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Cape Verde continued to serve as a model for political rights and civil liberties in Africa in 2011. The African Party for Independence of Cape Verde captured parliamentary elections in February, while Jose Carlos Fonseca of the opposition Movement for Democracy won the presidency in August. Both polls were considered credible and fair by international observers.
After achieving independence from Portugal in 1975, Cape Verde was governed for 16 years as a Marxist, one-party state under the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, later renamed the African Party for Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV). The establishment of the opposition Movement for Democracy (MPD) in 1990 helped to bring one-party rule to an end, and in 1991 the country became the first former Portuguese colony in Africa to abandon Marxist political and economic systems and hold democratic elections. The MPD won both the legislative and presidential elections, with candidate António Mascarenhas Monteiro elected president by a landslide victory. In 1995 legislative elections, the MPD increased its majority in the National Assembly, and Monteiro was re-elected for a second term in 1996.
Presidential elections in 2001 were more competitive, with PAICV candidate Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires narrowly defeating Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga of the MPD in the second round. The PAICV also captured a majority in the legislative elections that were held a month earlier. The January 2006 legislative elections had a similar outcome, with the PAICV taking 41 of the 72 seats, the MPD placing second with 29, and the Democratic and Independent Cape Verdean Union (UCID)—a smaller opposition party—securing the remaining two seats. Pires won a new five-year mandate in the February presidential election. Although his closest rival, Veiga, claimed that the results were fraudulent, they were endorsed by international election monitors.
In June 2007, the parliament unanimously passed new electoral code provisions aimed at strengthening the National Electoral Commission’s transparency and independence. The opposition MPD won a marginal victory in the 2008 local elections, capturing 11 out of 22 municipalities, including the capital.
On February 6, 2011, Cape Verde held parliamentary elections that confirmed the left-leaning PAICV’s dominance of Cape Verdean politics. The PAICV secured 53 percent of the vote, while the MPD garnered 42 percent, and the UCID received just 4 percent; two other parties captured less than 1 percent of the vote each. However, in the August 2011 presidential election, former foreign minister Jose Carlos Fonseca of the MPD defeated rival Manuel Sousa of the PAICV with 54 percent of the vote in a second round runoff. International observers declared both the presidential and parliamentary elections to be free and fair. Subsequently, Fonseca and Prime Minister Jose Maria das Neves promised to put aside their political differences and work together to ensure Cape Verde’s stability and increased prosperity.
Services, particularly tourism, dominate the economy with almost 80 percent share of the GDP. As a result of persistent droughts, the country experienced heavy emigration in the second half of the 20th century, and Cape Verde’s expatriate population is greater than its domestic population; remittances therefore continue to be a major source of wealth. While the United Nations upgraded Cape Verde’s classification out of the least developed countries category in 2008, the country’s unemployment rate still hovers around 20 percent, and there is significant income inequality.
Cape Verde is an electoral democracy. The president and members of the 72-seat National Assembly are elected by universal suffrage for five-year terms. The prime minister is nominated by the National Assembly and appointed by the president.
Cape Verde received the second-highest ranking for governance performance in the 2011 Ibrahim Index of African Governance. However, the country still suffers from significant police corruption, mostly among border police who reportedly overcharge Western tourists for their visas and demand payment from poor Cape Verdeans and undocumented migrants from Africa. Cape Verde was ranked 41 out of 183 countries in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.
While government authorization is needed to publish newspapers and other periodicals, freedom of the press is guaranteed in law and generally respected in practice. The independent press is small but vigorous, and there are several private and community-run radio stations. State-run media include radio and television stations. The government does not impede or monitor internet access.
According to the 2011 U.S. Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report, there were no societal or governmental incidents of religious intolerance, and the constitution requires the separation of church and state. However, the vast majority of Cape Verdeans belong to the Roman Catholic Church, which enjoys a somewhat privileged status. Academic freedom is respected.
Freedoms of assembly and association are legally guaranteed and observed in practice. Nongovernmental organizations operate freely. The constitution also protects the right to unionize, and workers may form and join unions without restriction. Approximately a quarter of the workforce is unionized, but collective bargaining is reportedly rare.
Cape Verde’s judiciary is independent. However, the capacity and efficiency of the courts are limited, and lengthy pretrial detention remains a problem. In 2010, Cape Verde signed the Dakar Initiative to fight trafficking by strengthening judicial systems, improving security forces, and increasing international cooperation. In 2011, Interpol agreed to work on a permanent basis with Cape Verdean authorities. Cape Verde is increasingly serving as a transit point for drug trafficking between Latin America and Europe. In October 2011, Cape Verdean police working with their Dutch counterparts made the largest drug apprehension in Cape Verde’s history.
Ethnic divisions are not a salient problem in Cape Verde, although there are tensions between the authorities and West African immigrants. Work conditions for undocumented migrants in the country are often dire.
While discrimination based on gender is legally prohibited, problems such as violence against women and inequalities in the areas of education and employment persist. To address these issues, the government adopted a series of legislative reforms, including a 2010 law criminalizing gender violence and a National Action Plan to fight gender violence (2009-2011).