Voting begins in Seychelles parliamentary and presidential polls

·2-min read
Voters queue at a polling station to cast their ballots during the presidential and parliamentary elections in Victoria

Voting begins in Seychelles parliamentary and presidential polls

Voters queue at a polling station to cast their ballots during the presidential and parliamentary elections in Victoria

VICTORIA (Reuters) - Voting began on Thursday in presidential and parliamentary elections in Seychelles, with the economy battered by COVID-19 and President Danny Faure, in power since 2016, facing voters for the first time.

The Indian Ocean archipelago nation is expected to see its tourism-dependent economy contract by 14% this year, according to ratings agency Fitch, reversing some fragile progress since the government defaulted on its debt in 2008 and sought an International Monetary Fund bailout.

The same party has been in power since 1977. Faure was previously vice president and became president when his predecessor resigned after a constitutional amendment was passed limiting presidents to two terms.

Despite the economic hardship, Faure is viewed as likely to retain power, in part because the opposition is divided.

An opposition coalition captured parliament in the 2016 election, but has since split. The leader of one its two parties told supporters to vote for the ruling party after the electoral commission rejected his own presidential bid.

Walter Jeannevole, 45 said on Thursday morning that he had cast his ballot for Faure.

"I trust that he will help the economy back on its feet and work for all Seychellois, like he is doing now."

Faure's two challengers -- Wavel Ramkalawan, who has unsuccessfully contested the presidency since 1998, and Alain St Ange, a former tourism minister -- have both promised voters that if elected, they will increase the monthly minimum wage of 5,800 Seychellois rupees. ($318)

St Ange has also pledged to tackle a persistent complaint from locals, that high-end hotels pay expatriate workers far more than local staff.

"I see Ramkalawan struggling to fight for justice for the country and now is the time to vote for him and make him our president," said a Ramkalawan supporter who declined to give his name.

Some voters in the English River district of Mahe island complained on Thursday they had to wait more than six hours to cast their vote because there were too few voting booths.

There are about 74,600 voters out of a population of 100,000. Polling is spread over three days, starting on Oct. 22 and continuing through Saturday, when results are due.

(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Alexandra Hudson)