Cape Verde Election Shows Nation's Political Maturity

The opposition candidate for the Movement for Democracy (MFD) party, Jorge Carlos Fonseca, swept to victory on Sunday in Cape Verde’s presidential runoff election, defeating the ruling party African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde’s (PAIVC) candidate, Manuel Inocencio Sousa.

Fonseca garnered nearly 55 percent of the vote while Sousa took 45 percent.

The elections were held after President Pedro Pires completed his mandatory two terms. In a country that has had no wars and with limited levels of corruption, the recent election demonstrates the island nation’s political stability and trend of alternating power.

In the 2001 election, president Pedro Pires narrowly triumphed by a victory margin of 12 votes and in the 2006 contest, he won by 3,342 votes against his closest opponent, Carlos Veiga from the MPD. The closeness of the voting prompted Veiga to charge that there were irregularities. The Supreme Court, however, ruled in favour of Pires, with Veiga accepting defeat, thus signifying the maturation of party politics in Cape Verde.

In the latest round of elections, there is no contestation of Jorge Carlos Fonseca’s victory. Indeed, Manuel Inocencio Sousa acknowledged the result and congratulated his rival on the win.

Although Cape Verde is a small country, it is considered one of Africa’s most stable democracies and peaceful countries. For the past decade, Cape Verde has been seen as “free” by Freedom House, which has assigned it a rating of 1 out of 7 for political rights and 1 out of 7 for civil rights in 2010 (the lower the rating the higher the degree of political and civil liberties). It is the only African nation that Freedom House assigns a rating of 1 for both political and civil rights.

One key indicator of the relatively peaceful nature of the 2011 electoral process, in addition to the democratic culture established since the 1990s, is the absence of a contesting incumbent. Cape Verde’s growing democracy and political stability provides lessons that other African countries could draw from against the backdrop of woeful electoral processes across the continent.

Cape Verde’s economy increased at an annual average rate of 6.2% between 2000 and 2009. This compares to advances of 3.9% for Senegal, 3.9% for Mauritania and 5.0% for Gambia. According to the IMF, the per capita income in 2009 was $3,445. This was 181.0% above the level of 2000.

In terms of corruption, Cape Verde scored 5.1 and ranked 40 out of 180 countries. According to Transparency International, a score of less than 3.0 out of 10.0 indicates there is “rampant” corruption. In a brief victory statement, Mr Fonseca committed to maintaining the political stability that the country has enjoyed since independence in 1975.

However, despite Cape Verde’s political stability, the country still has to contend with numerous challenges, including meagre economic resources upon which to base its economic development projects. This is compounded by the country’s erratic rainfall patterns.

These challenges, among others have led to a greater number of the population leaving the country in search of better opportunities. There are more Cape Verdeans residing in other countries than on the islands themselves.

To be sustainable, the democratisation process needs to be accompanied by economic reforms that can help to trickle down resources and have meaningful impact on the living conditions of the people. The newly elected president, Mr Fonseca identified economic growth as an imperative for his government and promised to name a Prime Minister who will “improve the economy of the country by creating a more conducive environment for foreign investment” (Africareview, 23 August 2011).