Opposition leader Wavel Ramkalawan wins presidency in Seychelles

A victory for the Seychelles opposition for the first time since 1977 has brought the Indian origin Wavel Ramkalawan to the office of president.

But the development could put a question mark over the future of India developing a naval facility on Assumption Island, one of the many that make up the Indian Ocean archipelago nation of Seychelles.

Ramkalawan, a former Anglican priest, defeated incumbent Danny Faure after three decades of unsuccessful runs for the presidency of the East African nation, a Reuters report said.

It was with Danny Faure’s government that India signed a pact to develop the naval facility on Assumption Island for use by both countries. The plan included the construction of an airstrip and a jetty besides housing infrastructure, all built through an investment of $ 550 million by India.

But opposition from Ramkalawan and his Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) that stalled the project for which an initial pact was signed in 2015 during a visit to Seychelles by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi’s visit to Seychelles was his first to countries in the Indian Ocean region and included stops in Sri Lanka and Mauritius. It was seen as a trip reaffirming India’s primacy in the Indian Ocean region against the backdrop of a growing Chinese presence. Modi’s visit in March 2015 came about two years before China announced its first overseas naval base in Djibouti in July 2017.

On Sunday, Modi extended his greetings to Ramkalawan.

“Felicitations to H.E. @wavelramkalawan on his historic win in the Presidential and Assembly elections in Seychelles. We look forward to a strengthening of the close and traditional relationship between India and Seychelles under his leadership,” Modi said in a Twitter post.

“This is a victory for democracy, a common value that binds India and Seychelles,” he said.

The thinking in New Delhi at the moment seems to be that Ramkalawan is someone India can do business with given that he is well disposed towards India and New Delhi has developed good contact with him.

Assumption Island lies situated some 1,100 kilometres southwest of the Seychelles’ main island of Mahé. The proposed naval facility development was aimed at helping Seychelles’ Coast Guard patrol the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) against piracy, illegal fishing and drug-trafficking amongst others. India was looking to use the facilities for refueling of ships, according to people familiar with the developments. In June 2018, then president Danny Faure was reported as saying that the project would not be taken forward. But during Faure’s visit to India, it was agreed that the project would proceed as planned. Since then there has been scant progress according to news reports mainly because of domestic opposition in Seychelles given that the naval facility on Assumption could pose an environmental threat to Aldabra atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the world’s largest population of giant tortoises.

SOURCE: Mint – Elizabeth Roche