Voters in The Seychelles are casting their ballots in the presidential and parliamentary elections spanning three days with Saturday the main day of voting.
The exercise had opened on Thursday for voters on fringe islands and essential workers such as hospital staff in the Indian Ocean island country with about 74,600 people eligible to vote.
Most of the Indian Ocean islands making up Seychelles, a prized honeymoon destination famed for white beaches and lush vegetation, are uninhabited and the archipelago’s 98,000 residents mainly live on the islands of Mahe, Praslin, and La Digue.
The opposition is hoping to unseat incumbent president Danny Faure, in power since 2016. Faure was not elected but took over after his boss, James Michel, resigned as president.
Faure is running under the United Seychelles party, which has been in power since 1977.
His main rival is the Anglican priest Wavel Ramkalawan, who is taking his sixth shot at the presidency and lost by only 193 votes to Michel in an unprecedented second round of voting in 2015.
The main concern of voters is the economic situation in the country, which has suffered the loss of vital tourism — its main earner — because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Seychelles has recorded only 149 mostly imported cases, but the virus has been a key campaign issue, with the health minister banning election rallies which would have been a barometer of support for various candidates in a country without a polling institute.
The campaign has mainly happened over social media, where the opposition and its supporters are the most active, and on television where the country held its first-ever debates between the candidates, which proved extremely popular.
Since the start of the pandemic, the economy has slowed significantly, with some 700 Seychellois losing their jobs, according to government figures.
And while the average income is among the highest in Africa, the national statistics agency says that about 40 percent of Seychellois live in poverty because of the high cost of living.
Another key theme of the campaign has been corruption, a largely taboo topic in the tiny country where business and politics are often intertwined.