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Tight race as Seychelles votes in presidential run-off

16 December 2015, 13:29

Victoria - Voters in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Seychelles go to the polls Wednesday, with incumbent president James Michel facing the first serious challenge to his decade-long rule.

Michel, who is seeking a third five-year term, was forced into a second-round run-off against opposition leader Wavel Ramkalawan after falling short of an outright majority in the first round in early December, winning just under 48 percent.

Ramkalawan, an Anglican priest who took 35 percent of the vote on his fifth run at the country's top job, now has the backing of the second runner-up, Patrick Pillay, a former foreign and health minister, who won almost 15 percent.

"All the parties have agreed to rally behind Ramkalawan. Everybody's goal is to push Michel out of office," Pillay said.

Tourism and fisheries are the pillars of the Seychelles' economy, with its white-sand beaches and tropical forests a favourite with well-heeled newly-weds.

Voting on the most remote islands opened early Wednesday, with the main vote due Friday on the main islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue, home to most of the Seychelles' estimated 91,000 citizens.

"All polling stations opened as scheduled this morning," said electoral commission president Hendrick Gappy. "The process started slowly and calmly, but things should go more quickly."

The African Union, the Commonwealth and the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) grouping have all sent observers to the election.

A former British colony, the Seychelles is made up of 115 islands lying off the coast of east Africa, some scattered up to 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from the capital Victoria.

Turnout was high in the first round, at over 87 percent, the electoral commission said.

Despite failing to win re-election at the first round for the first time, Michel has remained defiant.

"We are still the main political force in the country, and even though we were missing two percent to win the election, we are still the strongest party," he said of his Parti Lepep -- "The People" in the local Seychellois Creole language -- after the results were announced.

"We are ready for the second round and we will make sure we do better than in the first... I faced five candidates, but now I will only have one adversary," he said.

The run-off is the first since the country returned to multi-party politics in 1993 following more than a decade of one-party socialist rule.

Michel, aiming to win a third and final term as permitted by the constitution, has pledged to boost the economy and eradicate poverty in the Seychelles, long seen as a tax haven for the world's super-rich.

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