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Cape Verde: Final colourful campaigns before parliamentary election

Supporters of Cape Verde's Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva wave flags and cheer during his last campaign rally in Praia on April 16, 2021.   -  
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Voters in Cape Verde, a bastion of democracy in Africa, go to the polls Sunday after a campaign dominated by the Covid pandemic and its impact on an economy dependent on tourism.

In a continent marked by political unrest, coups and monolithic 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.

"Cape Verde is a model of political and democratic stability in Africa," said Alioune Tine, founder of the Afrikajom Center think tank.

It is "practically the only one that has not experienced an electoral or democratic crisis."

Sunday's vote could result in something many other Africans can only dream of: a peaceful change of government.

Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva's Movement for Democracy (MpD) is closely challenged by the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), a socialist party led by Janira Hopffer Almada.

Ms. Almada, 42, is running to become the first female prime minister of Cape Verde, a group of tropical islands with a population of some 550,000 and located about 600 kilometers (375 miles) from Senegal.

In 1990, Cape Verde's one-party rule was swept away, leading to the first multiparty elections the following year.

In 2016, the MpD ended PAICV's 15-year reign with a historic victory, winning 40 of the 72 seats in the unicameral parliament, the National Assembly.

After a campaign marked by festive rallies, where candidates danced to music -- another of Cape Verde's internationally recognized riches -- Sunday's result has every chance of being accepted calmly.

"Stability... is our oil, our diamonds," Silva told AFP on the sidelines of a rally in the capital Praia, where, dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, he chatted with voters.

"For us, freedom, institutions and having checks on power are a priority... that's why we have an opposition."

Covid and the economy

Silva is a 58-year-old former bank executive and ex-mayor of Praia, who was educated in Portugal, the colonial power until independence in 1975.

During his tenure, Cape Verde was hit by a three-year drought, followed by the catastrophic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on foreign tourism, which accounts for about a quarter of the economy.

Both major parties are advocating measures to provide broad access to vaccinations and diversify the economy.

PAICV believes that the government did not provide sufficient and timely assistance when the pandemic began.

"Many measures were not implemented when they would have been useful...and many others did not reach the intended target," Almada told the Portuguese news agency LUSA.

The slim lawyer, like Silva a former minister, became in 2014 the first woman and youngest person to head the PAICV.

Four smaller parties are also in the running for the election, with results expected Sunday night.

Cape Verde has a semi-parliamentary system in which the prime minister exercises executive power while the president acts as an arbitrator in case of unresolvable disputes.

Presidential elections will be held on October 17.

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