Tuesday 16th April 2019
Seychelles Politics 2.
"Moving towards a Modern Democracy" is the inscription above the entrance to The National Assembly.

Is the journey underway, or have the Seychellois arrived and have a form of democracy that serves the interests of the people?

I have lived in Scotland, Canada and America and had the chance to consider the political situation in the various countries.

The example of the American system is held up as a gold standard for democracy. The Founding Fathers deliberated carefully on the wording of The American Constitution that provides the framework for the Presidential form of government and the separation of powers between the Executive, Congress and Supreme Court.

Two and a half centuries on, and the system has been highjacked by big money. Presidential campaigns now involve an obscene amount of money. This is throw into targeted TV advertising playing to the lowest common denominator in voter interest. There is little discussion of issues affecting the broad concerns of the country.

Sound bites dominate the political landscape.

Money corrupts each level of American government. With no practical limit on campaign spending, every active politician spends a large portion of their time seeking funds for the next election effort.

The election of the American President by popular vote is distorted by the Electoral College. In recent years, the elected President has not been the candidate with most direct voter support

America has a federal system of government, the power lies in Washington and with the Presidency. State legislators are subservient to the Federal government.

The Canadians have a federal government however in Canada more power is vested in the Provincial Governments. The Canadian Prime Minister does not speak with the same national authority as the American President.

Recent events in the UK with the Brexit debate have shown that the so called "Mother of Parliaments" does not provide all necessary answers. The British Parliament has spent three years attempting to enact the result of the 2016 Brexit Referendum and failed. British politics is dominated by career politicians. Individuals who move from university to an advisory position in government. Then up the political ranks without any relevant or real experience in the workplace or real life familiar to the average voter.

The British Prime Minister is elected by a small number of their party supporters. The whipping system in place in the Westminster Parliament gives emphasis to the views and policies of the executive and his or her advisors.

Scotland has had its own parliament since 1998. Members are elected to represent constituencies and by a proportional system. While well intended, the proportional system is not fulfilling these intentions. List Members are selected and elected by the political parties and represent party interests rather than of the views of the voting public.

Reforms in either American or British politics is unlikely since action is required from those benefiting from the status quo.

The Seychelles Presidency and National Assembly was set up following a Constitutional Assembly in 1993.

In the twenty five years since, the system has evolved.

Government has moved from a one party, socialist state to a position of balance between the relevant political authorities.

In the last Presidential election, the opposition vote was split in the first round of voting in December 2015. In the second round, the margin was only 193 votes in favour of President James Michel.

The four opposition parties have now united to form Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) and have a majority in the National Assembly. The new party has a broadly liberal agenda. The protection of basic human rights, the promotion of private enterprise where appropriate and support of economic reforms.

Following the 2016 election, President James Michel stood down and his Vice President, Danny Faure, took over as President.

Their party, United Seychelles Party, has its roots in the former People's Party of France Albert Rene. The socialist ideology has been modified to be more pragmatic. Central planning and industrialisation for the Seychelles no longer a party goal.

There is an interesting stand-off between the President and the Assembly over the issue of salary increases for government workers. The Assembly support higher increases for the lowest paid workers. The President is against. The issue may be decided in the courts.

President Faure has indicated that he will not stand for re-election to the Presidency in 2020. Walel Ramkalanan made a recent announcement that he will be the LDS candidate in the election.

Last week, I had the chance to sit in the gallery and watch the National Assembly in action.

It is important that Assembly Members are present for the passage of legislation of national importance. I am less convinced that gathering of large groups is the most efficient way to learn or debate serious issues. While the discussion is in Creol and broadcast live to the public, the TV cameras did not show most of the Members on their communication devices during the presentation of prepared texts by individual Members.

Most of the important work has been in the various committees where smaller groups can make progress on legislative matters.

Perhaps the most important feature of a National Assembly is that it brings representatives together from diverse backgounds and parts of the nation. They meet, talk and learn about the issues, needs and priorities of the people they represent.

This process creates a sense of national identity. This identity can then be expressed through the voice of the National Assembly.

In the ten years since the National Assembly building was opened, democracy in the Seychelles has advanced.

In my view, Seychellois enjoy a flourishing modern democracy in 2019.

The message above the door should be changed to reflect this progress.