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14.10.2021 Africa

Cape Verde votes for president Sunday to set post-Covid course

By Maria Da Luz NEVES
Jose Maria Neves, who served as prime minister for 15 years, is a frontrunner in Sunday's poll.  By SAUL LOEB (AFP/File)
LISTEN OCT 14, 2021
Jose Maria Neves, who served as prime minister for 15 years, is a frontrunner in Sunday's poll. By SAUL LOEB (AFP/File)

Cape Verde votes in presidential elections on Sunday marked by debate over the future of a country battered by a slump in global tourism and worried by surging inflation.

Tourism accounts for a quarter of the economy of the tiny nation, an archipelago of volcanic islands off West Africa praised for its political stability.

But last year GDP shrank by 14.8 percent and many hotels and restaurants closed as the Covid pandemic kept hundreds of thousands visitors away.

Soaring inflation is another concern. Since the beginning of the month, the price of water and electricity has risen by 37 percent, which the authorities blame on rising oil prices.

The two frontrunners among a record seven candidates are both former prime ministers: 72-year-old lawyer Carlos Veiga and academic Jose Maria Neves, 60.

Centre-right candidate Carlos Veiga has long-running presidential ambitions -- he ran for the top job in 2006.  By SEYLLOU DIALLO (AFP) Centre-right candidate Carlos Veiga has long-running presidential ambitions -- he ran for the top job in 2006. By SEYLLOU DIALLO (AFP)

Veiga represents the centre-right Movement for Democracy (MpD), which has a majority in parliament.

Neves stands for the opposition African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), which ruled the former Portuguese colony when it was a one-party state.

Outgoing president Jorge Carlos Fonseca (MpD) cannot run again, having already served the maximum two terms.

Voting starts at 7 am (0800 GMT), finishing at 6 pm, with first results expected the same evening. If no one wins more than 50 percent of the vote, it will go to a second-round run-off between the two leading candidates on October 31.

Sunday's election comes six months after the MpD won parliamentary elections, beating the PAICV into second place.

Between them, the two parties have run the country since it won independence from Portugal in 1975.

Under Cape Verde's semi-parliamentary political system, the prime minister has executive powers while the president acts as arbiter.

Volcanic archipelago

Cape Verde is home to just over half a million people, living on 10 arid islands scattered some 500 kilometres (300 miles) off Guinea-Bissau and Senegal.

The islands were uninhabited until they were settled in the 15th century by Portuguese traders who brought in slaves from the African mainland.

The country is ranked second for governance in Africa on the index drawn up by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, after Mauritius.

Tourism numbers plummeted in Cape Verde last year after Covid restrictions took hold.  By Seyllou (AFP) Tourism numbers plummeted in Cape Verde last year after Covid restrictions took hold. By Seyllou (AFP)

Since it staged its first free elections in 1991, it has never recorded any violence linked to election campaigns or their results.

For many people, Cape Verde is best known through its legendary singer Cesaria Evora, who died in December 2011. She was known as the "barefoot diva" for performing on stage without shoes.

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