The people have been left angry and frustrated after the presidential election... but they know that the Goliath can be defeated
The 2015 Presidential elections proved groundbreaking with a record six candidates, a second ballot and now a Constitutional Court hearing where the Opposition is demanding a recount. Seychelles Life asked leading politicians what they thought of the situation and what the future held. Here, Patrick Pillay, a former Minister in the ruling Parti Lepep, who founded and now leads the breakaway opposition party Lalyans Seselwa, answers our Ten Questions:
Is it time for everyone to draw a line under the result of the election and accept it?
No, it is not time to draw a line under the results of the elections and to accept it. The ruling party carried out a lot of irregularities and illegalities before and during the elections and every Seychellois knows it. This is why the Opposition is contesting the results in the constitutional court The most worrying fact is the amount of state resources that have been used by the ruling party to buy votes. We are waiting to find out the amount of money dished out to a large number of people in the month of December alone from the Social Welfare Agency. It would appear that it is way above the monthly average for the year 2015.
Do you regard the election result as representative of the will of the people?
Certainly not. Election results can only represent the will of the people if the elections are free and fair; if the contesting political parties have access to a credible voters register which is not inflated with phantom voters names; if the ruling party does not use victimisation fear and scaremongering to intimidate voters etc. In short you need a level playing field if the elections are to represent the will of the people.
What reaction have you had from ordinary members of the public?
There is an air of anger, frustration and despair. As a matter of fact the whole Christmas and New year period was a sad and quiet one. Even the supporters of Michel have all gone quiet. They are very much aware that he is an illegitimate President and the whole population is waiting for the results of the court case with bated breath.
Is democracy in Seychelles stronger or weaker as a result?
It very much depends how one looks at it. My glass is always “half full” rather than “half empty”. I therefore believe that democracy is stronger as a result of the elections. People are less afraid to speak out against the shenanigans of Ministers and senior Michel supporters. If you go to social media you will appreciate that things have changed for ever. Seychellois are coming of age when it comes to freedom of expression. People are now less afraid to challenge decisions of Government in a court of law. When the Opposition organised a march against SBC recently I was pleasantly surprised not only by the numbers who marched in protest, but also by the number of professionals who participated in the march. Yes, after the last December elections, Seychelles will never be the same again. Seychellois have realised that the once mighty Goliath can be brought down on it's knees.
What were the lessons learned from this election?
For the analytical mind, there are many lessons that should be learnt :
1: The Opposition must remain united when fighting an opponent that is vile, ruthless, dishonest with no election ethics whatsoever. We have learnt that they are prepared to use any means to retain their grip on power and the privileges that they enjoy. Character assassination, mud-slinging, fabrication of lies to denigrate their political opponents etc, etc, have been practised with no consideration to their effect on the population, especially on the youth. The distinction between right and wrong as our forefathers have taught us is now blurred. Even he who falsificated a degree from a British university was elevated to a high-level committee of so-called luminaries who have succeeded and chaired by the Head of State
2. Sadly, you will not get very far if you do not have any financial clout or backing. The ruling party has been there for 38 years and has established structures in the districts that give it an unfair advantage as far as projects and finance that could influence the voters to the advantage of the ruling party. The ruling party has access to the state coffers and have placed its cronies in appropriate positions where access to state resources can be easily manipulated. Furthermore, it is an open secret that the rich Arabs from UAE who have free access to the country, including privileges which the Seychellois do not enjoy; have been funding Michel and his illegitimate Government. And here I am talking of millions of dollars.
3. With Michel having liberalised the economy, the rich have gotten richer and poverty has increase. The saddest lesson is that big businesses are in the main happy with the Michel administration as maintaining the status quo will ensure that they continue to make their millions. It is savage capitalism at its worst with little regard to the suffering majority who are struggling to make ends meet.
How do you think the election process appeared to the rest of the world?
We have had different observer groups observing the elections. Had they been open and honest in their mission, the world would have known that the Opposition was cheated of victory. They witnessed the buying of identity cards by agents of Lepep. They witnessed the long line of people queing outside room 115 in Ocean Gate House to collect money, which many had not even requested. Most of the observer missions have said they will submit their reports in 90 days .i.e when the electorate will have almost forgotten the elections. In my view, the observers could have done more to enhance the democratisation process in Seychelles, if they had been more serious. One gets the impression that they came on a good holiday. However our activists have been very vocal on social media and lately I was glad to read that the sister-in-law of our late hero Gerard Hoareau has written to Prime Minister David Cameron objecting to his recognition of the Michel Administration, even although the courts have not pronounced as to the validity of the election results.
It was so close-run. What is now the prospect for the National Assembly elections?
Yes, the elections were too close to call and that is why the haste with which the Election Commissioner announced Michel as the winner surprised us all.
In any case Linyon Sanzman is taking the coming National Assembly elections very seriously. As a united Opposition we are fielding strong and capable candidates and my take is that before the year 2016 is over we will have seen the back of Michel and Parti Lepep.
There was political movement on both sides. What is the future of the main political parties in Seychelles?
Indeed. Lalyans Seselwa was formed at the end of May 2015. We have produced both a party manifesto and an election manifesto to inform the electorate about ourselves, our plans and programmes to take Seychelles out of the mess that we find ourselves in after 38 years of SPPF/Lepep Government. In the first round of the Presidential elections, we managed to score 14 per cent of the votes. Clearly, we had pulled votes from both the ruling party which has been in power for 38 years as well as from the SNP which has been the main Opposition for 22 years. By their standards we are a young party. Having scored what we did with no financial backing, unlike the two other main parties, we are very excited about the future. You will recall that the Seychellois -Indian businessman who was backing us initially abandoned us before the elections! We will continue to work to bring justice, dignity and unity in our beautiful country. As to the future of the other political parties; time will tell. I agree with those who say that the Seychellois are more politically mature. If money alone could buy votes then Lepep would have scored 99 per cent!
Will this result change how politicians on both sides of the political divide conduct themselves on a day-to-day basis?
Definitely. The political parties as well as the individual candidates for the legislative Assembly elections will have to relook at their strategies and how they work on the field on an everyday basis. Let us not forget that in the first round of the 2015 presidential elections, Lepep won in only seven districts whilst in the second round they managed to win in 13 against 12 for the Opposition. This in spite of having massive funds and all manner of state resources at their disposal. By contrast, Lalyans Seselwa had no funds whatsoever and we managed an overall score of 14 per cent after only six months of existence. I believe the electorate is looking for credible leaders and candidates who are in contact with them in the districts and who are interested in their welfare and that of their district. This business of vote-buying and using state assets to influence voters is now obsolete. The success of the National Assembly elections this year for any party very much depends on the individuals who stand as candidates. The Seychellois voters are wiser now when making a choice, except for a decreasing percentage who will vote with their emotions and follow family tradition and allegiance rather than voting with their conscience. The Seychelles of the 70s and 80s is well behind us.
Is there now greater pressure on the Government to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission?
So far the SPPF/Lepep have resisted the idea of a “Reconciliation and Healing Committee”. It does not take a wizard to conclude that their is much fear that too many skeletons in the cupboard will come out and it will expose the misdeeds of many in the ruling party. It is very sad that we are losing time and not providing the opportunity for people to ask for forgiveness and for those who have suffered in one way or another to forgive the perpetrators of the many crimes committed . The Bel Ombre skull is a classical example of the ruling party's attempts to hide the truth about the past. One senior police officer came and made a fool of himself in front of the Seychellois public when it was so very obvious that he was lying. I belong to an NGO that is fighting for “Human Rights” and we will be taking the case to court to have access to the full unadulterated report from the forensic experts in Mauritius. Nobody can confirm where the skull is. Should those in authority not be hanging their heads down in shame? As for a Truth and Reconciliation Committee, we in the Opposition will continue to push for the creation of one; just like we pushed in our manifestos for the December presidential elections for an anti-corruption commission. Finally, in his SONA, James Michel announced that he will be setting up such a Commission. You can imagine how many in the land are getting the jitters. There is a number of us who are doing some research on the models used in other countries to establish a TRC, especially the case of RSA and Rwanda.