Victoria, Seychelles – By our correspondent.
Dozens of Africa’s long opposition politicians are having fresh new start to take on incumbents after inspirations from Seychelles’ clergy Wavel Ramkalawan who has defeated President Danny Faure at 54.9 percent of valid votes cast, poll body says.
“I declare… Ramkalawan as the elected candidate,” the electoral commission chairman Danny Lucas said on Sunday.
The opposition, narrowly defeated in a presidential election in 2015 and buoyed by a landmark victory in a parliamentary poll a year later, won its first presidential poll in the 40 years since Seychelles gained independence from Britain.
Ramkalawan, an Anglican priest and leader of the Seychelles Democratic Alliance, was running for the presidency for the sixth time. He lost the 2015 poll by 193 votes to James Michel in an unprecedented second round of voting.
“Faure and I are good friends. And an election does not mean the end of one’s contribution to one’s motherland,” Ramkalawan said in his victory speech. “In this election, there were no losers, there were no winners. Our country was given the opportunity as the ultimate winner.”
As Ramakalawan spoke, Faure, who garnered 43.5 percent of the votes, sat close by, nodding his head.
Voters on the main islands of Seychelles cast their ballot on Saturday in presidential and parliamentary elections spanning three days. More than 74,000 registered to take part in the polls.
AJ’s Malcolm Webb said many voters appeared unconvinced by the performance of the former ruling party.
“Seychelles is one of the most unequal countries in the world. There is a small wealthy minority that own hotels and tourist businesses. Many of them are descendants of people from Europe. But majority of the islanders are much less wealthy and many of them descendants of people who were enslaved by colonialists to work on plantations,” Webb said.
“The ruling party used to pick up a lot of support from the less wealthy part of the society. The opposition tended to be backed by business owners and wealthier people. It now seems a lot of people have lost confidence in the former ruling party,” he added.
The campaign took place mainly over social media, with rallies banned due to the coronavirus.
Seychelles has recorded only 149 cases, mostly imported, but the pandemic has been a burning campaign issue as restrictions on global travel bottom out the tourism industry – a major earner for Seychelles and employer for many of its 98,000 people.
Visitor numbers have collapsed since March in the archipelago nation of 115 islands, normally a popular destination for honeymooners and paradise-seekers drawn by its fine sandy beaches and turquoise waters.
The opposition has taken power in the Seychelles for the first time since 1977, following its victory in the presidential election.
In his victory speech, Mr Ramkalawan was conciliatory towards Mr Faure, saying there were no losers or winners.
The country is a former British colony which became independent in 1976.
Mr Faure’s United Party seized power in a coup a year later, and retained the presidency in elections after multi-party democracy was restored in 1993.
“In this election, there were no losers, there were no winners – our country was given the opportunity as the ultimate winner.”
Demand for change
Analysis by journalist Patrick Muirhead in Seychelles
The result is a political earthquake in these normally tranquil, tropical islands.
Jubilant supporters of Mr Ramkalawan, a cleric they call ‘Father’, are on the streets of the capital, Victoria, sounding their car horns and waving flags.
It was Mr Ramkalawan’s seventh attempt to become president in elections.
Mr Faure, who had inherited power from his predecessor four years ago, was unable to distance his party’s campaign from mounting evidence of past political murders, torture and corruption when Seychelles was still a one-party state.
The power that his party seized in a coup 43 years ago has been taken back at the ballot box by a population demanding change. The new president will be sworn in on Monday.
Wavel Ramkalawan (born March 15, 1961) is a politician of the Seychelles. He is the newly elected President of the Republic of Seychelles, as of 25 October 2020.
Wavel Ramkalawan was born in Mahé, the principal island of Seychelles. He was born into a modest family, the youngest of three children. His grand father was from Bihar, India . His father was a metalworker and his mother a teacher. Ramkalawan’s primary and secondary education were at Seychelles College, the elite boys’ school of the country. Ramkalawan was ordained priest in 1985 following theological studies at St Paul’s Theological College in Mauritius, and thereafter followed further studies in theology at Birmingham University. Returning to Seychelles, he worked in several parishes in Seychelles, rising to become priest-in-charge of the parish of Holy Saviour.
Entry into politics
It was his work as a priest that led Ramkalawan to politics. Through his pastoral work, he came into contact with many people who had been the subject of repression and abuses of human and civil liberties by the government. At that time, the church was the only institution which could speak out on these issues.
In 1990, Ramkalawan preached a landmark sermon, broadcast to the nation on the national radio station, in which he questioned the practices of the one-party government and gave voice to the desire of the people for greater freedom, respect for human rights and observance of the rule of law in the country. The sermon was an inspiration for the movement for political liberty and democracy in Seychelles. It drew Ramkalawan closer into politics. In 1991, still a priest, he joined others who had been active in opposing the government, such as Roger Mancienne and Jean-François Ferrari, to form Parti Seselwa, initially an underground organization, and became its leader.
When the government, under pressure both internally and from abroad, returned the country to multi-party democracy in 1992, Parti Seselwa was the first political party to register and join the ranks of others in opposition to the government. It immediately set to work and participated in elections for representation on the 1992 constitutional commission, polling only 4% of the national vote and not qualifying for representation on the commission. Subsequently to the coming into force of the new constitution in 1993, two other opposition parties joined Parti Seselwa to form The United Opposition (UO) and to contest the 1993 general elections. The party won 9% of the vote, enabling it to appoint one member (Ramkalawan) to the National Assembly.
In 1998, Ramkalawan led his party into the second multi-party general elections. The party polled 27% of the national vote and increased its National Assembly representation to three, beating the Democratic Party of former President James Mancham into third place. Ramkalawan became the first directly elected member of the party in the Assembly, winning his home constituency of St Louis, which he has represented continuously since. In addition, he was elected Leader of the Opposition, a post he continues to hold.
In the 2001 presidential elections, Ramkalawan polled 45% of the vote, thus losing to the 54% vote won by President René. The next year, Ramkalawan led his party, now renamed the Seychelles National Party (SNP), into the National Assembly elections. The party increased its parliamentary representation from one directly elected member to seven and from two proportionally elected members to four.
Since 1998, Ramkalawan has been Leader of the Opposition. In 2005, Ramkalawan took a sabbatical from his clerical duties in order to devote himself fully to his political life at a crucial and important point in the country’s affairs. In the 2006 presidential elections, however, Ramkalawan lost to James Michel.