VICTORIA (Reuters) - Voters in the Seychelles began casting their ballots on Thursday in a presidential election in which President James Michel is competing for a second full term at the helm of the Indian Ocean islands.
Michel has overseen a raft of economic reforms to liberalise the economy after the palm-fringed archipelago faced an acute balance of payments crisis, boosting his popularity as he emerged from the shadow of his predecessor's 27-year rule.
Observers expect his re-election would mean continuity for those reforms, which include the floating of the Seychelles rupee against major currencies, and pave the way for an overhaul of the tax system.
Two thousand eligible voters in the archipelago's remotest islands will cast their ballots on Thursday and Friday, while the rest of the country's 69,480 voters will do so on Saturday.
"It is still very early to say what to expect but Seychelles has had a history of peaceful elections and we have no reason to think it will be different this time," Julian Hunt, head of the Commonwealth observer mission, told Reuters.
Electoral commissioner Hendrick Gappy described voting as peaceful and orderly.
Seeking to extend his Lepep Party's 34-year rule for another five years, Michel is up against four other candidates, of whom only one, Anglican priest Wavel Ramkalawan, is seen as a real contender.
Ramkalawan won 45 percent of votes in the second round the 2006 poll against Michel's 54 percent. Ramkalawan's Seychelles National Party decided against holding any rallies in the run up to the vote.
"My supporters have already decided to vote for me, mainly to save the country from being given to foreigners who are cheaply buying and building on prime land here forcing us to live on reclaimed land like second-class citizens," Ramkalawan told Reuters in the build up to voting.
Under Michel's leadership, Seychelles has opened its doors to foreign investors, notably from Europe and the Gulf states, to invest in the tourism and real estate sectors.
Michel joined government in 1977 when former president Albert Rene grabbed power in a bloodless coup, rising to be the socialist leader's vice-president until Rene resigned mid-term, citing ill health in 2004 and handing over power to Michel.