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Cape Verde – Expert Briefing

  • Cape Verde’s semi-presidential constitution provides for a fixed-term president. The prime minister and cabinet are collectively responsible to the parliament
  • The president is directly elected by absolute majority popular vote in two rounds (if needed) for a five-year term and can serve only two terms in office
  • Parliamentary elections are held every five years through a closed-list proportional representation system
  • The unicameral National Assembly (parliament) has 72 members. The ruling Movement for Democracy party (MpD) holds 40 seats and the opposition African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV) has 29
  • The prime minister is nominated by the National Assembly and appointed by the president
  • Since the 1991 multi-party elections, the socialist PAICV and the centre-right MpD have dominated politics

Cape Verde achieved independence from Portugal in 1975. Until 1990, it was governed as a Marxist, one-party state by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), later renamed (PAICV). The establishment of the centre-right (MpD) in March 1990 helped to bring one-party rule to an end. In September 1990, the National Assembly approved a constitutional amendment abolishing the PAICV’s monopoly of power and permitting a multi-party system.

In January 1991, the first multi-party elections took place. The MpD won 56 of the 79 parliamentary seats, a greater than two-thirds majority. The party’s leader, Carlos Veiga, was appointed prime minister. This success was repeated a month later in the presidential vote when MpD candidate António Monteiro won 73.29% of the vote to defeat PAICV incumbent Artistides Pereira.

The MpD used its majority in parliament to introduce constitutional amendments that reduced the powers of the president. Clauses in the 1992 constitution limited the head of state’s authority to dismiss the prime minister and dissolve parliament. In 1999, further constitutional amendments were introduced to establish a constitutional court, a new advisory chamber and a national ombudsman.

From 1991 until 2001 the MpD controlled both the presidency and the National Assembly. It maintained its level of popular support through legislative (1995) and presidential (1996) elections. However, Monteiro was ineligible to stand again in 2001, having already served two terms. His departure coincided with the electoral demise of the MpD who were defeated by the PAICV in both parliamentary and presidential polls. The change in voting appeared to be a reflection of the popular attitude that the MpD had grown complacent.

The PAICV won 40 seats to take control of the National Assembly and their presidential candidate Pedro Pires defeated Carlos Veiga in a second round run-off, winning by just 12 votes. It was a test for Cape Verde’s democracy. Despite the closeness of the election trust was retained in the country’s institutions and both candidates accepted the results. An equally close contest between the two men followed in 2006, with Pires again emerging victorious by 3,342 votes after securing 50.98% of the vote. The turn out rate of 53.1% was one of the lowest since the first presidential election in 1991.

The 2011 elections generated a unique political situation in Cape Verde: cohabitation. Legislative elections resulted in victory for the PAICV, which lost seats but maintained an overall parliamentary majority. However, in the presidential election held six months later as proscribed by constitutional changes passed in 2010, MpD candidate Jorge Fonseca defeated the PAICV’s Manuel Sousa, securing 54.26% of the vote in a second round. For the past five years the president and prime minister have been from opposing political parties, with the president’s party not represented in the cabinet.

This recent democratic development suggests that Cape Verde has been rightly lauded a stable democracy and a model for political rights, civil liberties and good governance in Africa. Cohabitation has been relatively peaceful compared to equivalent periods in Guinea-Bissau and Niger. Yet, due to disagreements between the dominant parties important state institutions such as the country’s constitutional court could not start working.

The 2016 parliamentary elections brought the opposition back to power. The MpD led by José Correia e Silva secured an absolute majority, taking back power after 15 years. In the presidential election party member and incumbent President Fonseca won a landslide victory, sweeping 74% of the vote. Yet, abstention soared to roughly three-quarters of the electorate. The president can dissolve parliament in the case of a serious institutional crisis but this act must have the prior approval of the Council of the Republic.

Lydia M. Beuman works on politics in semi-presidential, Portuguese-speaking countries. Her book on semi-presidentialism in East Timor has recently been published by Routledge.