Mon, May 23, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Seychelles re-elects James Michel in controversial poll

Reuters, VICTORIA

Seychellois President James Michel has been returned to office with an outright election victory, the Seychellois Electoral Commission said yesterday, in polls the opposition said were marred by bribery.

By winning 55 percent of the vote, Michel avoided a second round run-off against his closest rival, Wavel Ramkalawan, who polled 41 percent of the ballots cast.

In the run-up to the vote, Ramkalawan accused ruling party agents of bribing opposition voters not to vote.

Michel, who oversaw a raft of painful economic reforms to liberalize the once state-controlled economy during his first term in office, said he would serve all Seychellois and continue with reforms.

“We will put our differences aside and continue building Seychelles. The people have spoken today,” Michel told supporters moments after the result was announced.

Voting on the Indian Ocean archipelago spanned three days to allow for ballot papers to be shipped or airlifted to the handful of voters living on the remotest islands and back in time for counting.

Some who voted for Michel cited better job opportunities in spite of the tough austerity measures imposed in 2008 because of an acute balance of payments crisis.

“With all the hotel investments in the country, we have more jobs to chose from, thanks to the government’s efforts to lure in more foreign investors,” security guard Barney Francois said after giving Michel his vote on the main island of Mahe.

Voting was peaceful and orderly on the islands best known as a luxury tropical retreat for royals and tycoons.

There was no immediate reaction to the vote from the opposition, which before the vote accused the ruling party of fraud.

“There are many incidents of corruption in which Parti Lepep supporters are giving my supporters cash and asking them not to vote at all,” Ramkalawan told reporters on Saturday.

“Allegations will always be there, but I have made sure as far as my party is concerned that we are doing nothing that is against the rules,” Michel responded.

Michel opened the country’s doors to foreign investors, notably from the Gulf states and China, in the tourism, construction and real-estate sectors. Critics accuse him of selling off Seychelles’ prime land.

Michel joined government in 1977 when Albert Rene grabbed power in a bloodless coup, rising to be the socialist leader’s vice-president until Rene resigned mid-term, citing ill health in 2004 and handing over power to Michel.

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