A Short History of the National Assembly of Seychelles
The political history of Seychelles started when the islands were first discovered and colonized by the French. The year was 1742 and a group of 28 men and women (mainly African slaves and French settlers) landed on the small island of St Anne to start what is now known as the Seychellois nation. For more than half a century, the French occupied the main islands of Mahe, Praslin, La Digue and Silhouette. The other 100 islands or so, the outer coralline islands remained more or less uninhabited except for passing ships looking for timber and water. Seychelles lying off the coast of eastern African had become an important colony for the African slaves and a frequent stop-over for food and water for passing ships. Seychelles got its name after the Jean Moreau de Sechelles, who was a French Finance Minister during the reign of Louis XV.
In 1804 Seychelles became a British Colony. The name Sechelles was changed to Seychelles. Between 1811 and 1888 Seychelles was administered by Mauritius. In 1889 Seychelles saw its first legislative council following a semi-separation from Mauritius when the Constitution changed in 1888 to allow for a local Administrator. In 1903 the first executive and legislative council of Seychelles, then a crown colony, was born. Seychellois representation at the level of the council was non-existent. A small number of people were nominated by the governor to the Council.
Political party elections
The first election of universal adult suffrage took place in 1967 which then formed the colonial Legislative Council. The 1967 election had followed the formation of two parties in 1964, first the Seychelles People’s United Party (SPUP) under the direction of France Albert Rene and the Seychelles Democratic Party (SDP) headed by James Mancham. SPUP was advocating Independence, SDP was against it. The 1967 the Governing Council was comprised of eight members, (3 SPUP, 4 SDP, 1 Independent). During that election Dr. Marie Hilda Stevenson-Delhomme also become the first woman parliamentarian.
Pre independence years
The pre-independence years were marked by a series of elections all in the run-up to the independence. The SDP in majority campaigned for Seychelles to remain a British colony, the SPUP fought for independence. But the first apparent move for Seychelles to gain independence came through a motion by James Mancham calling on a change in the Constitution by the British government.
In 1970, a Constitutional Conference was held in Marlborough House which effected in some important changes in the Constitution. Following the changes, the Governing Council became the Legislative Assembly and its number of representations was increased from 8 to fifteen. It also marked the introduction for the concept of separation of powers. The constitutional change had effectively changed the political system into that of a ministerial government which marked a separation between the executive and the legislative.
The 1970 election which preceded the changes saw a new Legislative Assembly with for the first time a speaker, Mr. Michel Lousteau-Lalanne. In 1974, the Legislative Assembly tabled a motion calling for the country’s Independence. 1975 saw the formation of a coalition government, the first semblance of an internal self government. In short, the first steps towards independence. The institution’s name also changed from Legislative Assembly into House of Assembly. In January 1976 a meeting of the Constitutional Conference in Marlborough House officially set the date for the country’s independence to June 29th 1976.
The first republic
On June 29th 1976, Seychelles officially became the Republic of Seychelles. A new country was born and so was a new era in Seychelles’ politics. The first republic which lasted for little less than a year saw for the first time the use of the term National Assembly to refer to the legislature. For the first time, Seychelles was also headed by a President, James Mancham and the leader of the House, was Prime Minister France Albert Rene.
The first republic was also an important period in our political history as it marked an era of self discovery and self rule. Seychelles had just become a republic, considered to be a small and poor African nation. The newly born Seychelles was also a shaky one, headed by a coalition government with different ideologies of governance. It is to be noted that the first amendment to the Independent Constitution was one asking for a policy of bilingualism, a call for both French and English to be used as an administrative language.
The second republic
For two years following the June 1977 Coup d’état, the country was ruled by decree as any form of legislature was suspended.
A year later in 1978, a Constitutional Council appointed a new Constitution, and the second republic was born. In 1979, during the one party era, a new legislature came into being, named at the time, the People’s Assembly.
The second republic which saw four elections went through different constitutional changes, including the establishment of the one party state, the increase in electoral districts, and most importantly was a move away from the standard Westminster system adopted in several commonwealth countries. The People’s Assembly was presided by the Chairman and government Ministers came to answer questions put by the district’s representatives and for bills. This was the first semblance for the legislature to operate on a separate platform than that of the government, and for the first time the People’s Assembly had a separate secretariat.
In 1992, during an SPPF congress, former President Rene announced the return of a multi party system of governance. The preparatory phase for that to happen first stated with an election for the people of Seychelles to decide who would represent them at the Constitutional Commission, the body that was to draft the constitution for the third republic. The results came in, SPPF had 14 representatives and the DP, eight. Other smaller parties which had been formed by then, six of them, did not muster enough support and the 5% requirement that was needed to form part of the commission.
For several months, opinion leaders and experts, most notably church and political leaders from all corners of the islands, had their say in what should be the Constitution of Seychelles. The first referendum failed to reach the 60% requirement for the constitution to be adopted. A second round of negotiations between the two main parties resumed in January 1993 and the deliberations were broadcast in its entirety on national television and radio. It is interesting to note that the process became a very public one, with greater interests of the population not only through their tuning in to their TV sets every evening to watch the sometimes comic deliberations, but on a more serious level, to submit their views and contributions. On June 18, 1993 the people of Seychelles supported the new Constitution with a resounding 73.9%. June 18th was then declared the National Day for the republic of Seychelles.
Multi party democracy – The third republic
In his book, a Parliamentary History of Seychelles, the former Speaker of the National Assembly, Judge Francis Macgregor, called the early days a “pioneer” parliament. That he did for very valid reasons. For the first time, the National Assembly building had to move to the then newly built National Library building. Before that the business of the house was in a small hall at National House. “It was very much a pioneer parliament in trying to cultivate a workable body in a climate of inevitably necessary dialogue and tolerance, the nation having just gone through the equivalent of five general elections, in the space of less than two years. We had to sit with, work with and live with each other with the responsibility of making this new Seychelles work”