2015 Presidential election: Opposition unites to “move the rock”
Part Lepep was left to lick its wounds after it failed to win by “knockout” in the first round. The opposition on the other hand appears to be on the front foot and will approach the potentially game changing second round of the election with momentum on their side.
James Michel said that Parti Lepep remains the main political force in Seychelles while the opposition vowed to rally behind Wavel Ramkalawan in the second round which will take place on 16, 17 and 18 December.
It was a grueling day for the members of the Electoral Commission.
On Saturday, Seychelles took a huge step on the road to change. And although the population had to wait until 4.40am on Sunday morning for the official results of the 2015 Presidential election, a trend had begun to emerge when the first unofficial figures began trickling in late the previous night. Ultimately, the incumbent, James Michel, failed to obtain sufficient votes to secure him a third mandate, thereby propelling the election into a second round for the first time in the country’s history. It will be contested on 16, 17 and 18 December. Opposite him will be the Parti Lepep’s longtime adversaries, Wavel Ramkalawan and the Seychelles National Party. Together with Lalyans Seselwa’s Patrick Pillay, the SPSD’s Alexia Amesbury and Independent candidate Philippe Boullé, the opposition racked up 51.57% of the vote compared to 47.76% for the outgoing President. In their speeches following the announcement of the results at the National Library, which inexplicably were not broadcast by SBC TV, Mr Michel’s opponents made it abundantly clear that they intend to join forces to democratically oust the regime that has been in power since the coup d’état in 1977.
Addressing a visibly downcast James Michel, Mr Ramkalawan stated: “I’d like to say to all the people of Seychelles that on behalf of all the opposition thank you for the support that you have bestowed on us. We realise that in our country today, the opposition represents the majority, 52% compared to the ruling party’s 48%. The second round will be a matter of all of us coming together and it will not be a question of one opponent against Mr Michel, but an army against you”. His sentiment was echoed by the man whose participation in the election arguably swung it in the opposition’s favour. “I would like to congratulate Mr Ramkalawan who will represent the opposition in the second round and I would like to endorse what he said: he won’t going it alone for the opposition; the opposition will unite for the second round to make sure that the wind of change that we can feel in the country becomes a reality”. Afterwards, Mr Pillay TODAY that the opposition will meet this week to “discuss how to work together to change the system”.
By the time the speeches were over, dawn had already begun to break over Victoria, a fitting bookend to a long night of waiting. The announcement of the results was originally slated for midnight but after long queues began to form in many polling stations in the hours preceding closing time (voting in Anse Etoile only ended at 11pm), it quickly became obvious that the Seychellois people would have to wait until much later to discover the outcome of this tightly contested election. At one stage, the SBC said that the results would be given at 2am but they would eventually only be made public over two and a half hours later. In the intervening hours, the population was largely left in the dark as to the progress of the counting. Unofficial results were exchanged via text messages and on social media. The international observers and diplomats who had been invited to attend the announcement at the National Library were not updated on the situation while the SBC’s coverage of one of the most momentous nights in the country’s history literally consisted of gags.
And when the results were finally announced by the chairperson of the Electoral Commission (EC), Hendrick Gappy, to the assembled dignitaries, observers and media houses, they undersold the SNP’s performance while overstating that of David Pierre. “Your figures are wrong, check them”, Mr Ramkalawan told Mr Gappy. After a brief presentation of the results, a downbeat President Michel addressed the audience. After thanking the supporters and members of Parti Lepep, the EC and election observers, he remarked that PL had won “almost 29 000 votes”, adding that the ruling party is “the greatest political force in the country, despite falling 2% short of the required 50% to win the election. We received more votes than all the other parties. We are ready for the second round. We will make sure that we do better than this time around. Naturally, the work continues and in two weeks we will see the results. Before I had to face five opponents; now we have one opponent. I ask our supporters to remain calm and our work resumes on Monday”.
The results came as a shock to ruling party’s supporters and hierarchy. Indeed, not only did the promised first round knockout fail to materialize, but with each passing hour it became evident that its candidate was facing an increasingly uphill battle to avoid a second round showdown. At one point, their hopes were briefly rekindled when rumours that PL had won 55% of the votes in Cascade began to circulate, a rumour which if substantiated would have helped revive the incumbent’s chances of a first round victory. It was not to be however and a few hours later the nation awoke to the news that, for the first time in its history, a Presidential election will be decided in the second round. This result represents an impressive victory for the opposition which made a point of showing a united front at the National Library. In the coming days, the challenge will be to consolidate this unity and find a suitable arrangement for all its partners.
Asked about the opposition’s next step, Mr Ramkalawan told TODAY that the leaders of the different parties will be meeting today to “work out a strategy for the campaign. We will sit down and take it from there”. In his speech earlier, the leader of the SNP had praised his fellow opposition leaders. Referring to Mr Pillay’s arrest for sexual assault in October, he said: “Pat, you’ve gone through hell and back and this is the type of politics we do not need in this country. What Mr Pillay as a leader of an opposition party has gone though has been tough, demoralizing and I pay tribute to your courage”. He also had words of praise for Alexia Amesbury: “You’ve shown that this country needs more women like you. When you’ve been insulted you did not respond and in fact this country needs people like you and more women to come forward and to show that this land also belongs to them”.
He then went on to criticize the campaign led by his opponent: “What we have shown in the opposition is that elections must no longer be auctions; elections must not be a question of how much money you have to buy people. We’ve got to show respect to our people and this is what the opposition did. With the little that we had we called on our people, we explained to them what we wanted to do for this country and this is why all three – well, all four – Presidential candidates, Mr Boullé included, this is why we came up with programmes which were more less similar because we talked to our people and we felt that we had to put forward what would be in the national interest”.
It was then the turn of the first ever female Presidential candidate to address the audience. “Tonight is historic, historic because for the first time in 38 years we have shown the people of Seychelles that we can move this big rock; we have budged it and it will be moved! It doesn’t matter that we’re not all the way there; we’re getting there. This is just the beginning”.
The most emotional address however was delivered by Mr Pillay: “I would like to thank Mr Ramkalawan for his kind words and to congratulate Mr Michel for coming first ahead of the second round and Mr Ramkalawan who will represent the opposition in the second round. I would like to refer to what my fellow Presidential candidate, Mr Ramkalawan, said about the amount of insults and mud that were thrown at me. I would like to tell the ruling party that I, Pat Pillay, still have my dignity intact, my conscience is clear and people who stop fighting are what we call losers. I have no intention to stop fighting to bring democracy to Seychelles. I would also like to tell them that I forgive them because I come from a family where we were taught to forgive. When people think you’re inferior to them and that they’re superior, you must forgive them. I would like to thank all the Seychellois who voted for us and who have made us into a force which can help the opposition to move that rock, as Alexia said”.
Another point which the opposition agreed upon is the need to better regulate election campaigns, be it terms of financing or ethics. Whether they will be successful remains to be seen. As the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics. But when the sun rose on Seychelles on Sunday morning there was undeniably something different in the air.
Source: Today.sc 12-7-15