Seychelles Votes in Presidential Polls

The main islands of the Seychelles began voting on Saturday in a presidential election which sees incumbent James Michel facing his first serious challenge after two terms in office.

Although voting on more remote islands began on Thursday, the main vote takes place on Saturday, with polls opening at 7:00 am (0300 GMT) on the three main islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue, home to most of the archipelago's estimated 91,000 citizens. Voting ends 12 hours later.

Aside from a late start in several places, voting got under way smoothly in Mahe, the largest island of the Seychelles, where long lines of voters could be seen waiting to cast their ballots, an AFP correspondent said.

"I stood in line for nearly and hour before voting but once I got inside, it was very quick," said Jacqueline Hoarau after casting her ballot at Port Glaud on the island's northwestern coast.

The tourism-dependent Indian Ocean nation, a former British colony, is made up of 115 islands, some as many as 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the capital Victoria on the main island Mahe.

"There are islands where it takes just 45 minutes... there are others where it lasts two hours, but what is important is that everyone can vote," said Charles Morin, the chief electoral officer, describing the marathon efforts to ensure all get a chance to vote across the vast expanse of the archipelago.

The Electoral Commission, which has said around 4,000 voters were eligible to cast ballots on the first two days of voting, has said they were "generally satisfied" at the voting process, according to the Seychelles News Agency.

Michel, of the Parti Lepep -- "The People" in the local Seychellois Creole language -- hopes to win a third and final term, as permitted by the constitution, but faces five other candidates.

Michel, who has been in power for almost a decade, is running against a fragmented opposition, but observers say a run-off is possible for the first time since multi-party politics were reintroduced in 1993.

A second round would take place in one to two weeks' time.

Analysts say Michel faces only two real challengers: Wavel Ramkalawan of the Seychelles National Party, and Patrick Pillay of the Lalyans Seselwa (Seychellois Alliance), a former minister who defected from Michel's party.

Michel, who has been in power since 2006, has pledged to boost the economy and eradicate poverty, while Pillay has vowed to combat corruption in the Seychelles, long seen as a popular tax haven for the world's super rich.

Observer missions monitoring the polls include teams from the African Union, the Commonwealth and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), as well as domestic observers.

While the opposition is divided for the first round, they have promised to unite behind a single candidate to challenge Michel if the vote goes to a second round.

"In the past we had only one opposition party... maybe that one party could not do this on its own... but now we have many to do the work," said Alexia Amesbury, a 64-year-old Seychellois lawyer, and the country's first-ever female candidate.

Michel said he welcomed the challenge.

"The candidates are my political opponents and not enemies," he said.

Initial results are expected late on Saturday.

Tourism and fisheries are the main pillars of the island nation's economy, with the main export being canned tuna destined mainly for Europe.

Source: Agence France Presse

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