the enthusiastic gatherings, prominent former SNP die-hards came on stage to attack their former party and urging others to follow their example.

As usual, equal air time was given on SBC TV and Radio to all candidates. There again, it was the ruling party that managed to make a splash, though a significant share of viewers was fairly impressed with independent candidate Boullé.  

Main polling day, May 21, was calmer than other days, as long queues of voters gathered at the 25 polling stations to cast their votes. As usual turnout was high -- 85%.

As vote counting was going on till late into the night, word soon got around that President Michel was winning in several districts. These included Bel Air - his home constituency, but held by SNP since 2001; Anse Etoile, the constituency of then opposition leader Ramkalawan and Bel Ombre, that of Nicolas Prea.

There was the same tendency in all districts and in the end, President Michel and his Vice-Presidential running mate, Danny Faure, swept all districts, with the exception of St Louis and Beau Vallon - though there again, SNP managed to cling on to them by significantly diminished margins - 160 in the case of St Louis and 33 for Beau Vallon.

The total vote tally was 31,966 or 55.5% for Mr Michel; 23,878 or 41.4% for Mr Ramkalawan; 956 or 1.7% for Mr Boullé; and 833 or 1.5% for Mr Volcère

President Michel had upped his score by two percentage points compared to 2006, while his main opponent, Mr Ramkalawan, dropped by 5% to his lowest score since 1998.

Mr Boullé, though still polling little, trebled his score from the previous election.
However, Mr Ramkalawan was viewed as the main loser. The gap between him and Mr Michel had widened from a mere 7% in 2006 to 14% in 2011.

Contrary to 2006, when SNP scored 46% with a majority in nine districts, now it only had two, won marginally.

The elections were deemed “free and fair” by foreign observer missions -- from the Commonwealth, la Francophonie, la Commission de l’Océan Indien and the Southern African Development Community, which also deemed that the results “reflected the popular will”.

This was however dismissed by the opposition which charged that the vote had been flawed and the Parti Lepep had won because of vote buying.

At a meeting a week later at party headquarters at Arpent Vert, Mr Ramkalawan chastised several prominent persons who had left the party.

He also indicated that his party would be boycotting the National Assembly from then on until “necessary electoral reforms” are carried out.

The Assembly boycott was however a haphazard affair. It was not continous. Some sessions were attended by SNP MNAs, fearful of suffering a cut in their stipends.

Government committed to reforms

Meanwhile, Government moved to implement some of the reforms as recommended by the foreign election monitoring delegations.

First and foremost was the setting up of an Electoral Commission -- made up of several members, instead of a “one-man show” the office of the Electoral Commissioner was purported to represent -- being also one of the changes long-called for by SNP.

The government and opposition however differed on the mechanisms for appointing the members.
In the end, President Michel decided to leave it to the Constitutional Appointments Authority (CAA) on which the opposition is represented.

A five-member commission was ultimately named, though former Electoral Commissioner Hendrick Gappy remained chairman.

The SNP refused to back the Bill instituting the Electoral Commission and on the day that it was tabled in the Assembly, Mr Ramkalawan notified the Speaker that he was sacking two of his MNAs. These were lawyer Anthony Derjacques, for reasons as yet unclear, and Jane Carpin, who had voted with Parti Lepep MNAs to have the bill passed. Both requests were rejected by Speaker Patrick Herminie.

Mrs Carpin went on to vote for the dissolution of the Assembly. The SNP resorted to legal action, which it initially won, as not all members had been informed of the intention to dissolve the House, but the dissolution was finalised the following week, with Mrs Carpin once again giving her crucial vote to make up the required two-thirds.

National Assembly election

National Assembly election was set for late September, with October 1 being the main polling day. The SNP joined the NDP and Mr Boullé in calling for an election boycott.
 
A new political party was quickly constituted for former MNA David Pierre, called the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM), which immediately became the target of attacks by SNP publications.

It was however a lacklustre campaign, focussing mainly on the SBC radio and TV spots and campaign broadcasts. Among the Parti Lepep candidates were 18 newcomers, who had been recruited since two years and groomed, joining some more seasoned politicians like Charles de Commarmond of Cascade and Jeovanna Charles of Roche Caiman.

PDM candidates were Mr Pierre himself, standing at Mont Buxton and Mrs Carpin running for Au Cap while the rest of the team was made up mostly of other SNP dissidents.

The results were hardly surprising. The Parti Lepep swept all 25 districts, with high scores at Baie St Anne, Cascade and even former SNP-held areas such as Bel Air and Bel Ombre.
 
The PDM’s best show was at Mont Buxton, where Mr Pierre scored 20% -- his party’s highest, followed by Mrs Carpin with 17% at Au Cap. Fifteen candidates managed to score over 10%. 
Parti Lepep’s total was 31,123 (88%) or 800 votes short of the May Presidential election.
The PDM scored 3,828 votes or 10.89%.

The turnout was fairly high at 74% given that one of the main political parties was not contesting, but the big surprise was the high number of spoilt votes -- 16,447 in all! Since at most elections some 1,000 voters inadvertently spoil the ballots, it was obvious that 15,000 were those who had spoiled their ballot cards expressly and were following the call for boycott. Many ballots had crude remarks written on them and could hardly be considered votes.

After the results were announced, electoral commission chairman Gappy sprang a surprise by announcing that the PDM with 10.89% had not won a proportionally elected seat, since according to his view, this boiled down to only 7.4% of votes cast, as stipulated in a 1996 constitutional amendment.

A legal battle ensued with the Constitutional Court upholding the stand of the Electoral Commission, in a dissenting judgement. The Court of Appeal however reversed that in a consensual judgement, ordering the Electoral Commission to reallocate proportional seats and ruling that only “valid votes cast” be considered in the results of future elections.

The end result is that David Pierre of PDM was sworn in on December 15, becoming the opposition’s sole MNA and also Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. He will also be chairman of the Assembly’s Finance Committee, set up to oversee Government expenditure.

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