Seychelles starts voting in presidential poll

While voting on more remote islands began December 3, the majority of polling takes place on the third and final day December 5 on the three main islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue Incumbent President James Michel is facing his first serious re-election challenge from rivals promising to boost the economy and combat poverty. Michel, hopes to win a third and final term, as permitted by the constitution, but faces five other candidates. Voting on the most remote islands open on December 3, 2015, with the main vote due December 5, 2015 on Mahe. (AFP Photo/Rassin Vannier)

Victoria (Seychelles) (AFP) - The Seychelles began voting in a presidential election Thursday, with remote islanders the first to cast ballots in a race that sees incumbent James Michel facing a serious challenge for the first time after two terms in office.

Voters on the tiny far-flung rocky island of D'Arros, some 255 kilometres (160 miles) southwest of the main island Mahe, were among the first to vote in the three-day poll, election officials said.

The tourism-dependent Indian Ocean archipelago, a former British colony, is made up of 115 islands, some as many as 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from Mahe.

"We have received confirmation that D'Arros has finished voting, and the plane is returning back to Mahe," said Charles Morin, the chief electoral officer.

Voting takes place on remote islands on Thursday and Friday, with the majority of polling taking place on Saturday on the three main islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue, home to most of the archipelago's estimated 91,000 citizens.

"There are islands where it takes just 45 minutes... there are others where it lasts two hours, but what is important is that everyone can vote," added Morin.

Michel, of the Parti Lepep -- "The People" in the local Seychellois Creole language -- hopes to win a third and final term, as permitted by the constitution, but faces five other candidates.

Michel, who has been in power for almost a decade, is running against a fragmented opposition, but observers say a run-off is possible for the first time since multi-party politics were reintroduced in 1993.

A second round would take place in one to two weeks' time.

Analysts say Michel faces only two real challengers: Wavel Ramkalawan of the Seychelles National Party, and Patrick Pillay of the Lalyans Seselwa (Seychellois Alliance), a former minister who defected from Michel's party.

Michel, who has been in power since 2006, has pledged to boost the economy and eradicate poverty, while Pillay has vowed to combat corruption in the Seychelles, long seen as a popular tax haven for the world's super rich.

Observer missions monitoring the polls include teams from the African Union, the Commonwealth and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), as well as domestic observers.