The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama discovered the Seychelles Islands (then uninhabited) in 1502, and an English expedition visited the islands in 1609. The name Seychelles derives from the Vicomte des Séchelles, Louis XV's finance minister. The French first claimed the islands in 1756, but colonization did not begin until 1768, when a party of 22 Frenchmen arrived, bringing with them a number of slaves. As competition grew among European nations for the lucrative trade with India and Asia, more and more seamen called at the islands to provision their vessels and to pick up commodities useful for trade.
The French and British battled for control of the islands between 1793 and 1813. French bases were blockaded in 1794 and again in 1804; on each occasion, the French capitulated. Under the Treaty of Paris (1814), the islands, together with Mauritius, were ceded to Britain. Both before and after the cession, the islands were administered from Mauritius as dependent territories. When the British made clear that they would enforce the ban on slavery throughout the Empire, many of the French landowners who had continued to import African slaves, largely from Mauritius and Réunion, departed for Africa and elsewhere, taking their slaves with them. However, with slavery ended, thousands of liberated slaves and others came into the islands. Indian labor was introduced to work on the plantations and some Chinese immigrants became shopkeepers.
In 1872, a Board of Civil Governors was created, increasing the degree of political autonomy; a Legislative Council and an Executive Council were established in 1888. On 31 August 1903, the islands became a crown colony, no longer subordinate to Mauritius. By this date, the cosmopolitan character of Seychelles had been established. Intermarriage between the descendants of the French, African, and Asian populations produced the Seychellois of today.
In 1948, the first elections were held, filling four seats on the Legislative Council. A new constitution written in 1966 and promulgated in 1967. It vested authority in a governor and a Governing Council. General elections, the first based on the principle of universal adult suffrage, were held in December 1967 for the new Legislative Assembly. Further amendments to the constitution in March 1970 gave the Seychellois greater autonomy over affairs of internal government.
Seychelles achieved independence at 12:05 AM on 29 June 1976. Upon independence, the UK government recommended the transfer from the British Indian Ocean Territory to Seychelles of the island groups of Aldabra and Farquhar and the island of Desroches. These islands, which had been detached from Seychelles in 1965, were duly returned to the new republic.
James Richard Marie Mancham, then leader of the conservative Seychelles Democratic Party, became president on independence, heading a coalition government that included Seychelles People's United Party (SPUP) leader France Albert René as Prime Minister. Mancham was overthrown by a coup on 5 June 1977 and went into exile; René became president. He suspended the constitution, dismissed the legislature, and ruled by decree.
In 1978, a new political party, the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF), absorbed the SPUP. The constitution of March 1979, adopted by referendum, established a one-party state as the country drifted toward a Marxist political system. In November 1981, about 50 mercenaries recruited in South Africa landed in Mahé, briefly seized the airport, and apparently planned to return Mancham to power; however, Seychellois troops forced them to flee. Tanzanian troops, airlifted to Seychelles following this incident, also played a part in restoring order after an abortive army mutiny of 17–18 August 1982 took at least nine lives. All Tanzanian troops had left the country by the end of 1984. A number of other plots have been alleged since then.
René was reelected president without opposition in June 1984. Since then, the Seychelles made progress economically and socially. Under rising pressure to democratize, in December 1991, René agreed to reform the electoral system. Multiparty elections were held in July 1992 (the first since 1974), and the prospect of reconciliation between René and Mancham supporters was raised. Many dissidents, including Mancham, returned from exile. In June 1993, 73% of the voters approved a new constitution providing for multi-party government.
Since the introduction of multiparty competition, the monopoly on power exercised by René and the SPPF has weakened. Presidential and National Assembly elections were held 23 July 1993, with René winning the presidency and the SPPF capturing all but one of the directly elected legislative seats. In the 1998 contest, René obtained 66.7% of the presidential vote and his party captured 30 of 34 seats. In August 2001 elections, René again defeated his opponents, this time by only 54.19%, and in National Assembly elections in December 2002—the first to be held separately from presidential elections—the SPPF captured 23 seats to 11 for the SNP.