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Africa

Cape Verde awaits word on new president

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-08-07

Cape Verdeans went to the polls Sunday to elect a new president, as incumbent Pedro Pires prepared to step down after two terms. Four candidates were in the running, with final results expected to be known by Wednesday.

AFP - Cape Verde islanders voted for a new president Sunday as Pedro Pires wraps up two terms at the helm of a nation hailed for its stable democracy, with his ruling party facing a split vote.

As voting closed Prime Minister Jose Maria Neves bemoaned a low turnout, saying August was not a good month to hold an election as many Cape Verdeans were on holiday or in the fields.

"I regret that there are not enough voters," he told journalists as he cast his vote in the capital, however no official estimate was given.

Polling stations opened up to an hour later than the scheduled 7:00 am local time (0800 GMT) in the former Portuguese colony of 10 main islands and eight islets and continued past closing time, which was extended one hour to 6:00 pm.

National radio reported that voting continued later on the islands of Sao Vicente in the north west and Sal in the north east, where there had still been voters waiting in the queue.

"If there are voters waiting, the orders are to extend voting time by 30 minutes to an hour," an election commission official told journalists.

African Union (AU) observer Celestin Kemba Molaba said the election had gone well, "in calm and with discipline, and the organisation is impeccable."

Outgoing president Pires voted mid-morning in western Praia saying he would "return home and watch the results with my family. I congratulate all my compatriots and urge them to vote in great numbers."

With more of its citizens living abroad (700,000) than on the nine populated islands (500,000), there are 300 polling stations in America, Europe and Africa plus 900 in Cape Verde itself.

Some 305,000 people have registered to vote in the election, which is being contested by four candidates.

The ruling African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), which holds an absolute majority in parliament, is fielding candidate Manuel Inocencio Sousa.

However lawmaker Aristides Lima decided to go it alone as an independent under the party banner after losing the contest to be its flagbearer, which could potentially split the vote for the party which has ruled since 2001.

"I will be a stabilising factor in Cape Verde politics," said Lima.

Local media put these two as the favourites alongside main opposition Movement for Democracy (MFD) candidate, former foreign minister and law professor Jorge Carlos Fonseca.

Fonseca, who failed a presidential bid when his party lost its grip on a decade of power in 2001 said: "This time, I am confident of a victory."

Pires has overseen a golden period in the island nation since his election in 2001, with the construction of three international airports, ports, and hundreds of kilometres of roads in a decade of growth averaging six percent.

However, with meagre natural resources and the global financial crisis affecting vital remittances from the diaspora, politicians are grappling to keep the boom alive and face growing unemployment, pegged at 13 percent.

Lauded for its stable democracy and peaceful elections, Cape Verde in 2008 became only the second ever country after Botswana to be promoted by the United Nations out of the ranks of the 50 least developed countries.

But despite impressive growth rates it is still vulnerable and highly dependent on international aid.

The archipelago of sandy beaches, lush valleys and arid volcanic rock has an economy dominated by the service sector, which represents 85 percent of GDP. Tourism contributed 25 percent to GDP with 400,000 visitors in 2010.

Final results should be released by Wednesday, said electoral commission spokeswoman Maria Joao Novais. If no candidate wins an absolute majority, a run-off will take place on August 21.

Date created : 2011-08-07

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