Voting starts in Seychelles presidential run-off

A police officer and an election official watch as a voter cast her ballot in the presidential polls in Victoria, Seychelles, December 3, 2015. REUTERS/George Thande

VICTORIA (Reuters) - The Seychelles voted on Wednesday in the second round of a presidential election in which incumbent James Michel is seeking a third term by touting the Indian Ocean archipelago’s economic expansion under his watch.

It is the first time a run-off ballot is being held in Seychelles, where voting runs over three days because of huge distances between some of the 115 islands that are home to 93,000 people. Results are expected late on Friday.

Michel, 71, who whose ruling Parti Lepep party, or People’s Party in Creole, has been in power for 38 years, is seen having an edge over Wavel Ramkalawan, a 54-year-old Anglican priest-turned-politician.

In the first round, Michel secured 48 percent of the vote, just short of the more than 50 percent needed to win outright, against 34 percent for Ramkalawan, who now has the backing of three of the four opposition candidates from the first round.

“I’m confident of victory,” Michel said in a statement. “I’ve been working hard and the proof is there for all to see.”

Ramkalawan of the Seychelles National Party echoed a common refrain among opponents who say the nation needs a new face at the top. “The majority of the people of Seychelles want change,” he said.

Michel, who can only serve three elected terms, was part of a group that seized power in a bloodless coup in 1977. His party has won elections since 1993 when multi-party politics resumed.

Seychelles’ economy, which is heavily reliant on tourism, is forecast to expand by more than 4 percent in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund. The nation has also been working to build up a financial services sector.

Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Edmund Blair and Andrew Heavens