Cape Verde, a stronghold of democracy in Africa, is holding parliamentary polls with no clear winner in sight after a campaign dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on an economy dependent on tourism.
Neither major party is expected to become the outright winner in Sunday’s vote, giving four smaller parties a chance to have their say over the cluster of islands off Africa’s west coast.
In the capital, Praia, lines of voters began to form early in the day in front of schools serving as polling stations.
“The priority for me is to re-elect the government, fight COVID and develop the economy and tourism,” Luis Leit, 44, said after voting.
The 2020 recession
With foreign tourism accounting for around a quarter of the economy and visitors unable to come due to restrictions on the global pandemic, Cape Verde, with a population of 550,000, was plunged into a recession in 2020, when production decreased by 14.8%.
Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva nevertheless told reporters: “We are very confident. We hope to have an absolute majority. “
But his Movement for Democracy (MpD) is hotly contested by the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), a socialist party led by Janira Hopffer Almada.
The 42-year-old lawyer and former youth minister hopes to become the first woman to lead the former Portuguese colony.
After voting, Almada said that “the state continued its campaign yesterday” (Saturday) after the electoral campaign officially ended on Friday, calling it a “serious violation”.
The two main parties have pledged to take action to provide broad access to COVID-19 vaccinations and to diversify the economy.
Despite being approximately 990 km (615 miles) off the coast of Senegal, Cape Verde has witnessed an increase in coronavirus cases.
With 189 cases per 100,000 population, the country had the highest rate in Africa according to the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the period April 5-11.
Voting began at 8:00 a.m. GMT and polling stations were scheduled to remain open until 7:00 p.m. GMT, with just over 392,000 people registered to vote.
Nicolas Haque, from Al Jazeera, who reports from Praia, said it appeared that the majority of voters who turned up at the polls were women.
“It’s because Janira Almada is in the race to become the next Prime Minister. If she wins, she will make history. She will be the first elected prime minister not only for Cape Verde but also in Africa. So many women vote, ”he said.
“It is also because Cape Verde is an island where most men have emigrated. The majority of the population is made up of women and their main concern is the economy and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy here.
In 1990, the one-party regime in Cape Verde was swept away and the first multiparty elections were held the following year.
In 2016, the MpD ended the PAICV’s 15-year run with a historic victory, winning 40 of 72 seats in the unicameral parliament, the National Assembly.
Cape Verde has a semi-parliamentary system in which the Prime Minister exercises executive power while the President plays the role of arbitrator in insoluble disputes.
The presidential elections take place on October 17.
In a continent marked by political unrest, coups d’état or leaders in power for decades, the tiny Atlantic archipelago stands out.
It ranks just behind Mauritius as the most democratic country in sub-Saharan Africa in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2020 Democracy Index.