The uninhabited Seychelles Islands were discovered by the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama in 1502. The French first claimed the islands in 1756, but colonization did not begin for another 12 years. The name Seychelles derives from the Vicomte des Seychelles, a finance minister under Louis XV of France. As competition grew among European nations for the lucrative trade with India and the Indies, more seamen called at the islands to provision their vessels and to pick up commodities useful for trade. The French and British fought for control of the islands between 1793 and 1813. In 1814, the Seychelles were ceded to Britain and administered as a dependency of Mauritius until 1903, when they became a crown colony.
Seychelles gained independence in 1976, following a constitutional conference held in London. Its current legal system is based on English Common Law and the Napoleonic Code. The 1979 Constitution called for a president and National Assembly to be elected for five-year terms but under the control of a single party, the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF). In 1993, a new Constitution provided for multi-party elections. Under this revised Constitution, the 33-seat National Assembly is elected under universal suffrage using a combination of direct election for 25 seats (the recipients of the highest votes) with eight seats allocated under proportional representation.
In 1993 elections, the SPPF took 27 seats, the Democratic Party (DP) won five seats, and the United Opposition Party won one seat. General elections were called before the end of the normal term in March 1998 with René winning by a landslide. The SPPF extended its majority in the National Assembly to 30 seats, the Seychelles United Opposition Party (now the Seychelles National Party—SNP) captured three seats, and the DP one seat. In August 2001 elections, René again defeated his opponents, this time by only 54.19%, and in National Assembly elections in December 2002, the SPPF captured 23 seats to 11 for the SNP.